In my head, there is the best version of myself. Amongst all the things he should be doing more of, he sits peacefully for hours on end and reads books. A lot of books. This was part of my summer vision, and it has partly been true. If there’s something I can be thankful for learning in my second year of university, all lectures exempted, it’s how to read properly.
Who knew? I used to have the reading attention of a sparrow. The thought of a long book filled me with dread, I left a trail of voluminous tomes in my wake. Last summer I attempted The Lord of The Rings, and got through The Fellowship and quite frankly had enough of creatures traipsing through the English countryside (let’s be honest it’s England). Now I can read in 50-100 page chunks, depending on my time. It feels greedy, consuming, and wonderful.
What at this point could have been four books has only been one, in the dent made to my summer reading pile. An endless tower of anxiety that transforms from wishes to duty as soon as the course reading lists materialise. Just to appear smug and fulfilled, I planned to start with a few short volumes. I got through Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle when my friend Stevie suggested we should read Dune.
Dune is intimidating in size, more than 500 pages of spice and desert. It probably didn’t help that I watched David Lynch’s film adaptation about a decade ago and had no idea what was going on. I have since watched many David Lynch films and gather that this was somewhat the point. Frank Herbert’s novel is somewhat more cohesive, but no less bonkers. I was fevered, intrigued by why this book is so influential. The back cover boldly declares that before Stars Wars, before The Matrix, there was Dune. That’s not the boldest of claims. Star Wars and The Matrix are a shameless patchwork of many things that came before them.
Yet, I get it now. Dune, despite its scope, is deceptive in its simplicity. In some ways, it steals from Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess Of Mars. The stranger in a barren alien planet who adapts to the ways of the natives and leads them to glory whilst winning the hand of the princess.
What Dune succeeds in goes beyond plot. Reading the novel was an education in world-building, but above all, in feeling. Everything about Dune feels wrong, for a student of creative writing. It breaks all the rules I’ve had drummed into me for two years about coherence, simplicity, character, action, moving the plot forward. It’s a muddle of strange names and concepts, visions and prophecies, fantasy and science-fiction. Yet I find myself thinking about something Jack Kerouac said when he was learning to write. That he learned so much about the craft he wrote one sentence at a time, and in that sentence, everything was missing because there was no passion. Dune has passion in abundance. Like very few books before it, there were moments when I was in Arrakis, and any interruption brought me gasping back into the real world. It’s not without its problems, especially related to its main character Marty Stu-ness, colonial ideas about the poor stupid natives, and how it treats its female characters, but it is a gorgeous book. I can see its arms outstretched, touching everything from the aforementioned movie franchises to things like Game of Thrones and every bonkers science fiction narrative you’ve ever read or watched since. I find myself surprisingly hungry for every Dune novel after it.
Maybe next summer.