Dune by Frank Herbert

January 2022

I first read this when I was maybe about 12, and it blew my little adolescent mind. I distinctly remember being hunched down in the backseat of my parents’ car on some long family road trip with my nose buried in this all-encompassing book. I also remember writing a book report about it for my English class in high school, complete with a cover I drew to replicate the cover of the 1984 edition of the book. That edition is the one I still have now, the one I re-read, and it’s tattered and discolored but it’s quite dear to me. Dune looms large in my memory as a book that truly gripped me and overwhelmed me with it’s vastness and intricacy.

Re-reading it in middle age was not the same experience, obviously, but it was an interesting one. There’s a lot about the book I don’t actually like, not least the sometimes weirdly stilted writing and the characterizations of the some of main figures. But I think I understand now why the book spoke to me as a kid.

First of all, Paul himself is a kid in the book. He’s 15 at the start of the story, and while he reads as kind of arrogant and whiny to me now, I think I identified with him back then. Dune isn’t a kid’s book, but it’s main character is a kid—at least if you think of Paul as the main character. I think Lady Jessica is actually the main character, and this is probably the second reason the book intrigued me when I was young. It’s unusual to find a work of science fiction from this period with an interesting, complex, powerful and fully developed female character at its heart (and it doesn’t hurt that her name is Jessica!). Jessica is the catalyst for everything that happens in Dune. It’s as much her story as Paul’s.

So, I’m glad I re-read it, and I finished it just in time to see the new movie in IMAX, so I could fully appreciate how Denis Villeneuve dealt with this complicated story. (And how he dealt with it was great—the movie is outstanding!)

Further reading…