Frank Herbert interview from 1969
July 13, 2005 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Frank and Beverly Herbert interview from 1969 on the first Dune books. In a recent AskMe thread, many respondents cited Dune as a favorite science fiction novel. An almost complete (missing one page) 1969 interview with the author and his wife has surfaced. Enjoy. [Tip of the hat to Monkeyfilter]
posted by mojohand (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a fantastic find! I can't wait to get home this evening and read the entire interview.
posted by jperkins at 9:51 AM on July 13, 2005

Dune was awesome. Children of Dune made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Sad, but true.

[this is good]
posted by Plutor at 9:56 AM on July 13, 2005

Thank you for this. I've read Dune many times, and it always satisfies; I'm reading this interview now, and there's a lot of good stuff here.

It's funny how it all started with an interest in sand dunes and fluid mechanics.

I never bothered to read any of the other books, but I might now. After another re-read of the original.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:08 AM on July 13, 2005

I loved "Dune", enjoyed " Dune Messiah", struggled with "Children of Dune", enjoyed "God Emporer of Dune" again, couldn't finish "Heretics of Dune" and still have "Chapterhouse Dune" unread somewhere...

Now I find there's also the Dune House Chronicles, and Brian Herbert has just released the third in the Legends of Dune series. Some franchises really ought to remain dead and buried, and I have to admit, I though David Lynch did a pretty good job killing this beast. But no, it raises it's head again, and again, and again. Just like a fuggin' sandworm...
posted by benzo8 at 10:21 AM on July 13, 2005

Lynch? I thought it was directed by Smithee?

I love Dune. I tore through the rest of the series, but never quite found the satisfaction I did from the first book. Almost how I feel about the Ender's Game sequels.
posted by ODiV at 10:26 AM on July 13, 2005

I like the first four books; I've read those quite a few times. Numbers five and six left me a bit cold but maybe I should give them another try sometime. Thanks for the great link, mojohand.
posted by Songdog at 10:34 AM on July 13, 2005

Agreed, ODIV (and a wink at the Smithee reference). Dune was one of those books you remember where you were while reading it. I lost 10% body fat by the end and never have trusted women since.

In hindsight, not suggested reading for a summer on the beach with relatives.
posted by hal9k at 10:48 AM on July 13, 2005

Not to start some sort of odiv-hal9k feedback loop, but: 'I lost 10% body fat by the end and never have trusted women since.' has got to be one of the best book reviews I have ever read.

One sentence, experience based book reviews sounds like a good idea for a site. Then again, the actual books being reviewed (or even the fact that they're books) wouldn't really matter much, would they?
posted by ODiV at 11:03 AM on July 13, 2005

I liked all the books, though Dune is beyond liking in a trascendant realm all its own.
I was sad when Herbert died, as I wanted to read the next 6 or 7 books in the series.
posted by signal at 11:45 AM on July 13, 2005

The interview contains no mention of a rather obscure history book which appears to have provided significant inspiration, as well as detail bits, to "Dune." This book--perhaps more timely today than in the 1960s--details the efforts of Caucasian Muslims to escape subjugation by the Russian Empire in the mid-19th century. "The Sabres of Paradise," published by (Ms.) Lesley Blanch in 1960, centers on the exploits of the Imam Shamyl, legendary leader of the Daghestani/Chechen "Murid" resistance, a larger than life figure until his surrender in 1859.

Against the backdrop of Islamic jihad led by Shamyl, inter alia, it describes the bond that each Muslim warrior had with his sword--like the knife cult of the Fremen of Dune--and described the institution of vendetta called kanly in the Caucasus; even the term was directly borrowed by Herbert. Quoth Blanch:

"[U]pon becoming Imam, [Shamyl] had tried to stamp out the the whole tradition of kanly. The Russians, on the contrary encouraged it, cynically. It was a practical method of wiping out the more explosive elements of the tribes."

