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Nerdist Book Club: DUNE, Part 9

If one thing seems constant in Frank Herbert’s Dune, it’s transformation. The book begins with the Atreides picking up their comfortable life on Caladan and moving to an unforgiving home on Arrakis. They barely got settled when Baron Harkonnen turned their world upside down. The landscape changed for everyone we knew when the story started. The Duke died. Thufir Hawat reluctantly allied with the Baron. Liet-Kynes perished. Paul and Jessica were left to find their way in the desert where Paul became something else. And now, it’s Jessica’s turn to take a step forward into new territory.

What happened

It’s time for another homecoming. Paul and Jessica arrived to the home base of Stilgar’s sietch, and with their arrival, we gained even more knowledge about the Fremen. I shouldn’t be surprised by their depth and abilities at this point, but I can’t help it. They’ve proven themselves to be anything but primitive again and again, and some of their ingenious inventions were on display in the latest pages. Case in point: the dew collectors. The Fremen make chromoplastic for each weed and plant in order to capture the moisture from the dew and keep the greenery alive. Think how painstaking it must be to manufacture a small cup of sorts for every living thing in the desert. Again, it’s a tiny fact that says so much about the value of moisture and the effort the Fremen are investing to change their planet.

We see everyone within the Fremen society has a role. Some of them work making dew collectors, others work to repair stillsuits, and yet others teach. A key part of seeing the functioning aspects of Fremen society at this juncture is how it continually moves forward despite external influences. They’ve learned their leader Liet-Kynes has died and they know the Sardaukar are hunting them, but the work continues until the last possible minute before leaving. You get the idea they’re accustomed to picking up and moving along in a short amount of time—it’s not the first time they’ve faced a threat. They’ve made a home, but they keep their nomadic tendencies close.

Chani/Sihaya by Skyzocat

Jamis’s widow’s reaction to his death and her acceptance of Paul reveals yet another facet of Fremen culture. Death is handled in a matter of fact way. Mourning has a time and a place and because they don’t want to waste moisture, their version of mourning isn’t like what most of us know. I guess when you live in a group where your partner could be taken out in a challenge, you have to be constantly prepared to accept the consequences and hope for the best. Almost as intriguing as seeing their customs is seeing Paul adapt to them. He’s a quick learner.

He didn’t seem to be prepared for Jessica’s move though. She decided to quickly establish herself within the Fremen hierarchy, but her decision happened so fast I don’t think she was fully aware of what it meant. The Reverend Mother of the sietch was too old and fragile to move on with the rest of the group so in order to prevent Stilgar’s Fremen from living without a Reverend Mother, they initiated Jessica. She consented to the rite with Chani as a back-up option, but Jessica—who doesn’t seem to be taken unawares often—didn’t know what the rite involved. It was a risky move that sort of paid off. She successfully took on the Reverend Mother’s memories, however, she put her unborn daughter at great risk. Shouldn’t Ramallo have sensed the presence of the unborn child? I found her bewilderment confusing.

We moved away from the Fremen to visit with the Baron Harkonnen. He and Feyd-Rautha are playing an intense game of chess against each other. They’re predicting each other’s moves and acting accordingly, but the overall sense you get from their match is that their machinations are devolving into a hot, violent mess. They seem poised to destroy each other, and I have to believe Hawat is working behind the scenes to make them head in precisely that direction.

Favorite quotes

“I give her the silver skies, the golden desert and its shining rocks, the green fields that will be.”

“The man without emotions is the one to fear.”

“…his first collisions with Arrakeen necessities were the true beginnings of his education.”

“To accept a little death is worse than death itself.”

Discussion questions

– What effects do you think Jessica becoming the Reverend Mother will have upon her unborn daughter?
– Were you surprised by the amount of technology the Fremen have at their disposal?
– How has your opinion of the Bene Gesserit changed since we met their Reverend Mother in the opening chapters?
– Given her continual presence in the chapter headings, how do you think Princess Irulan fits into Paul/Muad’Dib’s story?

Bonus material

DIY dew collector – Use this tutorial to make a dew collector of your very own. They’re ideal for Arrakis-like environments.

The culture and ways of the Fremen continued to unfold in the latest section. Though they don’t necessarily have the presence of the Bene Gesserit in the same way as other groups on other planets, they still have a Reverend Mother. They essentially have the roles and responsibilities but not the same names—not entirely. I find it interesting the Bene Gesserit ways have extended into the corners of Arrakis. I think it says something about a shared memory or consciousness of sorts, if that makes sense.

I continue to marvel at the role Arrakis plays in the story. It’s a character as strongly developed as any person we’ve encountered so far. In some ways, the desert planet is the protagonist and antagonist rolled into one. It’s what we’re rooting for and what we’re afraid of. The conditions and demands of the location propel so much of the people’s decisions. It’s quite remarkable.

The end is in sight, you guys—just a few more discussions left. Overall, I’d say Dune is an easier read than The Silmarillion and about the same as Ready Player One. I’m still having a hard time stopping reading every week. Return here for Part 10 next Monday, August 31. We’ll be covering pages 604-650.

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