As I mentioned in the previous DUNE post, Paul/Muad’dib has now been hailed as the Kwisatz Haderach, and both the Fremen prophecy/Bene Gesserit breeding program has arrived at its terminus. But something is amiss. Paul is not only uncontrollable to the Bene Gesserit, he also sees another vision, one where Arrakis is transformed by into a lush, Earth-like planet, which kills the Shai-Hulud and ends all spice production permanently (an act he had merely threatened the Emperor with, but soon realizes may actually occur if humanity travels a certain path into the future). Paul also realized that the jihad he has started is beginning to spiral out of his control, as he is further venerated by the increasingly obsessed Fremen. This conundrum sets the stage for the sequel: DUNE Messiah.
Now, twelve years after the events of DUNE, Paul’s attempts at being a just Emperor to the Known Universe are being undermined by the violent holy war raging in countless worlds in his name. Fremen fanatics are racing from planet to planet murdering all who refuse to convert to a religion increasingly built around worship of Muad’dib himself, rather than the promised peace of Muad’dib’s liberation. Sixty-one billion (!) people have been slaughtered, but Paul foresees that humanity still has a chance to survive complete destruction if he rules properly as both Kwisatz Haderach and Fremen Saviour.
(Note: I promised I wouldn’t add any spoilers, but in this one instance I will let you in on a little secret of the DUNE series, a slight spoiler-of-sorts.
The Bene Gesserit have been using a system of implanted prophecy patterns (their Missionaria Protectiva) to make sure they survive and thrive throughout history, secretly implanting their own ideas or overt prophecies into the religious systems of countless worlds. One such prophecy is the Fremen prophecy, implanted earlier when the Zen-Sunnis arrived on Arrakis. That the Fremen Saviour would arrive from another world and not directly from some divine realm is specific so that the Bene Gesserit Kwisatz Haderach would be considered that Saviour! Keep in mind that it was never planned for the House of Atreides to rule over Arrakis, but since Paul Atreides turned out to be the Kwisatz Haderach, the Fremen prophecy still would have played Bene Gesserit advantage, if it had not be for the fact that they ended up having no control over Paul! This is what makes the original DUNE novels so amazing… especially to a young reader myself when I first encountered them in the 80s. They are so rich with intrigue and wonder, it is nigh impossible to put them down once you get going).
Many around Paul are plotting against him, including the Bene Gesserit, who are secretly preventing Chani from getting pregnant and raising heirs to Paul’s throne by covertly slipping infertility drugs into her food. Also, Paul secretly fears pregnancy in Chani as he foresees her dying in childbirth and feels he could not survive life without her. But Chani eventually does get pregnant after unwittingly changing her diet.
In a sudden, unforeseen attack an atomic weapon blinds Paul. In Fremen tradition, all blind must be abandoned to die in the desert, but Paul reaffirms his godhood by being able to see without eyes: developing sufficient prescience to the point that he can see by moving in tandem with visions of the immediate future. But this also traps him in a single immediate destiny. Chani, as Paul had foreseen, does indeed die in childbirth to twins (Leto II and Ghanima), who are also pre-born like Paul’s sister/their aunt Alia, and each have the powers of a reverend Mother and some of Paul’s abilities as the Kwisatz Haderach. Paul, in his despair becomes truly blind, having refused prescience to see any further down this painful path of Life.
Paul, now blind and unable to continue functioning as the Kwisatz Haderach – having realized his goal of putting humanity on a path towards liberation – chooses the Fremen path of the blind wandering the desert to die, thus continuing to impress them with his dedication to their shared life and religion (which also makes them completely loyal to his children as well to honour Paul’s soon-to-be memory). The Messiah of Dune is gone, and in his wake his children will rise up to rule.
