Book Club Questions: Dune by Frank Herbert

Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud’dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction. Frank Herbert’s death in 1986 was a tragic loss, yet the astounding legacy of his visionary fiction will live forever.

I’ve meant to read Dune for a long time, seeing as how it is a heavy-hitting classic in the sci-fi genre. My friend had read it in high school, but was looking forward to reading it again to have the more informed and thoughtful opinions of someone who is now in their mid-20′s. We also thought it would be a nice discussion opportunity, since she is much more knowledgeable about the sci-fi genre compared to me.

Cue the next agonizing month of my life. To put it nicely, I fucking hated this book. If you love it, great, have fun, but my opinion is unalterable and I can back it up with many a reason why, so please don’t yell at me about it. I did still make a strong effort to write questions that would not lead the reader’s answer and would also foster interesting discussion, and as a result our discussion was, indeed, a very good one. Our tie-in viewing of the 1984 film adaptation is still pending, but will no doubt feature a great deal of alcohol.

Discussion questions below the cut!

Even if you’ve never read Dune, it is ever-present in the background of sci-fi, comparable in its status to The Lord of the Rings. Every genre has its towering classics with which all following works are unable to compete (for example, Sherlock Holmes in the mystery genre). Do you feel like these works set any limitations for their genre as a result?

Each chapter of Dune begins with a fictional epigraph from the writings of Princess Irulan. What purpose do you think these quotations are meant to serve? Do you think they were used effectively?

A lot of information and backstory is contained in the Appendices that follow the main novel. Do you feel some of this information should have been integrated into the text? Why or why not?

Sci-fi and fantasy novels often contain a number of newly created words that the reader has to learn. What do you think is the best way to introduce these new terms, based on your reading history? Do you think Herbert used non-English language effectively in this novel?

Dune uses many words that are directly taken or derived from Arabic and Farsi. Do you feel this use of another culture’s language was purposefully and respectfully done? Why or why not?

Consider the female characters of this novel: how they are portrayed, and what roles they play in the story. Do you find they meet, exceed, or fall short of your personal expectations for female characters in literature? Why?

The Fremen are arguably the most interesting part of Dune. Why do you think this is? What is it about Fremen culture (or the way it’s written) that makes it fascinating to learn more about?

“The people who can destroy a thing, they control it.” Consider this quote in the frame of our world today – environmentalism, politics, civil rights, etc. Do you think it holds true?

There are a number of quotes from Frank Herbert discussing heroes and his intentions in exploring the hero’s journey in Dune. For instance: “Don’t give over all of your critical faculties to people in power, no matter how admirable those people may appear to be. Beneath the hero’s facade you will find a human being who makes human mistakes. Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero.” Do you think Herbert successfully conveys this message in Dune? Why or why not?

According to Wikipedia, “Frank Herbert’s Dune series is a landmark of soft science fiction. In it, he deliberately spent little time on the details of its futuristic technology so he could devote it chiefly to addressing the politics of humanity, rather than the future of humanity’s technology.” Other examples of “soft science fiction” include The Left Hand of Darkness and Frankenstein. Do you think sci-fi has shifted more towards its “soft” side as the genre has progressed or does the balance shift back and forth?

What novels have you read where you can see Dune’s possible influence? What form does this influence take (subject matter, worldbuilding, narrative structure, etc.)?

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