Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Rereading Dune

Actually, I'm relistening to it - I don't think I've actually ever sat down and read the book. Even though I've listened to it probably five or six times, it still amazes me anew every time. It's probably the only world that I've found that is anywhere near as fully imagined as Middle-Earth, with a complete history, religion (or mythology in the case of Tolkien), etc. Although I have read quite a bit of criticism of Brian Herbert's prequels, evidently he got some of the ideas from his father's notes, so obviously FH thought a lot about those things. (I actually enjoyed the three that take place immediately prior to Dune, at least on their own terms. Obviously they can't compare to the original and I found a lot of annoying little inconsistencies, but they were generally entertaining stories and gave some insight into the previous relations between the characters.)

The theme that I personally find most powerful, I think, apart from the good old-fashioned "plots within plots," is the examination of the messianic impulse, particularly from the point of view of the "messiah" himself. The picture given of Paul's prescience and his struggles with it and with his destiny seems intuitively true. The idea of seeing innumerable different paths, flashes of how some of them will end, as well as the parts that he cannot see is the only way I can imagine such a thing without its being omniscience, which I think would be impossible in a human being, even the Kwisatz Haderach.

A question that was just asked in one of the tapes I listened to tonight is one that I've always found fascinating: To what extent does the prophecy influence the future? Paul tries to change the circumstances of his vision just a little by adding his birth name to his Fremen name and becoming "Paul Muad'dib," but what if he had chosen a different name altogether, or done any (or all) of a hundred other things differently from what he had foreseen? Of course, then he presumably would have foreseen the results of that, too. This is where I start getting dizzy!

I also find it interesting to try to trace back the allusions and the imaginary history of Herbert's universe from the words and names Herbert uses, such as the Atreides line itself, which obviously refers to the House of Atreus in ancient Greek mythology and drama. And in fact, the family drama played out does seem to me as if it could come right out of Greek tragedy, particularly the character of Duke Leto and the whole idea of Lady Jessica being (unsuspectingly) the daughter of his mortal enemy.

I've only actually read (or listened to) the first three books of the six, but eventually I hope to get through the whole thing.


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