Chapter 7: The Worm Turns
Dune ends with the accession of Paul Atreides to the Imperial throne. It is a heroic romance of the best kind. Good and evil are clear-cut. The growth of young Paul to a heroic figure who can snatch victory from overwhelming defeat is a growth in awareness and self-mastery, as well as in power. What reader is not heartened when Paul triumphs over all the forces massed against him?
Dune Messiah (1968) picks up the story twelve years later. The jihad has spent itself; the Fremen have touched ten thousand worlds. Millions of pilgrims flock to Arrakis every year to visit the tomb of Duke Leto and the temple where Paul's sister Alia sits in oracular judgment each day; they perform all the duties suggested by the Quizarate, Muad'Dib's Pilgrim Church. Paul has fulfilled the messianic promise, but the dream has failed. Water has brought corruption to the dry planet, and Paul's government duplicates the repressive techniques of the old Empire.
Once… long ago, he'd thought of himself as an inventor of government. But the invention had fallen into old patterns. It was like some hideous contrivance with a plastic memory. Shape it any way you wanted, but relax for a moment, and it snapped into the ancient forms. Forces at work beyond his reach in human breasts eluded and defied him.
As the planet flowers, Paul grows barren, watching the friends of his exile become sycophants and his teachings an absolute creed. His people demand from him the illusion of absolute certainty. They want a god, and although he continues to warn them against such a dream, he cannot deny them. The religious juggernaut that he rode to power has turned on him.
"Dune Messiah was the hardest book of the three to write," Herbert says. "It had to be short, because it had to point forward and back. It had to begin turning the whole process over." It had to demonstrate the limits of Paul's oracular powers, the agony of absolute leadership, and the rot in the Fremen church, but without completely demolishing Paul's heroic mystique.
The story opens with a meeting of conspirators against Paul. The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is of course there, and with her the Bene Gesserit-trained Princess Irulan, Paul's official but unloved consort. The Sisterhood's plans have never recovered from the loss of their prime breeding stock; Irulan has the additional spur of her desire to bear Paul's children. The Spacing Guild is represented by Edric, a Steersman, because the Guild's stranglehold on transport is trumped by Paul's ability to destroy the spice on which they depend. Edric's function in the conspiracy is to hide the plotters from Muad'Dib's time vision. Another future-shaping prescient (though on a much smaller scale), he clouds the paths of probability he touches. Scytale, a "face dancer" able to change shape and features at will, represents the Bene Tleilax, an association descended from renegade pre-Butlerian scientists. The Bene Tleilax are opportunists, hungry to test their special ways of power. They are amoral, twisted scientists. Scytale treats the plot as if it were a game, a trial of strength and possibility.
Not present, but a tool of these master conspirators, is Korba, the Fremen head of Muad'Dib's Pilgrim Church. A living prophet who scorns his following is the greatest threat the priesthood can imagine. A martyr they can control.
The plan is to kill Paul and lay the blame on Chani, his love. At the same time, in the seeds of an alternate plan, the Bene Gesserit have poisoned Chani. For twelve years Irulan has fed her drugs to prohibit conception. The bloodlines cannot be contaminated by the wild Fremen strain! Now Chani has gone back to the desert sietch; her food can no longer be prepared. Pregnant after so many years of forced barrenness, she will die. In either case, Tleilaxu cell-regeneration arts hold the key to the conspiracy. If Paul is killed by his priesthood, they can bring him back, a shadow of himself, under their control. If Chani dies, they can offer her to Paul—for the same price.
The Bene Tleilax will send Paul a gift: Duncan Idaho, his childhood friend and swordmaster, brought back from his death under Sardaukar swords. The purpose of the gift is singular—to bring Paul down—but the methods are multiple. Perfect in flesh, Duncan, like all Tleilaxu gholas, lacks memory of who he was before. To offer a reborn Chani to Paul, the Bene Tleilax must first discover how to restore ghola memories. They have planted in Hayt (as the reborn Idaho has been named) a compulsion to kill Paul in the moment of extremity, when he learns of Chani's death. They cannot lose. Either Paul himself will be meat for their axolotl tanks, or the war between the ghola's compulsion and the Atreides' loyalty in his very cells will awaken the lost Duncan and prove the technique intended for Chani.
