Archive for April, 1997

Book report on Dune; not bad writing, no depth, bad thesis

William James Holcomb
Dr. M.C. Hood
Science Fiction and Fantasy
April 29, 1997

Living With the Consequences

Frank Herbert is well known for his depth of characterization and the complexity of his characters. Dune is no exception, it is spectacular to see how the different themes that he deals with affects his characters. The different types of power and how they affect his characters is a perfect example, and is integral to the beauty of the book.

Paul Atreides is certainly the character who has the most to do with power in Dune. He progresses through the book to develop a variety of powers; everything from a military presence, to intense political power, to personal strength of body and character, to strange mystical see into the future and mind control powers. The question of how these affect him has a variety of facets. One of the predominant changes that you see in many characters who are exposed to power is a high level of emotional maturity. Paul exhibits the ability to detach himself from his surroundings many times during the book, but it truly comes into its full strength after he becomes the Kwisatz Haderach. Also, he develops his leadership skills as he needs them more. In the beginning of the book, his identity is overshadowed by that of his mother, Lady Jessica, but by the end he has developed a unique personality and has a place in society separate from her. This progression is related to his acquiring of power, but more directly to his upbringing. Paul was raised with both Bene Gesserit and Mentat trainings, and he was expected to one day replace his father as the Duke. He was prepared, nearly from his birth, not only to be capable of leading, but also to expect it. The affects of Paul’s rise to power would have probably been very much different had it happened to someone outside of a family centered towards leadership.

Lady Jessica works well as a point of comparison to Paul. All of the power that she deals with is focused in the mystical Bene Gesserit area, so one can look at her and see what characteristics appeared in the development of Paul that she did not develop. This is somewhat difficult to draw an analysis from, because one must also take into account the fact that the same stimuli can have different affects on different types of people. On the whole, Lady Jessica is much more introspective and focused not on the surface, but on the inner workings behind the scenes. As the Fremen’s Reverend Mother, she has the opportunity to become a leader much the same as Paul, but she chooses instead to act as a foundation rather than a figurehead. Her activities are not shown much in the story, rather one gets the impression that she is active, but not in obvious ways. Lady Jessica has more of a choice than Paul as to which kind of personality she will take on; he must be out in the front as someone for the people to focus on, while she may work in the shadows. This parallels well the portrayal of the Bene Gesserit in general, with their secretive nature and subtle yet effective manipulation tactics.

Lord Vladimir Harkonnen stands at the other end of the spectrum. He is a mighty military and political leader, with access to the mystical powers only through others. He is certainly a figurehead type of leader, but more of what is called a “transactional leader” as opposed to a “transformational leader” such as Paul. In Harkonnen’s case, he leads because those under him receive recompense in return for services rendered, even if that recompense is simply the lack of a negative response. He caries on transactions with them thus the name. In the case of Paul, he leads by transforming the goals of the group so tat they fit his own. As a transformational leader he is to a certain extent bound by the desires of his followers, but, in general, groups that are united behind a common goal operate better than ones who are united to serve the self interest of each of the members. The differences in Harkonnen’s and Paul’s leadership styles have their basis in their personalities. Herbert portrays several of his characters as “ruthless,” the Bene Gesserit especially seem to be willing to do almost anything to accomplish their goals, as does the Emperor and Harkonnen. Herbert very rarely has any qualms about the usage of power to accomplish a goal. The difference in the ruthlessness of Harkonnen and that of Paul or the Bene Gesserit in general, is that the former is forwarding his own personal interests, while the reader gets the impression that the latter works for more selfless goals.

Finally, we have Liet-Kynes. He is again a leader who does not have the connection to the mystical power, but his leadership style is very different from that of Harkonnen or that of Paul. The reader gets very little direct contact with his leadership in the book, but there are several references from which a general idea can be inferred. Kynes was a political leader, but under different circumstances than Paul. Where Paul was involved in a military conflict, Kynes was in power under normal conditions, for what they are worth, on Arrakis. His leadership style was much more detached than Paul’s had to be. For the most part, the layout of the path that the Fremen society would follow had been layed out by his father, Pardot Kynes-the-Umma, all that Liet did was allow things to follow that path. Kynes leadership style was well suited for the general mindset of the Fremen people. He was a transformational leader, but it was not necessary for him to be seen at the forefront in control, for a people who have independence and strength as core values it is not necessary for them to rely on a leader for cohesion. The reason that the Fremen needed Paul to act as he did is because of the time and circumstances of his leading.

The shifts of power within Dune are evidenced in a variety of ways, but one of the best ways to see its affects on the characters is by how they cope with the ramifications of it, which leadership is a primary example of.

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no talkin'

Dr.,

I am going to write a short little spiel on not talking. I plan to write more, but do not have sufficient faith in the completion of that project to count on it. So, if a full report comes in later good, if not, good.

The thing that I began to realize was that most of the things that I said were not things that needed to be said. It was just like a never ending stream of mindlessness coving up anything of importance. The meaning for me was not listening, I am not a good listener, but I also do not feel the call to change that. Not thinking does bother me, and even more than that not acting does too. I shifted the concept back a little to all the actions that are without thought, and maybe how they cover up all of the actions that are important.

I am not certain right what the basis for important action is, and even if such a thing exists outside of the basis that I define. Right now my heros are people who choose the life that they will live and remain true to it, pretty much regardless of the kind of life that they chose.

Well, I’m off.

-Will

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