Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Years ago I had a habit of starting well-known philosophy books but not getting anywhere close to finishing them. These included Nietzsche’s famous work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, his mock scripture describing the pronouncements of a fictional prophet.* This was Nietzsche’s attempt to put his philosophy in the form of a novel; he ended up subtitling it “A Book for Everyone and No One,” showing his pessimism that its great ideas would fall upon deaf ears. In fact, Nietzsche’s work — especially in the distilled, often out-of-context form of pulled quotes — seems to be most known for being misinterpreted by Nazis and other totalitarians.

Frank Herbert had to have recognized the potential audience for the third volume of his Dune series, the 1976 novel Children of Dune. The original Dune had won critical recognition and was (finally) on its way to becoming the best selling science fiction novel of all time. In fact, CoD was the first hardcover bestseller in the history of science fiction. So when I saw the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra reimagined to introduce The Preacher early in CoD, I was convinced that Herbert was using this unique opportunity to give Nietzsche another chance to be presented to a large, invested audience.


Vincent di Fate cover for Putnam.

Like the books that preceded it, CoD is composed of many chapters, each starting with an excerpt from a fictional text, song or poem. We are thus encouraged to read the story at two levels; one following the narrative and the other to engage in the overarching themes of philosophy and history. The characters, whose feelings and reasoning we are always given, might be therefore be better considered as ideas than personalities; the task of engaging CoD comes from the depth and coherence of Herbert’s ideas, rather than any tension from what the characters might be up to.

I proceed here in sketching a few of these characters and the abstract concepts I think they could represent. I’m convinced that just about any reader of the entirety of CoD will have their own opinion. For more informed viewpoints on Herbert’s use of Nietzsche, see the book Dune and Philosophy, especially Brook Pearson’s essay “Nietzsche Goes to Space.”

The Preacher

The opening Prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra describes the titular prophet approaching a town square after spending ten years out of civilization. Zarathustra, whose Greek name is Zoroaster, has realized that the core religious idea he had spread – that the entirety of the universe has arisen from the forces of good and evil – is false, and has grown eager to repair his mistakes. A crowd has gathered to watch a tightrope walker, and Zarathustra attempts to share his revelations. He is not taken seriously:

. . . “You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now man is more an ape than any ape.” . . .

When Zarathustra had spoken thus, one of the people cried: “Now we have heard enough of the tight-rope walker; let us see him, too!” And all the people laughed at Zarathustra. But the tight-rope walker, who thought that the words applied to him, set to work.

The blind Preacher of CoD, arriving in a Fremen city square nine years after a blind Paul Artreides (known as Muad’Dib to the Fremen) wandered into the desert, witnesses a similar mockery of his religion:

“I have see-ee-en!” the newly awakened dancer shrieked. “I have see-ee-en!” He resisted the pull of the other dancers, darting his eyes right and left. “Where this city is, there will be only sand! I have see-ee-en!”

A great swelling laugh went up from the onlookers. Even the new pilgrims enjoyed it.

This was too much for the Preacher. He raised both arms and roared in a voice which surely had commanded worm riders: “Silence!” The entire throng in the plaza went still at that battle cry.

The Preacher pointed a thin hand towards the dancers, and the illusion that he saw them was uncanny. “Did you not hear that man? Blasphemers and idolators! All of you! The religion of Muad’Dib is not Muad’Dib! He spurns it as he spurns you!  Sand will cover this place. Sand will cover you.”

Like Nietzsche’s prophet, the Preacher finds that mediocrity and the erosion of belief has afflicted the Fremen. During the jihad, Arrakis under the rule of Alia Atreides (sister of Paul, and regent while his twin children are young) had grown wealthy and important. Pilgrims of the Muad’Dib visit the planet, and many local Fremen have forsaken centuries of hard-earned traditions, especially their obsessive water conservation.

Arrakis is also undergoing an ecological transformation, with imported technology capturing atmospheric moisture to form green patches across the desert. This allows people to abandon, or at least to stop meticulously maintaining, their stillsuits. Traditionally-minded Fremen disapprove of course, forming their reactionary tribes well outside of Alia’s governance. Instead of staying with these out-lying families, the Preacher doggedly tries to convince the town-dwellers to look at their own lives in a different way, and realize the folly of their leaving the desert.