Despite such elaborate precautions, layered one inside another, this somewhat confusing conspiracy never quite seems to touch Paul. He is engaged in his own stately dance with destiny, struggling with a sickness of which the conspiracy is only a symptom, not a cause. It only provides a focus by which Paul sees the monster he has created. His real battle is with time, with the inertia of the human spirit, and with the paradoxes of messianic leadership.
Editor John Campbell, who had an uncanny way of grasping the crucial points in Herbert's work while misunderstanding their significance, foresaw Paul's invincibility to the overt actions of any conspiracy when he first read Dune. In his letter accepting the novel for serial publication in Analog, Campbell wrote: "If 'Dune' is to be the first of three, and you're planning on using Paul in the future ones—oh, man! You've set yourself one hell of a problem."" In view of Paul's immense powers, Campbell could not envision how there was room for any opposition, and hence how there could be any plot for the remaining books. He suggested a number of changes in Dune that would lessen Paul's powers and leave room for the sequels. What Campbell did not understand is that the very totality of Paul's powers is their greatest handicap.
Bronso of Ix notes in his "Analysis of History" (which serves as an introduction to the novel), after reviewing the obvious elements arrayed against Paul:
How can any of this explain the facts as history has revealed them? They cannot. Only through the lethal nature of prophecy can we understand the failure of such enormous and far-seeing power.
Herbert did not wish to diminish Paul's powers, but rather, by expanding them, to reach the point where their logical limits would become more important than the benefits they confer. To fulfill Herbert's scheme for the trilogy by showing that "superheroes [are] disastrous for humans," Paul's problems must not come from weakness but from contradictions inherent in his situation.
Herbert wrote back to Campbell:
Here's how I see the Time and plot problem for a sequel to Dune:
You will recall that Paul has a vision of Time as the surface of a gauze kerchief undulating in the wind. As far as it goes, this is accurate, but immature. It's the child-vision. Clarification is yet to come and he isn't going to like what he sees.
Think now of a coracle, a chip floating on a stormy sea. The man of vision is in the coracle. When it rises to a crest, he can see around him (provided he has his eyes open at the moment and it's light enough to see—in other words, provided conditions are right). And what does he see? He sees the peaks of many waves. He sees troughs and flanks of his own wave complex. Troughs of subsequent waves are increasingly hidden from him.
Herbert goes on:
Now, consider Time as a system with its own form of obedience to its own form of entropy. What disrupts it? What causes Time storms? Among other things, a man of vision with his eyes open in good light and on the crest of a wave can cause Time storms— If you see that-which-is-not-yet, you give the not-yet a feedback circuit for which it is not-yet prepared. You set up a channel for convection currents across regions delicately susceptible to the slightest deflection.
Because of these factors, the man of vision is subject to some obvious limits:
The Time he "saw" may maintain itself in similar motions for a period, but it is in motion, it is changing. And the very action of his looking has accelerated and twisted and distorted the directions of change. (Do you think John the Baptist could predict all the outcomes of his prophecies?) Add the further complication that there are many men of vision with varying degrees of aptitude.
However, the "lethal nature of prophecy" to which Bronso referred is not a product of these limits of prescience, per se. The fundamentally chaotic nature of time runs contrary to man's hunger for order. Prophecy is a trap, because it seems to offer power over the chaos of Time. Herbert wrote to Campbell:
There is always the unspoken judgement—one thing [order] is "right" and the other [chaos] is "wrong." [But] let's look at the logical projection of completely orderly time and a universe of absolute logic. Aren't we saying here that it's possible to "know" everything? Then doesn't this mean that the system of "knowing" will one day enclose itself? And isn't that a sort of prison?