But what will happen now, as the children are too young to govern? Who will lead as Emperor and who will continue in the wake of the departed Messiah? What happens next? Paul has disappeared into the desert and thus Alia will rule the Known Universe until Leto II or Ghanima rightfully gain the throne. Paul’s children, though infants, have prescience and Alia knows she has a limited amount of time to use or revel in her Imperial power.
Once again the Bene Gesserit begin plotting a move to gain control of the Paul’s children and manipulate the politics and bloodlines of the inhabitants of the Known Universe to their own benefit, since they failed to control the Kwisatz Haderach. Thus, nine years later, we come to the events of Children Of DUNE.
CHILDREN OF DUNE
Arrakis has now been changed to such a degree that Fremen no longer need to wear stillsuits, and many are choosing to abandon the old desert ways for city life. As Arrakis fills with foreigners and those curious about the Fremen and Paul’s legacy, the jihad continues and Alia’s imperial/political power is weakening.
Leto II and Ghanima discover that Alia has been “possessed” by the ancestral memories of her grandfather (the dreaded Baron Harkonnen whom Leto and Paul fought), and the Baron is now active within Alia’s consciousness and plotting against the remaining Atreides and/or descendants of Paul. Alia/Baron Harkonnen also fears that Lady Jessica, who is about to return to Arrakis, will immediate spot Alia’s possession and rightfully mark her as an Abomination.
As these events unfold, rumours begin to circulate about a wandering preacher in the desert who is decrying the jihad, the injustices of the new government, and the abandonment of the Fremen Way (some beginning to think it is actually Paul/Muad’dib himself). As events unfold, and the main characters of the book begin various secret plots against each other, Leto II leaves and goes out into the desert to find the preacher. As he does so, Alia attempts a failed assassination of Lady Jessica, who once again escapes into the desert and becomes part of a growing Fremen rebellion.
Leto II is captured by a separate group of Fremen outlaws who force him to undergo a mélange-induced trance, wherein he sees a number of possible futures for mankind (all of which lead to complete extinction for Mankind, save for one). This one path for humanity Leto II calls The Golden Path, and he resolves to set humanity down it no mater what the cost. It is violent and painful, but it is the only hope for humanity: requiring him to become a brutal God-dictator. It is also the path that Paul rejected earlier when the jihad in his name began. In order to fully realize this Golden Path, Leto II must live long enough to see it firmly established in human affairs, a process which will take thousands of years. Leto II escapes from the Fremen and does what he must to become the God Emperor necessary enslaves humanity in a seemingly endless reign of tyranny – he fuses himself with a number of larval worms (“sand trout”) which begin melding with/transforming his human body into a hybrid Shai-Hulud. As the sand trout begin their work he develops super strength and invulnerability; racing across the desert at superhuman speed to find the preacher, who actually is Paul/Muad’dib.
Reunited, they return to the capital city and face off with Alia, who has Paul murdered. But Leto II then reveals himself as the newly forming God Emperor and confronts Alia with his superior abilities and inevitable/immediate ascension to the throne. Alia, now defeated, is offered healing of her possession by the Baron but his power is now too great within, and she chooses to end her pain by killing herself.
Leto II is now God Emperor of Arrakis and the Known Universe. He elects to marry Ghanima to retain familial power, but allows her to have a consort through which the ‘natural’ Atreides bloodline will continue. The Known Universe now has a new God and Emperor, and the Fremen have a new God/man/worm to worship. Little do they all know that Leto II has now set the stage for ensuing millennia of the most brutal stage of human history. The path of humanity that Paul/Muad’dib had originally foreseen in DUNE and refused to take, one in which Arrakis is transformed into an Earth-like, worm and spice free planet – is revealed to be part of the Golden Path of Leto II… the violence of the jihad refocused and made even more vicious under the singular rule of Leto, The Tyrant.
We now come to my favorite novel of the canon, one I have read over and over countless times. It is a fascinating and sobering, often first hand account of Leto’s reign, and the loneliness he feels in carrying the terrible burden of his salvific tyranny.
GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE
Over 3000 years have passed since the events of Children Of DUNE, and Leto II has been almost totally transformed into a medium sized “pre-worm” (the stage immediately before becoming a full worm), still having a face, shrunken hands/arms, and useless shrunken vestigial legs attached to his worm-body. He has crushed countless rebellions, murdered countless millions. Though he is worshipped as a God, his 3500 year rule has so ravaged humanity that the remaining civilizations have been openly and actively plotting his death, having attempted it over and over ever since his ascension. Still, after three thousand years of failure, the Bene Gesserit and others still work at Leto II’s demise (even though Leto has mostly spared the Bene Gesserit, which means their Missionaria Protectiva has still technically worked in this case). Also, Arrakis has been completely transformed into a lush planet with little desert left and no worms. Still though, the remaining Fremen descendants and others worship Leto as the God Emperor, God Incarnate of the Known Universe.
Also known simply as The Tyrant, Leto II has (seemingly) fully realized the road (the “Golden Path”) that the Kwisatz Haderach Paul/Muad’dib refused to set himself on – to become the God Emperor worm/man that would dominate Mankind so ruthlessly that they would seek freedom from Leto’s tyranny and travel outside of the known Universe of local planets, thus saving themselves from a single dominating force of emperors and dictators or any future God Emperor like Leto II himself. Once spread out across the galaxy in a great Scattering, no overlord could control all of humanity thus ensuring humanity would always survive free somewhere in the Universe.
The novel is most often written from Leto II’s perspective, and it is interesting to watch the other characters try and surmise what The Tyrant is up to, thought we the reader are in on the overall plot Leto withholds from those around him. But there is also much that Leto seems to not see… or are we the reader also being fooled by Leto II: are there, as one Guild Navigator in the DUNE movie says, “plans within plans”?
Leto II rules with an iron fist and a private army of completely loyal female warriors known as Fish Speakers, keeping humans firmly oppressed and disenfranchised, save for what little power he allows the Bene Gesserit, the Guild Navigators, and other groups to content themselves with. After three millennia of rule, Leto II is now making what are seen as a series of odd/unwise political choices, and some are convinced their plot(s) to have him assassinated will be successful. Leto has himself killed many of his own trusted Duncan Idaho gholas (loyal clones created by the Bene Teilaxu expressly to serve Leto II but whom often turn against him) and the latest ghola expects no less of an end at some point.
(Note: The Tleilaxu have master cloning technology, and can create an endless amount of gholas from an original source of a few cells. Gholas begin to play a much bigger role in the overall story line of DUNE from this point on, especially Duncan Idaho gholas, and also, how the gholas are made, which is a secret until the latter part of Heretics of DUNE on into Chapterhouse: DUNE. Though this is may end up being a major spoiler, I’ll let you in on a little secret… keep your eyes on the Duncan Idaho gholas from now on, especially in the last two books of the original series of six.)
But everything changes when a young girl (Hwi Noree) is genetically modified/created to seduce Leto, and they fall in love, as the Duncan ghola too is seduced by Hwi’s charms. This emboldens her “creators” (the Ixians) to continue plotting Leto’s demise. Though Leto cannot consummate the marriage having lost his genitals in the worm transformation long ago, Hwi and Leto promise their undying love, i.e. soul companionship, and arrange to be married.
What the main characters in the book don’t realize, however, is that Leto II has also been hiding a very specific part within his mysterious Golden Path from the rest of the Universe. Through careful manipulation of human history, Leto II has been overseeing a breeding program of his own, “hidden” in plain sight. After three thousand years of cloning, and selective murder, nearly all-remaining humans have Atreides blood to some degree or another, and once properly developed will be undetectable to prescience!! Thus, it will be guaranteed that no God Emperor or prescient power will ever again be able to see foresee humanity’s future and/or see into others’ minds to use this knowledge against them. Humans will be “untraceable” to ESP, even to Leto II’s own powers.