Paul Atreides and Leto II

To have many virtues is to be distinguished, but it is a hard fate; and many a man has gone into the desert and killed himself because he was tired of being a battle and battleground of virtues.
– Nietzsche

From his first appearance, the Preacher is suspected of actually being Muad’Dib, or Paul Atreides.** The events of Dune and Dune:Messiah made Paul the messiah of the Fremen people and ruler of the Atreidean Empire. His ability to see into the future, the result of centuries of genetic manipulation, helped the the first part of Dune get published in Analog (whose editor John Campbell always liked stories featuring characters with ESP).

Recapping the first two books … His clairvoyance was augmented to an extreme degree by an overdose of melange, or “spice,” the renowned stimulant that could only be harvested on Arrakis. The effects of spice, this being unique in the science fiction that I’m aware of, varies radically depending on the individual who takes it. In Paul’s case, he is able to save the Fremen and House Atreides by controlling his future via uncanny foresight. To that point, he resembled a Western version of the great usurper Sam in Lord of Light. However, he eventually found himself imprisoned by his knowledge of the future, explicitly conscious of his lack of Free Will. He then blinded himself and wandered out alone into the desert.

It becomes clear in CoD that Paul was bothered by the many deaths brought about by his jihad against the Empire, even though he had chosen the “best” of all possible evils set before him. His clairvoyance had not, in fact, included the widespread death of his war. Rather than be the agent of any further disaster, he chose to abandon the path – known as The Golden Path – and leave the burden of leadership to his offspring. His son Leto II (whose mother was Fremen), possessed with an even greater foresight, confronts him on this point late in the story:

“For a time they’ll call me the missionary of shaitan, too,” Leto said. “Then they’ll begin to wonder, and finally, they’ll understand. You didn’t take your vision far enough, father. Your hands did good things and evil.”

“But the evil was known after the event!”

“Which is the way of many great evils,” Leto said. “You crossed over only to a part of my vision. Was your strength not enough?”

“You know I couldn’t stay there. I could never do an evil act which was known before the act. I’m not Jacurutu.” He clambered to his feet. “Do you think me one of those who laughs alone at night?”

“It is said you were never really Fremen,” Leto said. “We Fremen know how to commission the arifa. Our judges can choose between evils. It’s always been that way for us.”

This conversation could be between two tyrants as much as between two heroes, and admittedly floats into the dangerous territory where Nietzsche’s ideas have been known to be twisted. Thus Spoke Zarathustra was dedicated for everyone or no one, not a chosen few who have power. However, the changes to be imposed upon the populace have to come from someone . . .

Leto II takes the mantle in the above quote, claiming by birthright a more nuanced understanding of the nature of evil. This is an example of Herbert philosophically departing from Nietzsche — Nietzsche posits that good and evil are not at the metaphysical essence of existence, and that evil is a construct of envy and resentment. Herbert suggests a rational basis for how evil comes to exist in the Dune universe: Leto II and Paul both understand that evil must exist in order for good to be defined against it, but only Leto embraces it. Moreover, the shocking cost of Leto’s Golden Path indicate a keen reversal of Nietzsche’s skeptical treatment of evil as a thing. Even after reaching the end of CoD, we do not know whether the Nietzschean ideal outcome, when interpreted in this nuanced context of the Dune universe, would actually be any good for us.

It was much easier to see Paul Atreides as the sympathetic hero in Dune, but we see now that his great victory was a hollow one. His people are wealthier and healthier than before the jihad, but they are reaching a stasis wherein they will, at some point, fall under the rule of House Corrino, the Spacing Guild, or other outside entity. They have become what Nietzsche derided as “Ultimate Man,” the self-satisfied middle class.

Leto II, on the other hand, intends to put humanity on the path to become the “Superman,” or Übermensch in Nietzsche’s writings. Often mistaken in popular culture as an ideal for a special individual, Übermensch actually refers to the future of the entire human race; understanding this informs us of the scale of Leto’s ambitions.

Alia, Jessica and Duncan Idaho

The ongoing feud between Alia, the autocratic regent of Arrakis, and her mother Jessica drives the plot of CoD. Jessica is a wayward member of the Bene Gesserit, an ancient society of erudite women who maintain a limited ability to foresee political events and influence them. From the start, they struggle over the fate of Leto II and his twin sister Ghanima.

The Bene Gesserit plan is thought to be to have the twins share the throne as a married couple; this is something the children find repugnant but would give the Bene Gesserit a second chance at a line of scions under their influence. Alia’s scheme is to get rid of her mother through assassination and arrange a marriage between Ghanima and a member of House Corrino (an off-planet rival of House Atreides). Alia and Jessica make a series of moves, feints and counter-moves, pulling around a cast of secondary male characters like so many pieces on a game board. They comprise the most conventionally interesting aspects of CoD, and reveal the heavy influence of Shakespeare.

