Many times now I've encouraged people to read Frank Herbert's "Dune," not only in this blog, but in real life as well. The day I finally convinced my sister to read the book, was a personal victory for me, as she's not someone who likes to read at all, and she doesn't care for science fiction or fantasy.
When I asked my sister two weeks later what she thinks of the book, her answer was somewhat disappointing, but one I've heard before from others who took up the book on my recommendation; "I'm not sure. I'll have to do some more reading I guess, and I've only been able to finish 100 pages up until now..." This I hear rather often, that people find it a hard book to read, or hard to really get into at least. And I can't really blame them; I had the same problem the first time I read it. There are a couple of main reasons for this in my opinion.
Frank Herbert throws readers right into a universe that's so far removed from our own, without any preparation. Sure, there are only humans in the story, and situations, landscapes and relationships are typical of the human societies we all know; there's nothing "alien" in the Dune universe. But the story's set tens of thousands of years in our future, and Frank has developed many words and expressions to describe the religious, sociological, technological and cultural realities of this far removed time where different human factions have evolved in different ways to develop very specific talents. It takes a while to get used to this new vocabulary with words like "Gom Jabbar," "Kwisatz Haderach" and "Kanly."
Then there's the number of characters readers are confronted with right from the start. I remember having to go back a few pages many times to remind myself who certain characters were on many occasions the first time I read Dune. This is not only because of the number of characters, but also because we get to read all their thoughts. When two or three persons are discussing, we not only get to read what they say, we not only get to red what they say plus the thoughts of one character's perspective, no, we get to read everything everyone says and what everyone thinks. Frank Herbert uses the third person omniscient perspective to great effect, but it has this downside that the storytelling can get really dense.
One great example of this is the magnificent dinner party organized by Duke Leto Atreides during their first couple of days on the planet Dune. He knows him being sent there is a trap, and it's imperative he gets to know all major political players on the planet as soon as possible. When reading this section, readers are confronted with the book's heavy political, cultural and sociological themes through the words and thoughts of the many influencers at the dinner table. When Jessica speaks, we also get her thoughts from the perspective of a Bene Gesserit gone rogue, a loving partner and a mother. When Paul makes a remark to solicit a certain reaction from a certain individual, we get to read his thoughts and reasons behind that, and the thoughts of his father, mother and the one he addresses, as well as the reactions of other important people present.
I estimate that it takes approximately 100 to 150 pages to get acquainted with Dune's basic premises. And my sister completed the read as well, and she loved it; she promised she'll be reading the rest of the series as well. So, don't give up on it too early is what I'm saying. When Jessica and Paul flee into Dune's desert, the story slows down significantly, and by then you'll be an expert on the world of Dune, or at least enough of an expert to be able to consume the rest of it without having to flip back through pages to remind yourself of someone or something. I'm writing this post in anticipation of seeing the movie tonight; I'm so excited! This means that I'll be leaving a review here in the next couple of days...
Dune's Writing is Incredible. Here's why.
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