Wednesday, July 04, 2007

H is for Herbert

Has Lexifab started to reread ‘Dune’ yet? There are few questions in today’s world that interest me more.

An essential part of the appeal of Dune- at least to me- is the appendices. There is nothing like a few appendices to give the sense that a book isn’t just a story sitting there by itself, but is a fragment of a world as vast and self-consistent as our ‘real’ one, if we could only reach out into the mind of God and grab hold of it. Sadly, none of the Dune sequels have appendices, so I very rarely reread them, though I reread Dune often.

I was also very taken with the epigrams. When I first read Dune I rushed out at once and wrote a dozen or so pages of a story with stuffy epigrams at the head of each chapter. It was something like ‘Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh’, but instead of rats they were chimpanzees, and instead of just hiding they were going to take over London. I wrote this on the weekend and on the Monday I rushed up to one of my English teachers excitedly and tried to show her what I had written, but she was busy- and she was a great believer in writing multiple drafts of things- and she told me to bring her the second draft and she would have a look at that. There was no second draft. Such is (or was, I should say, in a hopeful manner) my default response to criticism real or implied. I left the pages on the floor of my room and eventually they got thrown away. I couldn’t figure out how exactly the chimpanzees were going to conquer London, anyway. I remember that the weapons the superintelligent chimpanzees used were called ‘zizurangs’ and that the lost pages dealt with their escape from a research facility somewhere near Basildon.

I can’t say, ‘stop me if you’ve heard this’, because of the asynchronous way in which this blogging medium works. But if you have read something like the following anecdote before, feel free to wander off.

Once upon a time, I used to feel intimidated by the stream-of-consciousnessy mystical bits of the Dune books, since I couldn’t make head or tail of them. Then I read ‘The White Plague’. I read it on or about Australia Day, 1988. Marco and Sandor and I were visiting Ellen in Bochum, and the book belonged to the girl she was staying with there- who was away elsewhere while we were there so I never actually met her. But I still have her copy of The White Plague. I hadn’t finished it when we left Bochum so I left some of my own books behind in a swap that I think Ellen okayed for me. This probably wasn’t such a good deal as I’m making it sound, since I’m sure at least one of the books I left behind was one a Hare Krishna gave me at Miami airport.

Anyway, now for the relevant part of the anecdote.

The relevant part of the anecdote is that The White Plague has quite a few of these stream-of-consciousnessy bits, only they’re not mystical, but scientifical, when the mad biochemist is thinking through how he is going to make his virus to kill all the world’s women. They don’t make any sense. Anyone with a smidgen of biochemistry can tell that they are just meaningless jargon. They wouldn’t really be any use in designing a virus to kill all the world’s women. (Hmm, I guess if they were, it would be irresponsible to put them in a novel. I just thought of that.) Anyway, when I realized those stream-of-consciousnessy bits were meaningless waffle, I leapt to the conclusion that the mystical stream-of-consciousnessy bits in Dune were meaningless waffle, too, and I ceased to feel intimidated by them.


Marco said...

Tell me more about the Hare Krishna! I remember reading part of that book. It went on quite a bit about how the Beatles were right into it. Previously to that, I had thought the Beatles as "musical geniuses". Afterwards that changed to "often stoned musical geniuses".

Marco said...

A couple of books that I read incidentally when I was overseas (1992?) were "Red Dwarf" and "The inimitable Jeeves". Both very funny.

Dave said...

Lexifab hasn't started rereading Dune yet, though he does plan to try to get to it this weekend. Interestingly, I recall having much the same reaction to the semimystical nonsense bits in Dune on my first reading, but in subsequent visits I've found them both less cumbersome and more vital to the story.

Then again, my essential reading (subject to forthcoming review) is that one of Dune's essential themes is how fundamentalism seduces otherwise perfectly sensible young people (preferably with drugs, chanting and hot Sean Young lookalikes). So my take may or may not be relevant to anything whatsoever.

Dr. Clam said...

Hare Krishna: He was short, bookish, and bespectacled, not looking very much like our stereotype of a Hare Krishna. He was soliciting for donations at the airport and we gave him something, and in return he gave us some books- one is a cookbook which I still have and has probably done more to shape my worldview than Frank Herbert, when it comes down to it. Hmm, so this should have been 'H is for Hare Krishna'. I think *that* book is the one we left behind, which was thicker and had much more about Hare Krishna theology and practice in it.

Dune v Lexifab: Finding the social, psychological, and political messages in Paul Atreides life journey for us vulnerable types in the near now! Woot! Now I am looking forward to your reading even more keenly.

Dr. Clam said...

I must not take notice of criticism.

Criticism is the mind-killer.

Criticism is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face criticism.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the criticism has gone there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.

Dave said...

Bah! That wasn't criticism. *This* is criticism:

That tie doesn't go with that shirt.

Dr. Clam said...

Nah, I didn't think it was criticism either! I should have put the Litany as a new post, instead, since it really refers to my chimp anecdote.

And I like this tie. Mum got it for me. It has nifty Tlingit bird desgins on it!

Dave said...

With all due respect to yours, Mums don't know about ties.

Anyway, getting back to Dune, the other thing that I am looking forward to re-examining on the reread is how viciously intertwined the politics and religious elements are. Further to the above note about Paul's elevation to messianity (is that a word?) is that most of the reasons it happens are political. The Bene Gesserit are playing a long game of absolute control of the noble houses - and the Shadowt Mapes practically gives Paul a treasure map and sings "Hurry boy she's waiting there for you" at him, steering him at the whatstheirname desert guys. Jessica ruins everyone's plans by first falling in love and then mistakenly believing she can get things back under control. The Imperial Planetologist whose name I forget is playing some complicated control games with the Emperor and the Guild, so he "goes native" and primes his cult for revolution (actually, I think his motives might have been a little more complicated than I remember, so I will look into that).

It's too early and the morning coffee hasn't really kicked in yet so this is pretty incoherent, but you can tell I'm excited to read it again...