Duncan Idaho, a former swordsman for Paul and advisor-husband of Alia, serves a complimentary role as a link between the two women, but Herbert mainly uses him – as he often does with “mentat” characters – to provide an ostensibly disinterested overview of the complex plot threads and settings. After Idaho concludes that Alia is conspiring with members of House Corrino, he reveals to us the reasons why this would not lead to a nuclear attack on Arrakis. Among these reasons is the suppression of technical ingenuity by feudal governments:

Planetary feudalism remained in constant danger from a large technical class, but the effects of the Butlerian Jihad continued as a damper on technological excesses. Ixians, Tleilaxu, and a few scattered outer plants were the only possible threat in this regard, and they were planet-vulnerable to the combined wrath of the rest of the Imperium. The Butlerian Jihad would not be undone. Mechanized warfare required a large technical class. The Atreides Imperium had channeled this force into other pursuits. No large technical class existed unwatched. And the Empire remained safely feudalist, naturally, since that was the best social form for spreading over widely dispersed wild frontiers – new planets.

Reading CoD requires absorption on two levels; we must follow the plot and decide what is at stake for the characters, and we also drink the knowledge of Herbert’s Dune universe. It’s like pausing a conventionally told story to check out a related article every few pages – something I do when reading history. If you can accept CoD as a telling of a worthwhile history imbued with philosophy, I think Herbert’s style should work for you.

“Everything straight lies,” murmured the dwarf disdainfully. “All truth is crooked, time itself is a circle.”
– Nietzsche

The important ideas of Dune series hang around between the volumes; so too do many of the characters. Duncan Idaho is the ideal example of this – he is killed at the end of Dune, but is essentially replicated as a cognizant zombie in Dune: Messiah. In a plot to assassinate Paul, he was “programmed” by the technicians who constructed him, but he recovers the necessary Will to overcome this and foil the conspirators. This made him a Nietzschean hero in his own right, having forsaken the will of others (including those who created him) in order to recover his potential as an individual.

More interesting is his apparent embodiment (I don’t know if he shows up after CoD) of the notion of eternal recurrence: that the events in our lives have happened before, and will eventually repeat themselves ad infinitum. He may switch alliances and surprise the Bene Gesserit in his (after-)life, but he realizes he remains somewhere in their web of manipulations. Like Paul, he has defeated his human enemies but has ultimately fallen short of the ideals of the superman, and remains subject to the cyclic history of Dune. I was frustrated with his deux ex machina quality in Dune: Messiah but I found him more interesting in CoD — he also was a needed character in driving the plot onward.

That said, I felt CoD took a good 180 pages before the events really got moving. So much of the first part of the book was recapitulating the content of Dune and Dune: Messiah and establishing who-knows-what and who-thinks-what-may-happen. This is not merely embodied in the long internal dialogues of Duncan Idaho. Jessica frequently provides her own perspective on past events and the possible motivations of her rivals. Alia’s psychotic “possession” by the ghost-memory of Baron Harkonnen,*** brings back the principal villain of Dune. Of course, Leto II and Ghanima have many generations of ancestors living inside of their minds – no major character experiences the present without obsessing over the past, regardless of whether or not they actually lived in it. Even at the very beginning, old Stilgar, a loyal Atreides soldier and having relatively simple motivations, must summarize historical events as he talks himself out of an act of double regicide.

So, reading CoD can be slow going as it revisits the prior books in the series. The world of Dune must have been the most richly realized in the experience of Herbert’s wide readership, and CoD certainly does not compromise this complexity. The ecological theme is again part of the background, but we do get a healthy amount of sandworm biology (recalling Melville’s enthusiasm for cetology in Moby Dick). In this volume, he brings a new emphasis on modern philosophical ideas, taking on the difficult task of combining them into a compelling narrative. For the most part, it appears he has pulled it off. 8/10.


* Thus Spoke Zarathustra can be an uneven reading experience for the casual reader, so it wasn’t entirely surprising I failed to finish it at the time. I do recommend it for anyone wanting to plumb the philosophical depths of Children of Dune.

** Unlike what is claimed in Brook Pearson’s essay “Nietzsche Goes to Space,” the Preacher does not leave his first audience unmoved, like Zarathustra. The mystique of Muad’Dib is still powerful among the modernized Fremen as well as the off-planet visitors. They were pilgrims, after all.  Overall, Pearson’s arguments are sound and easy to follow. The book looks like it was marketed toward the Dune movie, but the chapter authors mostly focused on Herbert’s novels.