When first I read Dune c. 1967 or so, I was bowled over by the great imagination embodied in the story. Alas, some of what I thought was original was not. I came across "Sabres" quite by accident, but as soon as I read in it of "kanly" I knew that Frank had read it too. Just as Shamyl led his ultimately unsuccessful jihad against the Empire, Usul led his nouveau jihadis in a rather more successful enterprise.

I have never seen any article which reflects on the apparent connection between "Sabres" and "Dune."
posted by rdone at 12:04 PM on July 13, 2005 [3 favorites]

I'm reading 'Children of Dune' right now. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggled with it. But I want to know how Leto II ended up on the so called Golden Path.

On Preview: So that's where the band "Sabres of Paradise gets its name.
posted by loquacious at 12:06 PM on July 13, 2005

I remember reading Dune when I was in elementary school - it had everything; knife fights, troubador-warriors, bird-like airplanes, lazguns, body shields, coming-of-age, &c&c.

To this day I still read Dune once a year, the series past the first one less-so. These days, the religion-politics and the idea of slow-terraformation are the parts that entertain the most, along with the ramifications of being able to see the future.

Didn't mind the Lynch rendition so much - still haven't been able to get my hands on the Japanese laserdisc version but I've seen an e x t e n d e d version with the watercolour-stills introduction.

/was vastly dissapointed by the House of___ series. Vastly
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:12 PM on July 13, 2005


Is "S of P" a Brit aggregation? Can't say I've ever heard of them. . . .but I am no longer hep. I don't think the book is in print Stateside, but it still may be in the UK.
posted by rdone at 12:13 PM on July 13, 2005


Everyone craps on Lynch, but he had the Harkonnens just right.
Sting's movie triumph. . . .
posted by rdone at 12:16 PM on July 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

/was vastly dissapointed by the House of___ series. Vastly

Oh. Yes. They are really, really bad. About the only good thing I read in them was that a partial(?) manuscript for Frank Herbert's 7th book was found. I've never come across any reference to it since, but a little googling might go a long way. I'd love to find out what he was planning after that odd cliffhanger ending to Chapterhouse.

On preview: the Lynch version does have it's pluses.
posted by malaprohibita at 12:25 PM on July 13, 2005

More info on the material for a 7th book in this thread:

Not a manuscript, though, sadly.
posted by malaprohibita at 12:31 PM on July 13, 2005

WM: Would you define this a little bit more for me, please?

FH: I will. I’ll be specific about it and I can use an analogy, which is familiar to both of us,

Thanks for linking this great interview. It reinforces my suspicion that SF might as well be named FUBU: fiction written For Us, By Us; where "us" is defined, perhaps, as "people who will, who'll be specific about it, and who can use an analogy which is familiar to both of us."

I had an experience much like the one 'rdone' reports, at age 12 or so, when I discovered that 'hajj' and 'taqwa' were not words that Herbert had invented for the purpose of advancing his story. As I grow a little older I begin to suspect that Herbert might have read, not just one, but maybe as many as three or four sources when crafting Dune! Luckily, that means it's not plagiarism.

Bah. They don't make 'em like that any more.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:48 PM on July 13, 2005

Sting was waaaay to old to play Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, although the manic sneering "I will kill him" scenery-chewing felt just right. Lynch's production left my college roommate wondering why Maud'Dib, who could fold space with his mind, would bother with a seemingly trivial knife-fight, but on rereading Dune I understood that Maud'Dib was also Paul, an Atriedes, son of a murdered Duke, with a very personal debt of honor to satisfy against a Harkonnen.
posted by alumshubby at 12:57 PM on July 13, 2005

Herbert's last Dune book makes it well worth reading the series. It's almost a Zen rapping on the nose. Duncan Idaho headed off into the infinite unknowable, it's a return to the ultimate theme of what Herbert says here about striking sparks. On the meta-level it seems almost as though Leto II realizes he's merely a character in a book and seeks freedom in the Golden Path which would be that ultimate conclusion with Idaho. That birth into the imagination of the reader.