Once freed, humanity will not only (1) desperately seek to never be dominated by such tyrants again, but (2) actively escape the Known Universe out into unknown areas of the Universe after Leto II is killed (mélange use and his worm transformation have made him immortal save for being soaked with water – which no one has yet to surmise is deadly to worms ergo Leto II as well), they will also eventually discover that they have been secretly prepared for this, and might come to “appreciate” the self-sacrifice of Leto II’s humanity to become the “savior-Tyrant” to Mankind through carefully designed brutalities.
Leto suddenly changes the location of the wedding ceremony, and Leto’s enemies seek to exploit the event for their assassination efforts. As Leto II crosses a bridge with his wedding party the supports for the bridge are blown out by laser cannon and both Leto II and Hwi fall to their death in a raging river below. All others drown, and as Leto’s remaining human viscera lies dying at the river side, he sees the sand trout that previously encased him begin forming a mass around water soaked into the ground nearby, which is how Arrakis originally became a desert. Larval worms gathered the water deep underground before becoming worms them selves and as Leto II dies, the re-transformation back into desert has begun. Mankind is now free of its last great tyranny, and humanity in on the path to being fully saved. Leto’s enemies sought to try and drown him, but unwittingly they achieved their goal while unwittingly beginning the process necessary for Leto II to finalize his part on the Golden Path, disintegrate and release the sand trout back into the ecosystem. Leto II’s murder had freed humanity at last… or had it?
It is at this point that the original events of DUNE are so far in the past, it almost feels like they never happened at all, and the reader is given a sense of immortality through being able to remember events that many of the new characters have no understanding or even concept of.
HERETICS OF DUNE
We now arrive fifteen hundred years later at after Leto II’s death at the events of Heretics Of DUNE. The worms have reappeared on Arrakis, now called called Rakis. The worms have also reformed the planet back into a desert, and mélange is once again flowing and being fought over. Humans have fled the Known Universe and have been populating distant worlds unknown to those remaining behind in the Known Universe/Old Empire. But some are now coming back, new cultures with new ways unknown to the Old Empire. This is unsettling to the Bene Gesserit, as many had thought the Golden Path of Leto The Tyrant had already been fulfilled. What was this new Return, and would it work for or against the Bene Gesserit?
This time it is the Bene Tleilax, the Ixians, and the Bene Gesserit (as usual) who are assassinating/plotting against each other back here in the Known Universe. Now that humans are on Leto II’s Golden Path (which only the Bene Gesserit have figured out) there is dispute amongst the order of sisters; some want to continue manipulating humanity towards their own goals, others embrace Leto’s freeing of humans form control by such orders. Among those returning from the Scattering are some bent on exploration, others with violent conquest as their goal. One such group is the Honored Matres, a type of exceedingly violent, more sexually sophisticated (but less crafty) Bene Gesserit-type sisterhood. The Honored Matres have developed their sexuality and sexual skills to a level far beyond the standard machinations of Bene Gesserit Breeding Mothers. These new Matres can make a man do anything – so powerful is their hold on them through the ability to make them achieve orgasms so intense these men sought nothing other than the will of the Matre in the hope of once again being allowed to experience such climaxes again.
This new threat from both the Bene Tleilax (who seem to be in league with the Matres), and the Honored Matres, throws the Bene Gesserit into even further disarray. If Leto II’s Golden Path is humanity’s destiny… then how can there be this growing threat to all of humanity from the Honored Matres? Have they done so already out there in the Great Scattering and have returned to claim the last remnants of humanity back here is the Old Empire? They are taking over world after world, and threaten to become unstoppable if left unchecked. Will the Bene Gesserit be the bulwark against this potential genocide? Was this or was this not foreseen by Leto II?
Also highly disturbing is the fact that even though Bene Gesserit Reverned Mothers were sent out into the Scattering to continue the Missionaria Protectiva, it seems it has not worked, as the Honored Matres have come back out of the Scattering hell-bent on destroying humanity and especially the Bene Gesserit, whom they are pursuing rather obsessively.