*** Baron Harkonnen was an obvious physical manifestation of evil in the original Dune, something I think portrayed very effectively in David Lynch’s movie. Calculating, disgusting and taking sexual gratification in killing innocent victims, he was also an economic terror, hoarding spice so that potential rivals would be cut off from Arrakis when he set his invasion plans in motion. As a voice inside Alia’s mind in CoD, Harkonnen is a more modern incarnation of the Devil: an aberrant mental ghost who the Regent turns to in her desperation to defeat the conspiracies around her.

About pete

former academic scientist and presently a software engineer. Also, a science fiction and crime fiction book-blogger.
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31 Responses to Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

  1. fredfitch says:

    See, when I was reading this (right around the time it came out), I didn’t know from Nietzsche. I just wanted a good story, like Dune. With interesting ideas, yes. But the ideas should serve the story, not the other way around. He’s really trying to be Tolstoy here (since Nietzsche couldn’t tell a story to save his life). Herbert was not nearly that good.

    But in Dune, he captured something of that Tolstoyan quality, where the personalities are big and complex enough to not be overshadowed by the ideas and events–what happens with Nathasha and Pierre matters just as much as who wins the war. His embracing her matters more than his embracing this or that school of philosophy. (If only old Leo practiced what he preached).

    When I was in high school, everybody talked about Dune (okay, the people who read SF talked about Dune, and everybody else talked about Deirdre Flanagan’s ass, which was really something, let me tell you.) The first book. Which is as complete a thing as a book of that kind can be. It’s really more about ecology than anything else. The idea is preserving Arrakis. But this Great Hero comes along, and rui’s the ecologist’s plans with his Great Vision. And we’re left to ponder whether Paul really is the hero. The contradictions of history.

    And part of me will always think we should have been left to ponder those contradictions forever–that not having the answers, Herbert shouldn’t have tried to pretend he did. I’m quite sure that if Dune had sold the way SF usually does, there never would have been another book about Arrakis. He got locked into a path himself–a commercial one.

    But again, medical bills. When he writes about the way you will change your plans for someone you love, he’s writing that from the inside. It resonates. Nothing like that in COH, that I can recall. I just don’t believe in the second Leto, the way I did the first one, and Paul. It’s fitting that he ends up in a worm suit, insulated from all reality and human feelings.

    Since Paul’s original vision wasn’t truly religious in nature, and he walked into the desert as a form of secular sacrifice, it’s hard to believe his transition to zealot (it’s also hard to believe he survived out there by himself, blinded, without a stillsuit). I understand the point being made, the symbolism, but that doesn’t make it good storytelling.

    And Nietzsche is personally fascinating, but he was still nutso. If God is dead, who’s that I hear laughing at us all the time?

    Liked by 1 person

    • bormgans says:

      That’s probably Nietzsche! When I started reading him, I was surprised how much of our culture has already absorbed him. Maybe it’s not the same in the US, but in secular Europe, nearly everybody is a Nietzschean, mostly without realizing it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        Admittedly, absorbed, but not digested. If I say nearly everybody is a Nietzschean, I don’t mean everybody has come to terms with it and is consequent about it in their judgments and feelings.

        Liked by 1 person

      • fredfitch says:

        I thought Nietzcheans were those eugenics buffs from that bad space opera show with Kevin Sorbo?

        I think nobody at all is a Nietzchean. I think we just glom onto his sayings, without really understanding what he meant by them, which is not to say he necessarily understood either. It’s precisely because he’s so confused (terminally so, by the end) that people on the left and right can both think they know what he meant. And both be wrong.

        Much more style than substance.

        Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        Nietzsche is prone to interpretation, yes. In that sense he is not really different from a lot of other philosophers held in high regard. Just try to read Kant, or Hegel, or Heidegger, or Spinoza, or Deleuze. It’s Richard Rorty’s enduring insight that all texts of philosophy are in essence a form of literature, not science. Private discourse vs. public discourse so to say. Some professional philosophers are deluded about that, especially those in an academic context.

        I do not feel a lot for writing an extensive defense of Nietzsche. Obviously his writing has not clicked with you. That might be taste, that might be limited exposure, that might be another cultural context. Suffice to say that in the context he wrote in, his writings were a singular tour de force, by an independent mind trying to make sense of the conflicted morality of his surroundings. His writings are confused, yes, but so is human existence. Writing in a confused way, using a poetic, explicitly literary style, does not mean there’s not a lot of sharp, dead on insights to be found in his work.

        The eugenic buffs take what they take from him, other people take other stuff. Hardly a thing to hold against an author: it’s like we all do from all books we read.

