We were sitting in a dimly illuminated Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe, having dinner with the deputy publisher of Bantam Books, some months before the release of DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES—the first of the new Dune novels, released in 1999, thirteen years after the passing of Frank Herbert. The deputy publisher was there to talk with us about the book, which was to be one of the lead titles of the year, but she didn’t seem to “get” the real significance of the Dune universe.
Brian stressed that DUNE was more than just a big science fiction novel; it was a real landmark.
“Everybody’s read DUNE,” Kevin added.
To this, Brian said, “Well, almost everybody, it seems.”
Then, as the busboy walked up and set water glasses down in front of us, Kevin looked at him and said, “You’ve read DUNE, haven’t you?”
Without missing a beat, the busboy exclaimed, “Oh yeah—DUNE, DUNE MESSIAH, CHILDREN OF DUNE, and the other three. I’ve read them all!” After he left, we nodded to the astonished deputy publisher, and asked if she now understood the significance of this novel.
Several months later, Brian and Kevin were speaking to an audience at a bookstore in San Francisco.
An elderly gentleman sat on one side, listening to the presentation of the authors. When it came time for questions, the man asked, “I’ve never read DUNE or any of the sequels or prequels. Why should I bother to read any of them?”
To this, Brian said, “I’m not going to twist your arm to read anything, but I will tell you this: If you don’t at least read DUNE, you’re missing an important part of our culture. It is a huge and very important story, on many levels.”
Brian then went on to tell him about the important environmental, political, religious, and social messages in the novel. When the event was over, the old gentleman left the store with his own copy of DUNE.
This beloved novel has changed science fiction and has had a ripple effect through popular culture, both from the book itself and from the 1984 David Lynch film. The novel changed the rules of the genre, paving the way for big books and in-depth world-building; DUNE is to science fiction what LORD OF THE RINGS is to fantasy.
Both stories are the most admired works in their respective genres.
Although DUNE has sold tens of millions of copies all over the world, it was a slow road in the beginning, since publishers didn’t quite know what to do with such a huge, unique manuscript. In the early 1960s, it was rejected more than twenty times for publication, but was finally picked up by Chilton, a publisher that was known for auto repair manuals—but who had a brave editor who loved the novel.
The first press run was small, with only 2,200 hardcovers hitting the shelves of book stores, but by 1970 a groundswell of popularity was building, largely because of DUNE’s important environmental messages. In the spring of that year, Frank Herbert was invited to speak at the first Earth Day in Philadelphia, and he addressed a crowd of 30,000 people. He then spoke at many college campuses and other venues all over the country, and sales kept going up, year after year, decade after decade.
Thanks to the David Lynch film, the catchphrase “The Spice must flow” has become as popular as “May the Force be with you” from Star Wars. (In fact, during the first Iraq War, CNN showed footage of Saddam Hussein’s oil fields burning; under the raging inferno, the text crawl said THE SPICE MUST FLOW).
|DUNE movie director David Lynch and Frank Herbert on the first day of principal photography|
In Star Wars itself you can see many clear influences from DUNE, including the desert planet of Tatooine to the Jedi Knights (very similar to the Bene Gesserit) and Luke Skywalker (very similar to Paul Atreides) … even the “spice mines of Kessel.”
The David Lynch film also became a lasting cult favorite—and catapulted the original novel to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in 1985, a remarkable twenty years after its initial publication.
Lynch showed that he understood the deep pop-culture resonance of DUNE when he cast rockstar Sting in the role of Feyd Rautha Harkonnen and commissioned the popular rock band Toto to do an excellent soundtrack. Since the release of the film, the dark and unusual costuming from the movie has inspired many Goth fashions and imitators. At science fiction conventions, many fans arrive dressed in elaborate Fremen stillsuit costumes or Bene Gesserit witch costumes.
DUNE’s famous “Litany Against Fear”—Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration…—has become a mantra for many people, and we know it has been used in hospitals and therapy sessions.
U.S. astronauts have taken copies of DUNE into outer space to read, and one of the craters of the Moon has even been named after the classic novel.
Social media is rife with DUNE-inspired jokes and memes, from the “Spice Girls” to “I are dunecat” and even the spoof “Goodnight Dune.”
In 1984, National Lampoon released their own paperback parody DUNE, along the lines of send-ups they have done for other popular novels.
While we were on an East-Coast book tour for DUNE: THE MACHINE CRUSADE in the middle of Hurricane Isabel, with flooded streets, public transit and schools shut down, we were supposed to do an interview at 6:30 AM on a local TV news show. In the midst of such an emergency, our publisher would never insist that we brave the elements to talk about a new book, but the producer implored us to come in anyway—he was a big DUNE fan and didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
Later that day, we were scheduled for a signing at a local bookstore, even though the power was out and travel was difficult. We entered a large independent book store, and as we made our way to the rear our way was lit by candles that had been set up. When we got to the back, we met a young woman in the audience who told us that she had memorized the novel DUNE word for word, and could recite it from beginning to end. To prove this, she recited several passages. We immediately thought of Ray Bradbury’s novel FAHRENHEIT 451, where people preserved literature by committing novels entirely to memory.
Sitting beside the young woman, her mother said, proudly, “She is the novel DUNE.”
Now for Frank Herbert fans, we are happy to announce that Tor Books has published THE COLLECTED STORIES OF FRANK HERBERT, a comprehensive collection of this great author’s short fiction. It is particularly interesting to read these stories and see ideas that are similar to some of those expressed in DUNE. And, for even more information about Frank Herbert’s short fiction, Tor also published DREAMER OF DUNE, Brian’s Hugo-nominated biography of his father.