Content Note: fatmisia, colonialism, racism, misogyny, rape, homomisia, eugenics
Paul is the son and heir of Duke Leto Atreides and Bene Gesserit Jessica. By decree of the Emperor, the Atreides clan just received stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis, home to the valuable spice. That means relieving the Harkonnens, led by their Baron, of their post there – and the resulting wealth. If the Harkonnens hadn’t already been the Atreides’ mortal enemies, they would be now. Just before the Atreides family is moving to Arrakis, the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit comes to test Paul, seeing great potential in him, whose fate seems to be intertwined not only with Arrakis, but the entire universe.
I pretty much hated Dune, and I’m not entirely sure why I struggled my way through it to actually finish it. I’m just very, very sure that I will not be continuing with the series.
Reading the book as a fat, queer woman was quite something, and not in a good way. I can only imagine that it gets worse if you’re also BIPOC, but it was bad enough for white me for sure. This being old-timey SciFi written by a dude, I was kinda expecting the misogyny, but the rest came as surprising slaps in the face in their intensity.
Let me count you the ways, starting with misogyny. With the Bene Gesserit, Herbert created a pretty kick-ass organization of women, although it is absolutely icky that their long-time goal is eugenics and that the only way they can have power is by turning their members into wives or holy women. It doesn’t seem that Herbert could imagine a non-patriarchal world where this might habe been different. This general annoyance is compounded by the fact that, basically, the best of the Bene Gesserit, the goal they are working towards is Paul. A guy. And aside from the Bene Gesserit, there are barely any women in the book, and one is Chani who is a “girl-child” on one page, and pregnant and the perfect little wifey on the next. This is creepy as fuck.
Next stop, fatmisia and homomisia, rolled into a tight little bundle in the character of Baron Harkonnen. Herbert did everything to portray him as the worst possible person who could ever exist. So, of course he is fat (because he’s greedy, geddit) and a rapist, but rapist is not enough, so he is a queer rapist, working his way through slave boys (who remind him of Paul because Paul is perfect and not even Harkonnens can deny that). I don’t know what to be offended at first with this character.
That the book is a deeply colonialist fantasy is the icing on the cake. Not only that Paul white-saviors his way through the narrative and the Muslim-North African-inspired Fremen are all Noble Savages, the ultimate goal of completely transforming Arrakis (which would lead to the destruction of the holy sandworms, among other things) is the epitome of the colonialist “the earth is ours to do with as we please” mindset.
And even if I didn’t have all those political concerns, the book still wouldn’t be any good. The prose is clunky and repetitive, Paul is a shell of perfection, hiding an utter lack of personality behind being the chosen one. Jessica and Leto are the most intriguing characters, but Leto is soon dead and Jessica’s potential squandered, ultimately, because Herbert couldn’t imagine her as an actual political player independent from her son.
When I started reading it, I had a hard time getting into the book. I gave myself a 100 pages to start enjoying myself, or quitting the whole thing. Right around that mark, the narrative picks up some steam and I found myself actually interested in the goings-on for another 100-150 pages. But then the book lost me again, and it was just my stubbornness that kept me finishing it. It’s not a course I’d recommend. In fact, I’d suggest not reading it at all, classic or not.
Summarizing: so much hate.