        Nietzsche’s messy writing might be his greatest triumph: it reminds us about the limits of interpretation and forces readers to think for themselves, especially if we are not ideologically aligned to this side or that side of Nietzschean interpreters. What does have a fixe meaning after all? Plato? The Bible? Sure: Ptolemy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • fredfitch says:

        Nietzsche is a phase people go through. You know, like the kid who takes an oath of silence in Little Miss Sunshine because he’s been reading Nietzsche, and thinks that will make him stronger or something, and then he can be a pilot, only it turns out he’s colorblind, so he breaks his oath to scream a profanity, and realizes his family is more important.

        Nietzsche is all about self-involvement, narcissism. There’s nothing of community in him, nothing of family, nothing of friendship. There’s a reason nihilism was inspired by him. There’s a reason fascism was inspired by him. Would he have liked either movement? Probably not. He wanted more, but didn’t know where to find it. He blundered down a long empty hallway, only to find himself at a dead end. With an abused horse. Who he embraced with a sob. The only thing I like about him. If that didn’t really happen, don’t tell me.

        I’m not saying he didn’t have any interesting ideas, but I am saying it’s more about the mystique, the image, than what lies behind them. Every generation rediscovers him, then abandons him. Because there’s no there there.

        Liked by 2 people

      • bormgans says:

        I agree with what you write here. I do want to highlight there’s actually quite a lot of life affirming bits in his writing.

        I’d like to think there isn’t a lot of family in him as romantic love was not really established in the 19th century. There’s not a lot of family in Kant and Hegel either.

        As for community, I guess protestant small town Germany was a tough place to be as an atheist born at the end of the Biedermeier era.

        Friendship, love, yes indeed, I guess he was lonely and unhappy. Tragic indeed, horse and all.

        Liked by 2 people

    • fredfitch says:

      At the end of the day, he’s just commenting on Jesus, right? Rebelling against those ideas (which I don’t think he understands, but the same could be said of most Christians).

      But to rebel against an idea means that idea isn’t dead. (Nobody bothers to say Zeus is dead.) So he’s really just another satellite, orbiting the memory of an itinerant crucified rabbi who never had more than a handful of followers in his life, and who sure as hell never thought of himself as God. (And for the record, it took a LOT longer for people to start killing in the name of Jesus than it did for them to start killing in the name of Nietzsche–like three decades for the latter).

      As long as you’re saying “Got ist tot”, God lives. Nietzsche’s Superman would never even think about God existing or not. My problem is not with people not believing in God, but rather with the conclusion that so often follows on that conclusion’s heels—“If God is dead, that means I’M God, and all is lawful!” It never ends well.

      I think of him as just commenting on ideas, more than creating ideas of his own. The Superman ended up being a nice storytelling hook for Shaw, not to mention Siegel & Shuster. But in fact, Jesus imagined the Superman long before, and his idea was better.

      But not as useful for comic book writers or evil dictators, true.


      Liked by 1 person

      • pete says:

        It seems to me (again, my Nietzsche experience is limited to single reading of TSZ – which is where, all my Nietzsche quotes are pulled from, btw) that the famous “God is dead” utterance was the prophet’s attempt to shake things up. There is a strong belief in that book that institutions must be destroyed before a stronger foundation can be built in its place. Nietzsche wanted to take a hammer to Plato, not so much Jesus.

        It also seems to me that following Nietzsche’s prescribed path from old idea -> destruction -> lots of worthwhile suffering and consternation -> new, permanent ideas could lead to atheism along the way. But atheism in this sense would be a temporary phase, an acceptable stop along the way in the struggle to reach the greater truths. Don’t stop at “God is dead,” in other words.

        In the Dune series (so far), we see that some institutions – in particular the ruling class of Arrakis and the pre-Muad’Dib Empire – are ripe for destruction but others, like the Bene Jesserit and the more traditional Fremen seitches, seem built to last. Could they be closer to the truth about all things, or are they just higher-hanging fruit for Leto II? This is what’s interesting to me, and why I’ll continue with Herbert’s opus.

        Liked by 2 people

      • bormgans says:

        In a way Nietzsche and Jesus are on the same page. Jesus stresses people do not know what they do, and should be forgiven (if they don’t know what they do, they can’t help themselves, i.e. free will does not exist). Nietzsche in a way also acknowledges this, as the viability of moral categories like good and bad presuppose a free will. Obviously, he struggles with this, but in the end the Will to Power is just that: a will to, not a grip on power. So I’d also say that Nietzsche’s beef is more with the institution of the Church than with Jesus himself.

        Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        Btw, I think you would both like Tolstoj’s “The Gospel in Brief”.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. bormgans says:

    I wouldn’t call the fact “that evil must exist in order for good to be defined against it” a very Nietzschean thought, in fact, it’s contrary to Nietzsche’s core ideas, I believe. I’m also not sure it follows from the quote you give before that statement. I would say Nietzsche ultimately is a pragmatist (much reviled post WW2, like in The Lathe Of Heaven) admitting death & stuff happens in our road to Übermensch ascendancy, just as Leto in the end is a kind of Benthian utilitarian pragmatist too. The Übermensch as I (and a few of my professors) understand it, is a person understanding the absolute relative (and socially determined) character of categories like ‘good’ and ‘evil’, like the title of ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ (my favorite Nietzsche book) hints at. I also feel this is the gist of that Leto quote: “Our judges can choose between evils. It’s always been that way for us.” imo meaning, ‘we aren’t bothered by such categories’.

    I’m not sure to what extent ‘evil existing in order for good to be defined against it’ permeates the Dune series. As I recall it, not that much, but I could be wrong. Because of our previous discussion here, I’m currently reading Herbert’s Soul Catcher, and as I said I hope to start my reread of the series in a few months.

    I’m also curious to see whether Herbert’s interpretation of the ‘eternal recurrence’ remains stuck in the literal, metaphysical mode, or if he also saw it as Nietzsche probably meant it: as a metaphor, a thought experiment to judge whether one’s life is truly worth living.

    Anyhow, great, great review, thank you! I also wasn’t aware of Dune And Philosophy. I should pick it up someday, I guess in between reread 2 and 3.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pete says:

      You are correct. My sentence in question:
      “However, the changes to be imposed upon the populace have to some from someone, and the only candidate must understand that evil must exist in order for good to be defined against it.”
      – refers to a idea of Herbert’s, not Nietzsche’s. I put it in the wrong place, or maybe I took out a sentence before it, when I shouldn’t have.

      Clearly, the Dune series offers multiple angles about where evil comes from, asking us why – in a world created by a loving God – Fremen get eaten by sandworms, or the Harkonnen family is allowed to victimize so many people. Harkonnen was the identifiable villain in Dune, so his return (and takeover) inside the Geist of Alia is disturbing. Leto’s embrace of evil, particularly the destruction of the life-giving green areas, in order to push the Fremen toward his idea of the greater (or at least, adaptable) humanity, is also troubling. I don’t think Herbert wants us to embrace him as the hero in the way Paul was.

      Like I (wildly, admittedly) speculated about The Whipping Star, I submit that Herbert puts a strong emphasis on economic evils. In Dune, Harkonnen hoards spice in order to supply his invading armies. At the end of CoD, Leto also hoards spice as part of his Golden Path. I would probably get more out of Dune:Messiah if I re-read it with economic morality in mind.

      I do recommend Philosophy of Dune, despite its cutesy titles. The Pearson essay drew several parallels between the major characters of CoD and those of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but rather conveniently omitted key differences. TSZ opens with Zarathustra expressing gratitude for his hard-earned insight. A hermit watching him descending from the mountains points out that he has “his eyes are clear, and no disgust lurks about his mouth” and that he goes along “like a dancer.” Obviously, Herbert chose The Preacher to not have these qualities. The CoD vs. TSZ comparison could continue on and on for the entire contents of both books, which would make a rather long essay.

      Some misreadings of Nietzsche seem to come from the translation of the original German terms Geist and Seele into the English “spirit” and “soul,” respectively. Spirit and soul have overlapping meanings in English, and I wonder if Herbert has appreciated the difference between these terms in his fiction. I didn’t pay enough attention to this matter when I started reading CoD, so I’ll leave that question to you (regarding The Soul Catcher).

      Liked by 1 person

      • fredfitch says:

        I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here, and assume Herbert didn’t know German. Not that you said you did, but you might have read much more carefully annotated editions, not to mention that Philosophy of Dune book.

        Point is, his understanding of Nietzsche is not likely to have been deep, nor would it have likely played a major role in his original conceptions of the Dune-iverse, which were more influenced by things like Sociobiology and Medieval history (Dune really does give us a very well-realized futuristic feudal society).

        But as he started running into the built-in limitations of the universe he’d created, he’d have been looking for ways to open it up, create new possibilities, so he could keep writing books–we should remember, he didn’t quit his day job for several years after Dune was published–it was the notion of a Dune franchise, an open-ended series of novels, that allowed him to be a full-time novelist, though it also, sadly, shackled him to that franchise for life.