If time is a sea of possibilities, with storms and cross currents, the local order that the prophet perceives may be swept away by chaos from the infinite sea. The response of the prophet, if he has a bias for order, will be to consolidate those trends he wants to see happen, to choose the actions that will produce order in the time stream rather than chaos. And inevitably he will be trapped by the order he creates. He builds a universe in which he knows everything and controls everything. In Paul's words, he pulls all the strands into himself. And at that point, he is the prisoner of the time track he has isolated.
This is precisely what happens in Dune Messiah. The waters of time are getting muddy from too much interference, and the main currents are moving away from Paul, His response is to grasp desperately at time, to make himself once more the nexus on which everything depends. At one point, Paul flashes back to the moment of his first prescient awakening and is
unable to speak. He felt himself consumed by the raw power of that early vision. Terrible purpose! In that moment, his whole life was a limb shaken by the departure of a bird— and the bird was chance. Free will.
I succumbed to the lure of the oracle, he thought.
And he sensed that succumbing to this lure might be to fix himself upon a single-track life. Could it be, he wondered, that the oracle didn't tell the future? Could it be that the oracle made the future? Had he exposed his life to some web of underlying threads, trapped himself there in that long-ago awakening, victim of a spider-future which even now advanced upon him with terrifying jaws?
Because he must, or because he makes the same choice once again, Paul continues the oracular path. He succeeds even more totally than he did in Dune, and in his success, he fails. To totally grasp what is happening is not to control events, but to lock yourself into an inexorable destiny. "'I meddled in all the futures I could create,' said Paul, 'until, finally, they created me.'" There is no longer any freedom of choice left at all, and Paul's only salvation is to let go of prophecy entirely and let chance, and change, back into the system.
Before he abandons the Empire, however, Paul feels he must purge the evils he has caused. And so the conspirators snap about Paul's heels while he, eyes fixed on an inner vision, ceaselessly manipulates possibility so as to fix certain qualities so strongly in the time matrix that he will no longer need to stand at the center. Because of Edric, he cannot see the causes of everything that happens, but he can see outcomes—Chani's death, the destined encounter with Hayt-Duncan, as well as his own fate—and he goes along with the plot for his own purposes, a master player focused not on the immediate moves, but on the end of the game. He is willing to sacrifice anything, even himself and his beloved Chani, to free the universe of his religion's curse. He allows the conspiracy to succeed up to a point. He is blinded, not killed, by a trap the Quizarate plotters have set for him. But so terrifyingly total is his inner vision, in the moment of utter control before he lets go, that he can still see—even without eyes. Eyeless sockets agape, Paul walks down the Arrakeen streets, looking his men in the face and addressing them by name. Never has he been more sure of himself. All that happens now is so determined that the instant replay of prescient memory can substitute for vision.
All the plots move swiftly to a conclusion. Chani dies in childbirth, Hayt confronts himself and rediscovers Duncan, Paul rounds up the Quizarate conspirators. Scytale, the tempter, is killed in the final moments after Paul's completed vision has run out. The prophet is free to abandon what he has created.
The Fremen custom is to abandon the blind in the desert. Now, his vision exhausted, Paul is truly blind. He slips away and walks out into the sand, a gift for Shai-Hulud, the sandworm, also known as the maker and "old father eternity." He is free. Twin children have been born, like Paul's sister Alia, with fully prescient, adult awareness at birth. They are the new nexus of possibility. Alia, with Duncan now at her side, will be regent till they are old enough to rule for themselves. The Fremen have been tied to the Atreides even more surely by the proof that Paul, in his death, was one of them. And perhaps most importantly, Paul's inexplicable sacrifice will serve, as his preaching never could, to disturb the complacency of the Empire. Dying, he creates a lasting myth:
He is the fool saint,
The golden stranger living forever
On the edge of reason.
