Science Fiction Books, Fiction, Film, Denis Villeneuve, Neil Gaiman

Science Fiction Books, Fiction

Dune: science fiction’s answer to Lord of the Rings

Dune: science fiction’s answer to Lord of the Rings

10/18/2021 11:11:00 AM

Dune: science fiction’s answer to Lord of the Rings

Frank Herbert’s novel, now adapted for cinema with Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, is finally getting the recognition it deserves, agree authors including Neil Gaiman and Jeff VanderMeer

Last modified on Mon 18 Oct 2021 08.36 BSTIf science fiction has an answer to fantasy’s The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien’s epic saga of the battle to defeat the Dark Lord, Sauron – then Frank Herbert’s Dune has to be a strong contender. Published in 1965, it is the story of the desert planet Arrakis, known as Dune; of the rare and priceless “spice” that can be found there; of the Atreides family, sent to Dune’s dangerous surface to rule; of its native Fremen people, who are capable of surviving in this inhospitable environment. Of the giant sandworms, hundreds of metres long, which hunt beneath the sands, and of Paul Atreides’ reluctant ascent to messianic status. And it is finally getting the mainstream attention it deserves, thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation, out in the UK on 21 October.

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I first read Dune when I was 18. It left behind deep, haunting memories: Paul Atreides chanting the Litany against Fear as his humanity is tested by the Gom Jabbar; the first appearance of a sandworm, vast and magnificent; the complexity of Paul’s rise to become the Bene Gesserit’s Kwisatz Haderach, the Fremen’s Mahdi (like much of the Fremen’s culture, the word is lifted from the vocabulary of Islam). As one character puts it: “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero.”

Director Denis Villeneuve, whose adaptation hits cinemas later this month – is the fourth attempt, after Alejandro Jodorowsky’s plans came to nothing, David Lynch disowned his 1984 version starring Kyle MacLachlan and Sting, and a television miniseries. “There are deep pleasures when there are images that you’re able to achieve that are close to what you had in mind as a teenager,” Villeneuve has said. headtopics.com

Frank Herbert.Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images“I read it the first time when I was 11 or so,” says Kevin Anderson, the bestselling author who, together with Herbert’s son Brian, has continued the Dune series after his father’s death. “I had read all of HG Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Andre Norton and Ray Bradbury and all these great classic science fiction books, but Dune is something above and beyond those. When I read it, I just felt so immersed in the world that everything felt real. He had come up with not just a desert planet with sandworms, he had the full ecology worked out, all of the culture, even the language and the religion of the people and the giant galactic politics and how there are wheels within wheels and everything fits together.”

Herbert’s first inspiration for Dune came in 1957, when he went to research a magazine article about a research project in Oregon to stabilise sand dunes. The article, They Stopped the Moving Sands, was never published, but a letter he sent to his agent, published in The Road to Dune, shows how fascinated he was: “Sand dunes pushed by steady winds build up in waves analogous to ocean waves except they may move 20 feet a year instead of 20 feet a second. These waves can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wive in property damage … and they’ve even caused deaths. They drown out forests, kill game cover, destroy lakes, fill harbours.”

Herbert would toy with the idea of a desert planet for the next five years, spending time in a desert as part of his research, plotting a short adventure novel,Spice Planet, but putting it aside for what would become Dune. He sent an early draft to his agent in 1963, and the story was published in serial form in John W Campbell’s Analog magazine that year. It was rejected by publishers more than 20 times in book form, one citing “bursts of melodrama”, another that “nobody can seem to get through the first 100 pages … without being confused and irritated”. A comment from one rejecting editor, that “it is just possible that we may be making the mistake of the decade in declining Dune by Frank Herbert”, would prove as prophetic as one of Paul’s own visions, as would another’s remark that he would turn it down despite the fact that “it is the sort of writing that might attract a cult and go on for ever”.

“For good or ill, Frank wrote a book that was at the time unpublishable. If you’re a business person advising Frank, you would say don’t write Dune, nobody will publish this book this long, with this much culture and background,” says Anderson. “But we’re glad that he didn’t listen to anybody, he just wrote his own book and it’s certainly one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.” headtopics.com

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In the end, Chilton Books, better known for auto repair manuals, picked it up in 1965. It won a Nebula for the best science fiction novel of 1965, but sales weren’t stellar at first, despite the quote from Arthur C Clarke emblazoned on its cover: “I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings.”