        And really, you don’t need to understand a philosopher all that well to incorporate elements of his or her work into a story. I mean, John Milius’ Conan movie opens with a Nietzsche quote. Pretty damn sure Milius had NO idea what Nietzsche was talking about–Robert E. Howard’s Nietzsche influence was second-hand, through Jack London, who probably just read Thus Spake Zarathustra and liked the imagery. Mr. N. gets name-checked a lot.

        However, Nietzsche is not mentioned as an influence on Herbert in the well-researched Wikipedia article on him. Freud, Jung, Jaspers, Heidegger, yes. Nietzsche no. So I’m not contesting that he’s an influence on COH, but it would seem likely that Herbert’s knowledge of him was pretty shallow, though probably much less so than mine. I took a fair bit of philosophy in college and grad school, but I never really went through a Nietzsche phase, because he kind of irritates me (and also I figured out pretty early that most of his popularity stemmed from the fact that he wrote better ad copy than most philosophers, which isn’t saying much–“Blonde Beast”–Goebbels knew he could use that the minute he read it).

        The danger of bringing phiilosophy into a work of fiction is that unless you make yourself the master of those ideas (instead of vice-versa) the ideas can overwhelm the characters. You’re not telling a well-balanced organic story anymore. You’re not letting the characters speak to you, tell you what they think (Tolstoy wanted to make Anna Karenina the story of a bad woman who gets what’s coming to her, and then he started seeing things from her perspective–his mind was still flexible enough then to override his prejudices–his later work is too much philosophy, not enough people).

        I like the parts in COH where the children commune with the psychic ghosts of their ancestors, buried in their unconscious (now that’s not Nietzsche, clearly that’s Jung). I realize now that’s because those characters, from the first book, are more interesting by far than any introduced in COH, or Dune Messiah. The book comes to life when they do. And sinks back into poorly digested philosophical cant when they’re gone. Herbert was a very bright guy, with a wide range of knowledge, but he was way out of his depth by this point.

        So we’re back to my saying “The only one you need to read is Dune.” And really, I only had to say that once, but apparently I’ve run out of things to say on this subject as well.

        So what’s next in the queue?

        Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        Leto becomes such a tragic figure later in the series. It’s a hard character to embrace, but as I remember it, I felt a lot of sympathy for him as the series closed, more than for Paul.

        I must admit I have no idea about the religious cosmology of Dune anymore. Does Herbert really propose creating by a loving god?

        I’ll try to look for an answer to your last question, if this quote already doesn’t answer it:

        “If the spirit left him, it would take both of his souls.”

        How would you define the difference? I’ve googled a bit, but I fell down a rabbit hole of German religious texts, which I don’t have the stamina to plough through at the moment. I’m also not sure if they are the right source for the way Nietzsche used them. (On a sidenote, you will be pleased to hear I’ve already come across a character referring to Lucretius as a liar.)


      • fredfitch says:

        Leto basically becomes God, is referred to as such in the title of a later book, does horrible things to untold numbers of people in his quest to shape history, can be utterly ruthless, and yet we’re told he’s loving.

        God is a hard character to write, which is probably why I don’t consider Leto a character so much as an idea for one. But I think Leto would demonstrate that Herbert wrestled with the dilemmas that would face any omnipotent immortal being, taking responsibility for all creation.

        Which really, when you think about it, is a pretty good job description for ‘fiction writer.’

        Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        He is loving because he has the long arc in mind. He cannot act differently, because doing nothing would mean even more suffering to more people in the even long term (longer than the millennia he lives). Part of his tragedy is loneliness, and the fact that had to give up his humanity. You are spot on with this post.


      • pete says:

        We’ve hit on a number of questions about Herbert that make me think a look into his biography would be interesting. A lot of times, I prefer to just take the novels as they are and not feel obligated to go looking for all the “correct” background facts behind the writing. I don’t think of the original Dune as having as much of a focus on Nietzsche as CoD, but that could just be what I’ve been exposed to at the time I read those books.

        The primary religious text of the Dooniverse is the Orange Catholic Bible (OCB). Dr. Yueh gives young Paul a copy on their way to Arrakis. I couldn’t find evidence that Herbert explicitly said that the OCB teaches creation by a loving God, but I suppose I presume it would. Otherwise, we would have been told so, right?

        Geist usually gets trans-literated into “spirit,” but its meaning is “mental presence,” or “mental state of being.” Zeitgeist is an intellectual concept, not really a religious one, but gets translated as “spirit of the times.”

