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Nerdist Book Club: DUNE, Part 12

There has been an awakening. No, not with the Force but on Arrakis. As Paul Atreides says, the city people have “discovered they’re a people. They’re awakening.” In the final pages of Frank Herbert’s Dune, citizens join the Fremen to rise against the Emperor and his Sardaukar. Paul is poised to take control of the planet, but does he succeed?

What happened

The last pages of Dune move so quickly it’s difficult to slow down and absorb everything. Herbert infuses the battle and the face-off between Paul and the Emperor with so much urgency you can’t help but be caught up. The speedy pace means you barely have time to stop and process the fact that Paul has lost his son (it puts us in the same shoes as Paul) or consider any consequences.

Dune isn’t a book that’s follows a usual arc. Since it’s divided into different parts, each part has its rise and fall. But, the book ends with the culmination of pages and pages of development without any time afterward to slow down and breathe. It’s basically tense from the beginning of the fight to the last sentence, and it works. The ending left me charged and excited about the future of Arrakis.

Two aspects in particular jumped out at me: the absolute idiocy of Baron Harkonnen and the Emperor and the constant, looming danger of jihad in Paul’s mind. The Baron and the Emperor remained clueless about the numbers and power of the Fremen until the last. Willful ignorance is an astonishing thing. Sure, the Spacing Guild contributed to the deception, but mostly? I believe arrogance led to their downfall. Watching the Fremen take down their forces and then seeing Paul tear into the Emperor like he was picking wings off an insect was incredibly satisfying—even though I think Paul was gentler than he could have been with the leader.

Princess Irulan by Nathan J. Anderson

Paul has at least five million things on his mind at any given point during the battle. He’s directing the Fremen, he’s processing the loss of his son and the kidnapping of his sister, he’s thinking about an advantageous marriage arrangement, and he’s juggling prescient memories. The weight of jihad presses upon him, and I can’t imagine being faced with knowing any wrong move could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The responsibilities have changed Paul, too. He is the Kwisatz Haderach first, Muad’Dib second, and maybe Usul and Paul are tied for third place. Only a sliver remains of the boy we met at the beginning of the book.

The showdowns between Paul and Feyd-Rautha and Paul and the Emperor highlighted one of the central themes of Dune: everything is a feint within a feint within a feint. You have to dig far beneath the surface to get to the truth, and you should assume you’re being lied to. There is no such thing as an obvious threat. Paul knowing this saves him from being severely injured or killed by Feyd-Rautha.

Paul has done much to change traditions and rules since he arrived among the Fremen, and he does it to some degree with the Emperor as well. However, he keeps to form when it comes to following political rules and marrying Princess Irulan. It’s interesting which lines he decides to adhere to rather than alter. He recognizes the value of the marriage even if it’s not something he necessarily wants to do. I don’t pity Irulan—she’s a Bene Gesserit and was trained for this—but boy, Jessica’s final words aren’t kind. Irulan’s not going to have an easy time of it, but as we’ve seen from all the chapter headings, her literary tendencies have at least kept her busy.

Favorite quotes

“And that day dawned when Arrakis lay at the hub of the universe with the wheel poised to spin.”

“Desperate people are the most dangerous.”

“Isn’t it odd how we misunderstand the hidden unity of kindness and cruelty?”

“He was warrior and mystic, ogre and saint, the fox and the innocent, chivalrous, ruthless, less than a god, more than a man.”

Discussion questions

– Did you buy into the cluelessness of the Emperor and the Baron? Could they really have been that unaware of the Fremen’s strength?
– Why do you think the Guildsmen wear masking contact lenses?
– Did the Reverend Mother Mohiam’s actions change your opinion of her and why?
– Do you think Alia’s abilities will be a threat as she grows older?
– How do you feel about Paul, an outsider, leading the Fremen to victory?

Bonus material

The Dice Must Flow – Ready to gather your forces on Arrakis and take charge? Try The Dice Must Flow. I haven’t played this game, but I’m a fan of the art and the dice.

That’s all she wrote. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading or rereading Dune. Head to the comments and let me know your overall thoughts on the book, the characters, Herbert’s writing style—all of it. You can come chat with me on Twitter, too. While we’re talking, feel free to suggest titles for the next round of Nerdist Book Club. We’ve tackled Dune, The Silmarillion, and Ready Player One so far.

In need of more Dune? The book series continues on and on in novels by Frank Herbert and then by his son Brian Herbert. I recommend Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. You can also turn to the screen and watch the 1984 Dune directed by David Lynch, the 2000 Dune miniseries, and 2003 Children of Dune miniseries.

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