But y'know, I've dropped like a LOT of acid, so...
posted by Smedleyman at 1:03 PM on July 13, 2005

I think the theme of sharing creation with the reader is antithetical to movie making. Most directors are control freaks (by necessity).

...I'd like to see Herzog do it though.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:10 PM on July 13, 2005

I liked Lynch's take on Dune. Good God, man! What a task to try to distill that book into a movie! Yeah, it often puts people to sleep - even myself - but what a task! Lynch at least 'got it'.

Any other director would have either ran screaming, or would have totally failed to 'get it' and turned it into something like the modern "Flash Gordon", which would have been a crime not unlike murder.

Dune is just one of those so-wholly-complete universes it really can't be compared to anything else, except maybe Tolkein.

And it's so foreign but yet so easily familiar. So many twists and turns, so many crenulations and layers. But so wholly and believably alien and removed.

Throw in all the wonderful paradoxes, points to ponder and moments of zen that send you tripping off on your own inward-looking visions and reflections you have some damn fine storytelling.
posted by loquacious at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2005

I don't understand Herbert's example of Voice in real life. What is the hypocrisy in the life of his hypothetical character, and why would 'oink' expose it?

I liked the sci-fi channel version much more than the Lynch version.
posted by bingo at 2:04 PM on July 13, 2005

I don't understand Herbert's example of Voice in real life. What is the hypocrisy in the life of his hypothetical character, and why would 'oink' expose it?

I assumed the hypothetical guy was a late-60s cop, getting angry at being called a pig (of course, this also assumes that they meant World War II and not World War I in his backstory).
posted by COBRA! at 2:10 PM on July 13, 2005

COBRA!: But it doesn't say he was a cop. It says he "went into his father's business."
posted by bingo at 2:16 PM on July 13, 2005

Maybe his father was a cop? I dunno, I've got nothing.
posted by COBRA! at 2:41 PM on July 13, 2005

Lynch? I thought it was directed by Smithee?

The theatrically released version did have Lynch's name on it, and still does as far as I know. The "Smithee" version is an extended one where someone went and added back a bunch of scenes, including what appear to me to be unfinished storyboards, and replaced the voiceover. The Smithee version sucks, if you ask me. It just looks like crap. The Lynch version - I can understand why some dislike it, but I like it. If you divorce it a bit from the books in your mind, it does work in its own way. It's also visually stunning. I've reread the book a couple times since then and I always find myself using Lynch's sets and costumes. (I didn't like the SciFi Channel's visuals much, even if as an overall adaptation it's probably superior.)
posted by dnash at 2:47 PM on July 13, 2005

I think I made it up to the part of the series where Duncan Idaho becomes a sex god or something before thinking "Now that's just silly".

But I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Who doesn't love a giant worm on a trolley?
posted by Sparx at 2:54 PM on July 13, 2005

The Sci-Fi channel's miniseries versions were just fantastic, low budget aside.
posted by nightchrome at 5:38 PM on July 13, 2005

Nice to see a bit of appreciation for Lynch. I was one of (so) many who thought it was a bad take -- and just plain making a lot of stuff up -- and had wished that they hadn't thrown all the Mobius stuff out.

The Sci-fi channel stuff made me realize how difficult it is to do what Lynch did well (because the sci-fi channel version is so awful). But then, I loathe William Hurt. For godsake, they tried so hard to avoid the shadow of the former film, they even left out "Long live the fighters!"

More on what you were talking about, rdone.
posted by dreamsign at 6:41 PM on July 13, 2005

Thanks, dreamsign.

My sense is that Herbert drew upon a grab bag of exsiting Islamic--that is to say, Arabic language--concepts to flesh out a ripping yarn about interstellar holy war. Was he inspired by the story of Imam Shamyl to place the faux Greek House of Atreides on a desert planet reminiscent of barren Daghestan? Seems probable.

Yet Herbert created a most memorable world with powerful characters that invoke great fictional (and historical) archetypes. Paul Mu'adDib is not Shamyl, and the psychedelic spice of Arrakis owes more to Owsley's Orange Sunshine than to Islamic history. It is said that science fiction often reflects the era of its authors; there is no doubt that "Dune" arose from the post-Beatnik ferment of the Left Coast of the 1960s.

