Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I'm re-reading Dune for probably the seventh or eighth time. I picked it up this time as something to listen to on the car on the way to work instead of the awful morning talk radio or just regular music. Every time I read this book, I realize about a quarter of the way into it that I've forgotten how magnificent it is. This time, hearing it read aloud, I've found I also discover new things that I hadn't grasped on the previous readings. There's the over-layer of epic scope, large, colorful cast, and cunning plot twists and turns, but then there's also the under-layer of subtle foreshadowing, intimidation couched in innocent dialoge that the narrative doesn't really point out to the reader and could be completely missed on a too-fast read.

There are shades of meaning in nearly every line, particularly from the point-of-view character Baron Harkonnen, who persists in my mind as one of the most brilliant examples of controlled, devious viciousness that I've ever read. In the audiobook version, the reader also makes a point of giving Baron Harkonnen an older, more rumbling voice, almost like Treebeard from Lord of the Rings. This was specifically described in the book but sadly neither movie version took advantage of it. It gives the telling of the story a more Shakespearean air. His dialogue, as well, is quite revealing and funny. There's a great scene I didn't remember from the initial readings where Piter the Mentat is laying out the plans to overthrow the Duke to the Baron's nephews and the Baron is trying to get him to knock it off. At first he subtly hints that Piter is saying too much, and then, after Piter basically lets the whole cat out of the bag, the Baron sighs and says slowly: "Someday I'm going to have you strangled, Piter." If ever there was a nervous laughter moment...

There's also another part I noticed this morning in a minor side-scene with the Baron and his nephew Rabban where Rabban (who is called the Beast and taken by everyone including the Baron to be a mindless animalistic killer) hits on the possibility that there may be more Fremen than they originally estimated and that the Fremen may be more dangerous than they thought. The Baron dismisses this out of hand, all the while playing up how thoughtless and unsophistocated Rabban is compared to his brother Feyd Rautha. I had read that scene before several times but never comprehended the hidden meaning where Rabban actually had the right idea and could have changed the course of the entire story had the Baron seen him differently. I had always glossed over that part and assumed that Rabban was exactly what the narrative voice suggested he was.

If you have only ever seen the David Lynch movie version of Dune, you do yourself a disfavor not to read the book. As my friend Jeramy once told me, it's one of the most brilliant and violent things I've ever read. It's a tour-de-force of statecraft and military strategy, palace intrigue and guerilla warfare. The David Lynch version is like a big psychedelic fever dream of the actual story, which is much grittier and not at all the bizarre, jumbled, confusing mess that the movie makes it out to seem. The movie isn't horrible, it has good moments for sure, but the book is considered by many to be the best science fiction novel of all time.

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