Children of Dune


by Brian Herbert

Frank Herbert had a remarkably inventive and original mind. In his first novel, The Dragon in the Sea (1956), he came up with the concept of containerized shipping, an idea that the Japanese later commercialized to enormous success. Dune, only his second novel, was published in 1965. A complex, revolutionary work, it featured layers of ecology, philosophy, history, religion, and politics beneath the epic tale of the heroic Paul Atreides.

By 1968, five more of Frank Herbert’s novels had been published: Destination: Void, The Eyes of Heisenberg, The Green Brain, The Heaven Makers, and The Santaroga Barrier. All the while, the popularity of Dune was growing, particularly among university intellectuals who were impressed by the complex messages interwoven into the great adventure story. The novel became a textbook for many classes. The Whole Earth Catalog extolled it as an environmental handbook.

As his eldest son, I didn’t even know what my father had created. In 1966, I was hitchhiking near Carmel, California, and a young hippie couple gave me a ride in their Volkswagen Beetle. I was sitting in the back of the small car as it puttered along, and we were chatting. I told them that my dad was a newspaperman for the San Francisco Examiner and that he had written a couple of books.

“Oh?” the young man said. “What did he write?”

“Uh, Dune,” I said.

“Dune!” He was so excited that he pulled the car off to the side of the road. “Your dad is Frank Herbert?”

Hesitantly I replied, “Yeah.”

“Dune! I love that book! One of my friends at college turned me on to it. Wow! I can’t believe it!”

I was dumbfounded. As I wrote in Dreamer of Dune, my biography of Frank Herbert, my bearded father and I did not get along well in those years. I was a rebellious teenager, and we had one shouting argument after another. The relationship seemed hopeless. But Dad had apparently written something remarkable. Even so, he was not making much money from his writing or from his newspaper job. As a family, we were on the poor side of average, and some of our relatives considered my father something of a black sheep. He was eccentric, they said, and went his own way. How little did they know. How little did I know. I hadn‘t even read the novel yet.

Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert’s first sequel to Dune, was published in 1969. In that book, he flipped over what he called the “myth of the hero” and showed the dark side of Paul Atreides. Some readers didn’t understand it. Why would the author do that to his great hero? In interviews, Dad spent years afterward explaining why, and his reasons were sound. He believed that charismatic leaders could be dangerous because they could lead their followers off the edge of a cliff.

His alternate way of looking at the universe fascinated many readers anyway, and they couldn’t wait to see where he was going with the series. He was developing a core readership. In the early 1970s, Frank Herbert became involved with the environmental movement, just as the popularity of the novel Dune was skyrocketing. He spoke on college campuses all over the country. Readers wanted even more sequels, but Dad took his time with the third book, wanting the next novel in the series to be as skillfully written as possible. In conjunction with the first Earth Day, Dad wrote entries for and edited New World or No World, a book about the importance of protecting the environment. He followed that with two novels, Soul Catcher and The Godmakers, and then a third,