        Seele usually gets trans-lliterated into “soul,” but its meaning is more central, as in “depths of the soul.” Steele has much more to do with the unconscious, emotional identity.

        My question about Herbert had to do with whether you thought he kept those two concepts separate in his fiction or not. They are definitely conflated in a lot of popular culture, particularly out here in the Arizona, where we have all of these crystals, vortex points, etc. around Sedona and other places.

        Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        What characters in a fictional world believe, or what religious books they read isn’t necessarily the same as how the author sees the genesis of the world, (made up) religion as a tool for social engineering is an important theme in the series for a reason. As Dune is set in our own universe, we would need to know Herbert’s own religious opinion: did he himself believe in a (loving) god? Another biographical question.


      • pete says:

        As for what’s next in the queue …

        I just tore through an early Block novel called Sinner Man. He’s startlingly easy to read after Herbert and Nietzsche.

        After that is the second “Campion” mystery by Margery Allingham. Her first one wasn’t that great – maybe it just hasn’t aged well – but Campion was not the main character in it. So, The Mystery Mile seems worth a shot.

        After that, Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick. I actually don’t know what to expect from that one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • bormgans says:

        My review of Soul Catcher is up. I tried to say something meaningful on the Seele-Geist question too.

        Liked by 1 person

    • pete says:

      I decided to go back and replace that troublesome sentence with a clarification on Nietzsche’s skepticism of “evil,” Herbert’s reversal of the skepticism, and the embrace of evil means to a glorious end being the thing that finally splits Leto from Paul.

      It’s tempting to go all “uneasy is the head that wears the crown,” but I didn’t want to add another 500 words about Shakespeare.

      That’s two big things I left out of the review: Shakespeare, and Roe v. Wade. There’s just so much to Herbert’s series . . . I’m always surprised that the ecology part gets so much press.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Sinner Man, by Lawrence Block | gaping blackbird

  4. Oh god, seeing CoD and reading “Call of Duty”….

    Great review and critique. I read Children of Dune as a teenager so related quite strongly to Leto II’s decision to isolate himself away from the rest of humanity by becoming something ‘different’. And considering Leto is a teenager himself (I think?), then it’s quite a fitting parallel to the feeling of isolation through those years.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Odd John, by Olaf Stapledon | gaping blackbird

  6. Pingback: SOUL CATCHER – Frank Herbert (1972) | Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.

  7. Pingback: DUNE MESSIAH – Frank Herbert (1969) | Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.

  8. Pingback: CHILDREN OF DUNE – Frank Herbert (1976) | Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.

  9. Rik T says:

    Iv pasted a poem by a welsh metaphycial poet below Henry Vaughan. Can anyone else see the link between that metaphysical peom, TSZ and The Dune series too i think. From 1650 aswell which is around the end of the period Nietzsche qoutes as when the value transfiguration happened (start of genealogy of morality?). Where rich became good etc… 30 year war? I am not as broadly read yet as id like to be so apologies if i am indelicately missing quite alot here. All quite new to me tbh.

    ‘The World – Henry Vaughan – 1650

    I saw Eternity the other night,

    Like a great ring of pure and endless light,

    All calm, as it was bright;

    And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,

    Driv’n by the spheres

    Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world

    And all her train were hurl’d.

    The doting lover in his quaintest strain

    Did there complain;

    Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,

    Wit’s sour delights,

    With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,

    Yet his dear treasure

    All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour

    Upon a flow’r.

    The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe,

    Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow,

    He did not stay, nor go;

    Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl

    Upon his soul,

    And clouds of crying witnesses without

    Pursued him with one shout.

    Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found,

    Work’d under ground,

    Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see

    That policy;

    Churches and altars fed him; perjuries

    Were gnats and flies;

    It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he

    Drank them as free.

    The fearful miser on a heap of rust

    Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust

    His own hands with the dust,

    Yet would not place one piece above, but lives

    In fear of thieves;

    Thousands there were as frantic as himself,

    And hugg’d each one his pelf;

    The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense,

    And scorn’d pretence,

    While others, slipp’d into a wide excess,

    Said little less;

    The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,

    Who think them brave;

    And poor despised Truth sate counting by

    Their victory.

    Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,

    And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring;

    But most would use no wing.

    O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night

    Before true light,

    To live in grots and caves, and hate the day

    Because it shews the way,

    The way, which from this dead and dark abode

    Leads up to God,

    A way where you might tread the sun, and be

    More bright than he.

    But as I did their madness so discuss

    One whisper’d thus,

    “This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,

    But for his bride.”’


  10. Pingback: Nietzsche on Arrakis – Society and Mind Codex

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