Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This very sketchy outline of the first three Dune books has largely omitted those themes that stand in the foreground of the individual works. On its publication, Dune was hailed as a bible of ecological awareness. The central theme of the work is that actions have consequences throughout the ecosystem, and the reforming of a whole planet over centuries of labor seemed to offer the kind of vision so desperately needed in a nation just becoming aware of pollution and its problems. Yet if Dune concentrated on the goal, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune examined the means used to get there and rejected them.

Herbert had in fact turned the tables on his readers, many of whom did not enjoy their new seats at the later courses he served. Several arguments are made in the later two books that repelled some readers. First, the Fremen who have been liberated by Paul become conquerors in their turn, subjecting the galaxy to a jihad, or holy war, repeating the barbarians’ invasions on a grand scale. Next, when the planet Dune becomes a place of greenery, a place hospitable to human life, one finds two results: The Fremen gradually begin to lose their admirable qualities—independence, hardiness, honesty—and become sycophantic. Herbert clearly accepts the dictum that the history of human warfare is the history of hobnailed boots going upstairs and silken slippers coming down. Yet Paul seems almost immediately helpless to stop the jihad and later to prevent the degeneration of the Fremen. An inertia grasps him,...

(The entire section is 640 words.)