What makes this particular DUNE novel enjoyable are the constant battles between the resident Supreme Mother Superior of the Bene Gesserit and many of her closest allies within the Sisterhood, who may in fact not be what they each seem. As you read you see the treachery coming and eagerly await the often unpredictable result. And, in a few cases, even the treachery contains a few reversals Herbert sneaks in at the last moment to further add to the action and twisting plot.
Arising out of this new conflict is another Duncan Idaho ghola, and the Bene Gesserit’s most famous battle commander (known as a Bashar), Miles Teg. Both the Duncan ghola and the legendary Bashar Teg have abilities they are unaware of, and in the climatic final events of the book, both discover they have more power than imagined. The plot also reveals that Teg and Idaho are players in a greater plot; to help control a young girl named Sheena (living on Rakis) who they discover can control Shai-Hulud.
The Bene Gesserit are also horrified to discover the true motivation for the Honored Matre’s collective rage: subconscious revenge for having been the Bene Tleilax’s brood mares. The axolotl (also occasionally spelled axlotl) tanks in which the Bene Tleilax “create” gholas are actually grotesquely oversized, immobile, deformed Tleilaxu women (!) turned into comatose baby machines hooked up to tubes and machines. Eventually, after a series of killings and betrayals, Rakis is destroyed but not before the Bene Gesserit escape with a single worm which they will use to turn their home planet into a new type of Arrakis and thus control all pure mélange (the Bene Telilax have now figured out how to create artificial mélange in the axolotl tanks).
What also makes this particular novel interesting is the back-and-forth struggle of the Bene Gesserit and the Honored matres to sexually dominate the Duncan ghola or anyone else that would further their goals. Though both use sexual imprinting to control males for their own designs, the Bene Gesserit call the Honored Matres “whores” as they are more wild and reckless in their methods, which the Bene Gesserit ultimately use to their advantage. Watching each group fight over/plot sexual control of the male protagonists, and then having the tables turned in one particular instance, is tastefully written and brilliantly plotted by Herbert. Watching the ensuing turmoil creates a nice change of pace from the usual (mostly) political and martial machinations of the earlier novels.
The Bene Gesserit have now found themselves in danger of extinction as the Honored Matres have almost conquered the old Known Universe in which the DUNE saga began. The Matres want everything the Bene Gesserit have developed or built over the years. ChapterHouse, the Bene Gesserit’s home planet is becoming an Arrakis-like desert planet, and Sheeana, now in charge of this “project” is eagerly awaiting the appearance of the first massive Worms. The Bene Tleilax have been wiped out save for one Master, who trades the secrets of the axolotl tanks for his survival, and though the process (turning women into grotesque, immobile birthing “machines”) is still sickening to many Bene Gesserit they go ahead and begin creating gholas thusly (!), the first being a ghola of dead military commander Miles Teg, the father of now supreme Mother Superior Darwi Odrade (she gets to watch the birth of her own father reborn as a ghola!). Odrade, the Mother Superior-in-Waiting under the former supreme Mother Taraza (Heretics of DUNE), is now in command of the Sisterhood, and surprisingly, has allowed Murbella, a captured Honored Matre (from the Heretics of DUNE story) to become a novice Bene Gesserit, though many believe she plans to become a Bene Gesserit to learn their secrets then betray them by returning to the Honored Matres.
What makes this particular work in the DUNE saga interesting is the appearance of Jews (!) in the main plot, whom have somehow secretly survived over the last 35, 000 years from their roots in ancient Israel back on Earth to now. Judaism, thousands of years on, is now also known as “Secret Israel,” Judaism is the only religion to have survived in pretty much its original form, not having been adapted/consumed within Islam or Buddhism like most other origin religions (the Buddhist/Muslim “Zen-Sunnis” for example). Within their ranks exists a woman named Rebecca, who has developed the abilities of a Reverend Mother without Bene Gesserit training after surviving self-induced “spice agony” (overdosing on mélange), now known as a “wild” Reverend Mother.
