Dune – What’s the (philosophical) Point?
12th February 2008 at 4:11 pm #41153
Let me begin by first noting that I haven’t read the novels, and am only familiar with the two television adaptations and film version. It is pretty apparent, however, that they do the novels little justice – for starters, there is little on screen that justifies Dune’s extraordinary reputation.
The adaptations are either incomprehensible, convoluted, reduntant, simplistic and/or simple minded. More often than not, I felt like I was watching a sword and sandals epic that could be dated back to the 1950’s. Only occasionally did I get the impression that Herbert was doing nothing less than trying to reimagine the history of mankind in a futuristic setting.
I’m going to assume that Dune is essentially (or ideally) a literary experience. Pages are visibly MIA on screen – and its obviously not just descriptions of situations and events. Things like the complexity of human motivation and the nuances of its complex history and mythology are clearly AWOL.
The incredibly layered universe and thematic exploration doesn’t appear to lend itself to a visual medium – they certainly can’t be contained within the confines of a movie or miniseries. And the more I read *about* Dune’s universe, the more astounded I am by its scope and ambition. It’s pretty clear to me that Herbert is not so much interested in telling a story, but using narrative to explore or develop recurring themes and characters from different angles.
No doubt I should go and read the books, but I have been deterred by a couple of things – the fact that they appear to be a never ending story (multiple prequels and sequels, etc) and their overall critical reputation seems relatively poor. Whilst everyone seems to agree that the first novel is a masterpiece, few people are as enthusiastic about the sequels. In fact Dune seems to be in a league of its own even within the Dune universe.
I therefore have a couple of questions. The reason I’m asking is that there seems to be little critical engagement with (or analysis of) Herbert’s thematic preoccupations and overall artistic strategy. Not online anyway. If you know otherwise, please point me – and anybody else – in that direction. As things stand, I’d like to make better sense of Dune.
Firstly, what do you attribute the relatively poor showing of the subsequent novels to? Does the writing really get worse, or does Herbert just take the novels in unwelcome directions? (somehow I expect the latter).
Secondly, how do you think they’re supposed to thematically relate to each other? In other words, how do the novels comment on their own themes – ie, where do you think Herbert stands in relation to the notions of (say) religion, politics, ecology, free will, heroism, etc?
I’m struck, for example, by the ambiguity of Paul’s mission. Whilst we’re clearly supposed to side with the heroes awakening, Paul essentially goes on to commit mass murder in the name of a holy war. He’s (apparently) worse than the Emperor. And son Leto becomes an oppressive God in his own way, before sacrificing himself for lesser beings. So why should we care that either fulfills their destiny? What’s their personal story supposed to mean within the grand scheme of things?
Any comments welcome.14th February 2008 at 12:09 am #77692
I know what you mean.
I think it’s possible to love and hate Dune (all media) at the same time. Some parts of the film were bloody fantastic, The series, though boring in parts was good for breadth and the books are very well written and provide much of the story which you seem to be missing.
Some of the more intellectual SadGeezers like yerself (with the greatest respect) can read too much into a TV series that is (frankly) aimed at teenagers. The making of the film was a saga all unto itself with murder, mystery and intrigue and personally, I really only liked the first two books.
But together, they all seemed to complement. There was stuff in the film that I just couldn’t see in the books and the series had boobs in it!!!! Did you miss that!!!
But I take on board all your comments and on the whole, I agree. I guess enthusiasm for a well scopedpiece of Sci Fi can only take me so far before I start to get board.
(wow! This spellchecker is great!)20th February 2008 at 11:25 am #77697
I’ve since found an illuminating link that makes sense of Herbert’s aims. It’s great stuff if anyone thinks they might be interested.
http://tim.oreilly.com/herbert/ch01.html24th February 2008 at 3:04 pm #77701
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