Let your guard fall and he is there!
When he read the manuscript of Dune Messiah, Campbell was horrified. He refused to publish the novel. He wrote:
In outline, it sounds like an Epic Tragedy—but when you start thinking back on it, it works out to "Paul was a damn fool, and surely no demi-god; he loused up himself his loved ones, and the whole galaxy."
Again, Campbell was right, but he missed the point. Paul's success in becoming a martyr and putting the Empire back on a reliable, safe course is a gloss over deeper failure. To show that failure, despite the best efforts of a very attractive hero, was one purpose of the novel. As in Dune, both the failure and the appearance of success are essential, but in accordance with the plan of the trilogy, the balance has shifted towards failure.
Even to one who does not know the purpose of the trilogy, Dune Messiah works as a tragedy. The psychology by which Paul confronts his crises is inescapably familiar, despite the fact that the problems of prescience that provoke the crises are so obviously unfamiliar. John Campbell said it couldn't be done. After reading Dune, he had written:
As the father—and/or step-father—of several literary supermen, I've learned something about their care and upbringing. They're very recalcitrant No human being can write about the thoughts, philosophy, motivations or evaluations of a superman.
There are two ways that supermen have been handled successfully in science-fiction; Method 1— is what you've got here, so far. You don't talk about the superman— but show a superboy, who hasn't yet developed his powers out and beyond your ability to conceive of them.
But in Dune Messiah, Herbert is able to show Paul's maturity, to extrapolate his immense powers and yet to keep him within reach. It is as though Herbert were able to find corresponding places on some great spiral of evolution, on which the same essential problems are rediscovered again and again in larger and larger frames of reference. While Herbert's readers do not struggle with prescience, they do struggle with time, choice, and the need to be "right." One must decide now, but who does not long to stretch the boundaries of the present for some glimmer of certainty from the future?
The tragic aspects of Dune Messiah are as well thought out as the epic framing of Dune. In his tragic devotion to a duty no one else can appreciate, as well as in his blindness at the end, Paul cannot help but recall Oedipus, driven by what he considers the oaths of leadership to seek out the cause of the curse on Thebes, even if he himself were to blame. Paul's moments of paralysis before the overwhelming choices presented by his time vision recall also the agonies of Hamlet's indecision. Such echoes are effective not simply as literary conceits, but as resonating overtones of a story that touches the same tragic springs.
The very name Atreides should have warned from the first of the direction the trilogy was taking. The Atreides were the cause of the Trojan War (Helen was the bride of Menelaus, brother to Agamemnon, the high king) and, though far from its greatest heroes, were among the few characters who made the transition from epic to tragedy. The family of Atreus was the most ill-starred in all of Greece. What better name would suggest the hubris that Paul displayed in his attempt to dominate the universe and its gods? The echoes of Oedipus, master of the riddles of the Sphinx, who knew everything but his own limits, bear the same message.
Even though hubris as a tragic flaw is suggested so obviously, the tragedy of Dune Messiah is perhaps even more fruitfully described by Hegel's concept of "heroic responsibility." In The Philosophy of Right, Hegel notes:
The heroic self-consciousness—accepts its guilt for the whole range of the deed [and its consequences]—The self-reliant solidity and totality of the heroic character does not wish to share the guilt and knows nothing of this opposition of subjective intentions and objective deeds and consequences.
How well this fits with Herbert's image of Paul pulling all the strands of possibility into his own hands! Jessica, Alia, and Chani, as well as Hayt-Duncan, wish to help, but Paul pushes them away. "The heroic character does not wish to share the guilt."