Baliset (Chapman Stick™ )
Also interesting is a discussion between two characters (a ghola named Scytale and Odrade) of musical instruments, having not been mentioned for several novels. Paul/Muad’dib played a stringed instrument known as a baliset, which in the David Lynch movie was represented by a real life ten-string instrument Chapman Stick (with a few ornamental additions to make it look “alien.”). The Chapman Stick, invented by Emmett Chapman, is a long, board-like stringed instrument (using both bass and guitar strings to create a hybrid of each) that you tap with your fingers exclusively rather than pluck. Though Patrick Stewart’s character Gurney is shown holding it in the theatrical version, there is a extended version scene showing Stewart playing it (in reality playing “air-guitar” along with a recording of Emmett Chapman’s piece Back Yard).
Also, Odrade mentions jazz, thinking “…she liked the idea of jazz, although the music distracted her with its antique flavours and the dips into wildness. Jazz spoke about life, though. No two performances ever identical. Players reacted to whatever was received from the others: jazz. Feed us with jazz.”
Scytale, a Tleilaxu, asks Odrade if she ever looks into Other Memory (the lives and thoughts of her genetic ancestors) to watch great musical performances on ancient, long lost instruments… such as the piano! Their discussion of the piano, as an imperfect creation on which ancient humans attempted to create perfection, also reveals that the Bene Gesserit avoid music in order to not be “distracted.” It is suggested through the conversation though that they avoid music because it arouses emotions, especially, a form of the most lethal emotion to the Bene Gesserit Master Plan… love! It was love that drove Lady Jessica to “produce” Paul for his father Leto, and this led to the great “disaster” of Paul being the uncontrollable Kwisatz Haderach, and then the reign of his son Leto II. So, even though it is not forbidden, music is a dangerous creation to some Bene Gesserit and the Sisterhood keeps their eyes peeled for any such thing, such arousal of any sort of love that may somehow threaten their plans.The avoidance of falling in love is also part of the Bene Gesserit (and Honored Matre) sexual enslavement training, as a witch-in-love is an unpredictable, uncontrollable witch! But Odrade soon realizes that the Bene Gesserit fear of emotions in general may be a mistake and that the Sisterhood may need to evolve to accept them if they want to succeed in their mission(s).
The captive Murbella, eventually takes the Water of Life and successfully becomes a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, renouncing her status as an Honored Matre. And in a series of battles and plot twists, Mother Superior Odrade dies and tranfers her title to Murbella who herself eventually meets the supreme leader of her former sisterhood, the Great Honored Matre, and kills her, thus becoming the leader of both groups simultaneously! But having had a mysterious vision, Sheeana leaves Chapterhouse with Duncan, and Murbella is too late to stop them. Sheeana and Duncan (with a few new baby worms) end up in an uncharted galaxy in a no-ship, a space ship undetectable to prescience. Long gone from the Old Empire and the events of the DUNE novels – millions of light years behind them, and their path away untraceable – they will now begin anew.
And just when you think the story has ended, two new characters arrive at the end of the novel, an old man and woman tending to a rose garden in some unknown location. These new characters, Marty and Daniel, discuss the final events of the novel as if they have been watching humanity for countless millennia, and discuss what this new path created by Sheeana and Duncan may mean.
Frank Herbert passed away before writing the next sequel, and later his son Brian stepped in to finish both a set of sequels and prequels. Once again, they do fill out the story lines but are nowhere near Frank’s story telling abilities. Thus, I consider only the Frank’s work canonical, and the story ends with ChapterHouse. But with the arrival of Marty and Daniel there is a cliffhanger remaining. Who are they? What are they doing by watching humans, seemingly from an immortal perspective?
I’ll let you figure out the rest…