That does not, of course, render it any less of a dynamite story, one which continues to resonate--at least in the minds of those of us who read it before LSD became merely a bogeyman of the ONDCP.

Fear is the mind killer. . . .
posted by rdone at 7:06 PM on July 13, 2005

It's interesting how people seem to like either the film or the miniseries adaptation, rarely both.
Also, was anyone else strangely thrilled by reading them talk about other greats of science fiction in such a casual manner? Maybe it's just hero worship, but hearing someone refer to Heinlein as "Bob" just totally did it for me.
posted by nightchrome at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2005

somebody said that ecology is the science of understanding consequences.
posted by warbaby at 8:10 PM on July 13, 2005

I appreciate elements of the Lynch, the "Smithee", and the SciFi channel versions. The way Lynch dealt with Paul's visions and inner monologue was creepily effective. Some of the actors also played their parts perfectly. Sting as Feyd-Routha, Dourif as Piter de Vries, Kenneth McMillan as Baron Harkonnen... No one has done those characters better

I thought the Smithee version made certain elements of the story, which had been cut out for issues of length in the theatrical release, a little more clear, but starting a movie with 15 minutes of watercolor production art is fucking weird.

The two SciFi Channel series were strong because they tried to stay close to the original material, but were marred (especially the first one) by crappy effects. The first series also started off pretty weak in the acting department, as the actor who played Paul played him as a whiny little bitch in the first episode, but by the end he was on.

The CoD miniseries departed more from the story of the 2nd and 3rd books by trying to give it a definite ending, but the actors who played Paul's kids were really good and I was impressed that the filmmakers didn't shy away from the creepy incestual aspect of their relationship in the books. I do wonder how the Jodoworsky version would have turned out.

I'm also a bit torn about the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson prequels. I read the House chronicles, and I own the the Butlerian Jihad trilogy but haven't read them yet. To be honest, I did enjoy the House books, but not the way I enjoyed Frank Herbert's originals. They read almost like really good fan fiction. They are fairly entertaining if you take them as standard adventure scifi, but not if you want to find the kind of depth in them that Frank's 6 books have. I went to a book signing that Brian Herbert did, and he talked a little bit about future plans. Next on their plate are the two Dune 7 books (Hunters of Dune/Sandworms of Dune), based on the outline and notes that Frank had made before he died. He said they were also considering a trilogy (or series of trilogies) about the founding of the three major schools
(the Swordmasters, the Mentats, and the Bene Gesserit) and a trilogy about Paul's early pre-Dune years. Looks like they are also putting out a book of unpublished and alternate chapters to Dune and Dune Messiah.

Brian and Kevin are certainly milking the Dune universe for all they can, but I got the impression that Brian isn't doing it for the money, but for more personal reasons. From his comments at the book reading/signing, it seems that he didn't much get along with his dad until he was older, and I think writing the books is his way of making up for lost time and connecting with his dad, and he really feels like he needs to keep the universe "alive" and new by writing more stories. I just wish they were a bit better.

posted by papakwanz at 10:50 PM on July 13, 2005

I know what you mean, as I too liked some of the House books (though not all). I did notice contradictions here and there among some of the later books, almost as though consistency were less important than telling a good yarn.
I am loathe to read the Butlerian Jihad books, as I have a feeling that the further away from the original series they go, the more leeway they will have to make up ridiculous crap.
posted by nightchrome at 1:16 AM on July 14, 2005

Thanks for this interview.
posted by OmieWise at 5:52 AM on July 14, 2005


I kind of have the opposite feeling. I feel like the further they are away from the original 6 books the better. Less likelihood of contradictions with Frank or poor characterizations that might bother you because of how it conflicts with the originals. Since there's so little known about the Butlerian Jihad from the original books, it's not like Brian and Kevin can really fuck things up.
posted by papakwanz at 8:18 AM on July 14, 2005

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