I’d say there’s Dune DNA in Game of Thrones, that feeling of the grand sweep of realpolitik and how it affects human beingsNeil Gaiman“It wasn’t perceived as an instant classic; publishers saw this big book on ecological themes as rather peculiar, a sort of Lawrence of Arabia in the stars,” says American Gods author

Neil Gaiman. “It worked but it hit slowly – it wasn’t like [Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel] Stranger in a Strange Land, which came out and caught fire, was utterly of its zeitgeist. In a lot of ways the things that took Dune into the zeitgeist were 70s things, the understanding of and passion for ecology, the idea of people’s place in the world.”

By 1967, sales were picking up, and Herbert was working on a sequel by 1968. Dune Messiah would see Paul as emperor, presiding over a bloody jihad through the stars that eventually kills 60 billion people.Gaiman describes science fiction as “a conversation with the last round of what went before”. What Herbert brought to the conversation was ecology – as well as what Gaiman calls “giant multigenerational soap opera”. headtopics.com

“I’d say there’s Dune DNA in Game of Thrones, in the willingness to kill your characters, that feeling of the grand sweep of realpolitik and how it affects human beings”, says Gaiman.Jeff VanderMeer agrees. “It definitely has been very influential, and I think there’s something very surreal about the navigators and the way the Dust is used, and then the absolute spectacle of the sandworms, whether it makes any ecological sense or not. That kind of thing really sticks with you on a wide canvas.”

Side note: according to Brian Herbert’s biography of his father, Dreamer of Dune, when Frank saw Star Wars he “picked out 16 points of what he called ‘absolute identity’ between his book and the movie, enough to make him livid”. Together with other science fiction writers who thought they saw their work in the film, Frank formed a “loose organisation” he called, “with his tongue firmly placed in his cheek, the We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society”.

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Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in the forthcoming Dune film.Photograph: Chia Bella James/AP Read more: The Guardian »

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Zendaya and Jason Momoa attend the photocall for Dune in LondonZendaya and Jason Momoa looked stylish as they attended the photocall for Dune at the Corinthia during London Film Festival on Sunday. I ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʟᴏꜱᴛ ꜱᴏ ᴍᴜᴄʜ ʙɪᴛᴄᴏɪɴ ᴛᴏ ꜰʀᴀᴜᴅꜱ, ᴀɴᴅ ᴘʀᴏᴍɪꜱᴇᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴛʀᴜꜱᴛ ᴀɴʏ ʙɪᴛᴄᴏɪɴ ᴘʟᴀᴛꜰᴏʀᴍ aɢᴀɪɴ ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ɪ ᴄᴀᴍᴇ ᴀᴄʀᴏꜱꜱ ᴛʜɪꜱ Trade Manager _Ambreymarcus, he helped me recover back all my lost funds now am debt free..

Zendaya and Jason Momoa attend the photocall for Dune in LondonZendaya and Jason Momoa looked stylish as they attended the photocall for Dune at the Corinthia during London Film Festival on Sunday. Rocks? Hobos? I’m confused.

Zendaya and Jason Momoa attend the photocall for Dune in LondonZendaya and Jason Momoa looked stylish as they attended the photocall for Dune at the Corinthia during London Film Festival on Sunday. Rocks? Hobos? I’m confused.

Zendaya and Jason Momoa attend the photocall for Dune in LondonZendaya and Jason Momoa looked stylish as they attended the photocall for Dune at the Corinthia during London Film Festival on Sunday. I ʜᴀᴠᴇ ʟᴏꜱᴛ ꜱᴏ ᴍᴜᴄʜ ʙɪᴛᴄᴏɪɴ ᴛᴏ ꜰʀᴀᴜᴅꜱ, ᴀɴᴅ ᴘʀᴏᴍɪꜱᴇᴅ ɴᴏᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴛʀᴜꜱᴛ ᴀɴʏ ʙɪᴛᴄᴏɪɴ ᴘʟᴀᴛꜰᴏʀᴍ aɢᴀɪɴ ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ɪ ᴄᴀᴍᴇ ᴀᴄʀᴏꜱꜱ ᴛʜɪꜱ Trade Manager _Ambreymarcus, he helped me recover back all my lost funds now am debt free..

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