Dune Messiah

INTRODUCTION

by Brian Herbert

Dune Messiah is the most misunderstood of Frank Herbert’s novels. The reasons for this are as fascinating and complex as the renowned author himself.

Just before this first sequel to Dune was published in 1969, it ran in installments in the science fiction magazine Galaxy. The serialized “Dune Messiah” was named “disappointment of the year” by the satirical magazine National Lampoon. The story had earlier been rejected by Analog editor John W. Campbell, who, like the Lampooners, loved the majestic, heroic aspects of Dune and hated the antithetical elements of the sequel. His readers wanted stories about heroes accomplishing great feats, he said, not stories of protagonists with “clay feet.”

The detractors did not understand that Dune Messiah was a bridging work, connecting Dune with an as-yet-uncompleted third book in the trilogy. To get there, the second novel in the series flipped over the carefully crafted hero myth of Paul Muad’Dib and revealed the dark side of the messiah phenomenon that had appeared to be so glorious in Dune. Many readers didn’t want that dose of reality; they couldn’t stand the demotion of their beloved, charismatic champion, especially after the author had already killed off two of their favorite characters in Dune, the loyal Atreides swordmaster Duncan Idaho1 and the idealistic planetologist Liet-Kynes.

But they overlooked important clues that Frank Herbert had left along the way. In Dune, when Liet-Kynes lay dying in the desert, he remembered these words of his father, Pardot, spoken years before and relegated to the back reaches of memory: “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero.” Near the end of the novel, in a foreshadowing epigraph, Princess Irulan described the victorious Muad’Dib in multifaceted and sometimes conflicting terms as “warrior and mystic, ogre and saint, the fox and the innocent, chivalrous, ruthless, less than a god, more than a man.” And in an appendix to Dune, Frank Herbert wrote that the desert planet “was afflicted by a Hero.”

These sprinklings in Dune were markers pointing in the direction Frank Herbert had in mind, transforming a utopian civilization into a violent dystopia. In fact, the original working title for the second book in the series was Fool Saint, which he would change two more times before settling on Dune Messiah. But in the published novel, he wrote, concerning Muad’Dib:He is the fool saint,

The golden stranger living forever

On the edge of reason.

Let your guard fall and he is there!

The author felt that heroic leaders often made mistakes … mistakes that were amplified by the number of followers who were held in thrall by charisma. As a political speechwriter in the 1950s, Dad had worked in Washington, D.C., and had seen the megalomania of leadership and the pitfalls of following magnetic, charming politicians. Planting yet another interesting seed in Dune, he wrote, “It is said in the desert that possession of water in great amount can inflict a man with fatal carelessness.” This was an important reference to Greek hubris. Very few readers realized that the story of Paul Atreides was not only a Greek tragedy on an individual and familial scale. There was yet another layer, even larger, in which Frank Herbert was warning that entire societies could be led to ruination by heroes. In Dune and Dune Messiah, he was cautioning against pride and overconfidence, that form of narcissism described in Greek tragedies that invariably led to the great fall.

Among the dangerous leaders of human history, my father sometimes mentioned General George S. Patton because of his charismatic qualities—but more often his example was President John F.