Frank Herbert's Dune: A Book Report

Written for a course in American Literature, sophomore year, high school, 1983

The Dune Universe is an original creation of Frank Herbert, all rights reserved. Mention or discussion of copyrighted characters and terms in this book review is not intended, nor should be interpreted, as a challenge to those copyrights.

Two noble families, the Atreides and the Harkonnens, provide the principal characters of this book. The Atreides family is honest, good and kind; while the Harkonnen family is the exact opposite: dishonest, evil and decadently cruel.

Duke Leto is head of the Atreides family until his treacherous death at the hands of the Harkonnens. Given the desert planet of Arrakis by the Galactic Emperor, he is at once put at the opposition of the Harkonnens, who had held Arrakis as their fief.

At once his kindness becomes quite obvious, as he orders at the feast that every beggar who comes is to be given a whole cup of water. Later, while inspecting spice mining operations, he sacrifices the mining equipment in order to save the workers' lives when the operation is attacked by a sandworm.

But it is this spirit of kindess and honesty that brings about his death, for he cannot believe that anyone would attack him treacherously. Yet it happens, for a Suk doctor, Yueh, has been brainwashed into Harkonnen service. But in his manner of killing Leto, Yueh tries to get the chief Harkonnen as well. However the plan goes wrong and only Leto dies, not the evil Harkonnen.

Duke Leto's concubine, Lady Jessica, is his wife in all but title. As a member of the secret Bene Gesserit society, she is talented in skills of the mind that make her seem to be a witch to those who do not know the truth. Although ordered to produce a daughter for the Bene Gesserit breading program, she gave birth to a son, Paul.

Due to the same Yueh who murdered Duke Leto, Lady Jessica and Paul are saved. As the Harkonnens heavy-handedly restore control over Arrakis, Lady Jessica and Paul secretly find their way to the Fremen, the Bedouin-like natives of Arrakis. Among the Fremen she becomes a Reverend Mother by transforming the poisonous death-fluid of a sandworm into the Water of Life, but in the process her unborn daughter Alia is exposed to an experience that nearly destroys her.

As a Reverend Mother of the Fremen, Jessica becomes a very important religious figure. Yet she cannot halt the battle which must come about, and in which her son must fight.

Paul, who is known as Maud'Dib among the Fremen, is an unusual sort of man, even in his own social context. A product of the Bene Gesserit breeding program, he is the long-sought Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit with super-human powers.

In the death-alternative test of human mental strength he surmounts more pain than any other human on record. His ninja-like talents enable him not only to conquor fear and pain, but also to see the future and do other amazing things.

Even before his father's death, Paul shows himself as more than ordinary. He is able to do things that no one else can, but these things pale to the things he does afterward.

After the treachery by which the Harkonnens forcibly re-establish control of Arrakis, Paul and his mother make their way to the deep desert and the Fremen. Although a stranger, he becomes a leader among the Fremen because of his mental abilities. Thus he brings about the final triumph of the Atreides over the Harkonnens.

His sister, Lady Alia, is no ordinary girl. Because she was exposed to the Water of Life before birth, she has knowledge far beyond her years. Thus she frightens many of those around her.

A very precocious child, she is able to kill the evil Harkonnen chief. Thus the way is opened for her brother's victory.

The wicked chief Harkonnen, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, is a gross, bloated monster who is too fat to stand on his own too feet. He is the exact opposite of the good Duke Leto, as he is cruel, decadent and unscrupulous. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even when it means murder.

But in the end his evils and excesses destroy him, for the Lady Alia kills him in revenge for his butchery of the Fremen. Thus a great and terrible evil is wiped out.

But the Harkonnen foulness is not yet extinct, for the thinner yet equally repugnant Feyd-Rautha remains. He takes on Paul Maud'Dib in man-to-man combat, but tries to treacherously murder his opponent instead of fighting fairly. Thus he dies at Paul Maud'Dib's blade as a penalty for his wickedness and the foul Harkonnen line meets its fitting end.

The Atreides family represents the force of honesty and the Harkonnens that of corruption. Although at times corruption seems to gain the upper hand, in the end honesty conquors corruption, which falls because of its own devices of wickedness.

The conflict is primarily that of the opposing forces of honesty and corruption. However, the conflict of people against a harsh desert environment figures heavily. The Fremen dream that one day Arrakis will bloom with green plants and water will be free for the taking.

The story is told by an all-knowing but detatched observer. Thus both Atredeis and Harkonnen doings can be shown.

There are many sub-plots, all of which add intensity to the main one. Most of them concern Paul Maud'Dib's dealings with the Fremen in private. Yet they help to show why and how things came about.

The author has a very distinctive style of writing, and a wonderfully effective one. With every word he tells of the importance of water to life on Arrakis. This is something that is not easy to accomplish.

Also religion is very important in it, which is unusual to science fiction. This makes Dune unusual.

Dune is a story of adventure, but it also carries an important moral. It is a book to be read and enjoyed, then read again and again. It certainly deserved the Nebula and Hugo that it won.

Last updated October 19, 2012