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Nerdist Book Club: DUNE, Part 8

The mythology of Frank Herbert’s Dune is getting deeper by the paragraph. Now that we’re among the Fremen with Paul and Lady Jessica, we’re learning how much we didn’t know. Their ways are a mystery—from hierarchy, to sietch roles, to traditions, to population, we’re in the dark and so is the galaxy. Putting the pieces together and thinking about how deeply Baron Harkonnen and the Emperor are underestimating the citizens of Arrakis’s desert is so satisfying.

What happened

The latest section opens with a message of adjustment. We settle into Jessica’s thoughts as she wakes and processes her surroundings. She has to remind herself to strap her stillsuit precisely, to consider the time of day that’s best for movement, to think about the meal she had—she’s resetting herself and the audience to Fremen life. And with a single sentence about Jessica allowing herself to give into utter fatigue, Herbert tells us how much Jessica already trusts Stilgar and his people. It’s a momentous occasion but dropped so casually. I’ve mentioned it before, but Herbert excels at using every open space available to him to tell us something about characters or the world around them.

Subsequent pages in the section switch the focus from Jessica to Paul and as Paul in thrown into a harsh Fremen custom, we see more of their culture unfold. Jamis, still disgruntled about Paul’s actions from their first encounter, challenged Jessica knowing Paul would be her champion. Given the sharp edge we know the Fremen have, it’s not surprising that the challenge is to the death. In fact, it’s obvious enough that I’m amazed Paul didn’t pick up on it sooner.

Sand Rituals by Devon Cady-Lee

The fight between Jamis and Paul opened the door to an exploration of the way the Fremen think and live while giving us further insight into Paul’s training. As he battles Jamis, he goes over the teachings of Idaho, Hawat, and Halleck. The Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear helps him calm down enough to be in the moment. This combination of influences is key to Paul’s survival and success—not only in this encounter with Jamis but in whatever his future role is in regards to Arrakis. If he only had one piece of the puzzle, I don’t think he’d be as effective or as magnetic as he is. He seems to pull everyone to him.

As always, the value of each and every drop of moisture was emphasized. It represents danger, life, death, and wealth all at the same time. We see it with the funeral rites that exact all usable water from a human body, we see it in the stunned reaction of the Fremen to Jessica as she talks about Caladan, and we see it with the measurement of the water Jessica brought with her. The Fremen know how much water they need to begin the transformation of Arrakis into a friendlier planet.

Favorite quotes

“I think now he was a man fighting constantly to escape the bars of an invisible cage.”

“This was death hanging on an infinite number of miniscule mischances.”

“Do not count a human dead until you’ve seen his body. And even then you can make a mistake.”

Discussion questions

– Do you feel Paul is being at all deceitful by not telling Stilgar and the sietch about the Missionaria Protectiva or his prescient memories?
– Do you think Paul should have shown mercy towards Jamis even though it would been against Fremen ways?
– Does Lady Jessica’s presence help or harm Paul and his standing among the Fremen?
– Does Paul knowing about the possibility of jihad in the future drive him closer towards it?

Last week, the spotlight was on the Fremen and Lady Jessica. Herbert established her place among Stilgar’s sietch and with her survival assured, he moved on to the fate of Paul. The young Atreides–and it’s easy to forget how young he is–was tested somewhat previously, but with his fight against Jamis (which I forget happens so quickly every time I read the book), Paul has cemented his place. He’s received names from the Fremen and though this is the first we’re learning about the tradition, it has the weight of a meaningful rite of passage.

How do you feel about the current direction of Paul’s path? Herbert frequently addresses how Paul’s ability to see ahead and into the past can affect his decision making—both positively and otherwise. At times, his knowledge seems to make him more unsure. It ties into a big theme: Can we alter our fates or do they follow a predetermined path? I’m rambling now, so it’s your turn. Head to the comments and share your theories, thoughts, favorite quotes, and whatever else you want with me. You can also come chat with me on Twitter.

Come back to the same time and basically the same place next Monday, August 24, as we dive into Part 9. Remember, walk without rhythm, etc.

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