Furthermore, in Hegel's analysis of tragedy (according to Kaufman, who summarizes and expands Hegel's views), the essential is "not a tragic hero but a tragic collision… The conflict is not between good and evil but between one-sided positions, each of which embodies some good." Paul is a tragic hero; however, the notion of his destruction through a one-sided position is entirely in accord with the philosophy expressed in Herbert's stories since "The Priests of Psi." In Dune Messiah, Herbert toys with the reader's expectations about the conflict of good and evil by introducing the conspirators as the equivalent of the completely evil Harkonnens of Dune, but as the novel progresses, it becomes obvious that Paul's "tragic collision" is not with the conspirators at all, but with his own handiwork. Striving to mold life into his own good but one-sided form, he created its opposite. The conspiracy is only one symptom of Paul's shadow projection; the decay of Fremen morals and the failing ecology of the planet spring from the same source.
It is precisely the lack of another actor in the tragic collision that makes Dune Messiah so unusual a tragedy. In Antigone, which provided the model for Hegel, the two conflicting halves are equally embodied in Antigone and in Creon. But here, there is only Paul. There is no enemy he can pursue, no one to symbolically defeat as he defeated Feyd-Rautha at the end of Dune. There is only himself, his own half-truth, which is not enough. According to E.R. Dodds, this is the tragic style not of Sophocles but of Euripides, whose "favorite method is to take a one-sided point of view, a noble half-truth, to exhibit its nobility, and then to exhibit the disaster to which it leads its blind adherents—because it is after all only part of the truth." Because, ultimately, no man has more than part of the truth, tragedy springs from the same roots as the philosophy of Karl Jaspers, a sense of the limitations of human power. Paul acknowledges this near the end of the novel when he says, "There are problems in the universe for which there are no answers Nothing. Nothing can be done."
Children of Dune (1976) continues the story of the Atreides to its more than tragic end. In Dune Messiah, Paul had failed, but he retained a vestige of majesty. He was still the prophet whose motivation went beyond that of ordinary men into realms of paradox. In the conclusion of the trilogy, Paul is brought back from his seeming death in the desert, an old, broken man who can only rage at the church built on his name. His son Leto must undo the damage Paul had unwittingly done, topple the church, and reverse the ecological transformation before the spice itself is destroyed. Leto takes the one path of vision that Paul feared and refused. He becomes an absolute tyrant. Inhuman and nearly immortal, he can give the people the absolute assurances they desire, but only at the price of absolute control. The ultimate failure of messianic leadership foreshadowed from the beginning has finally come to the front.
In order to understand the transition between the two novels, it is important to grasp why Paul failed. In Dune, he bad learned to ride the currents of time, not to control them. What is different in the sequels? To an extent, the question is answered by reference to the buildup of destructive feedback loops by which Paul's choices of one path over another became amplified until no choices were left. Another reason for Paul's behavior is suggested in his first appearance in Dune Messiah. He is meditating on "the Old Duke," his grandfather, "an Atreides who'd died in the bull ring creating a spectacle for his people":
Something the old man had said slipped then into Paul's mind: "One who rules assumes irrevocable responsibility for the ruled. You are a husbandman. This demands, at times, a selfless act of love which may only be amusing to those you rule."
On one level, this is an anticipation of the "Fool Saint" theme, which is invoked by Paul's final walk into the desert. (The importance of this theme is shown by the fact that this was the working title of the novel.) For the purpose of his vision, Paul does things that are foolish by any other standard. However on another level, this passage shows how Paul is seduced by leadership, not prophecy.
Although he began by using the messianic pattern for his own purposes, Paul eventually accepts the burden of his myth and tries to be the savior the people want. Although he realizes the impossibility of control in an infinite universe, he tries to soften the blow for his people, to bear the brunt. He tries to teach them but more than that, he tries to save them—at intolerable cost to himself He gave in to the jihad because he had to. But then he balked. He could not stand for the corrupt, theocratic government that grew up around him. There were values from his Atreides past he could not give up. After Paul's final walk into the desert, Alia cries out:
"He had hut to step off the track." What matter that the rest of the universe would have come shattering down behind him? He'd have been safe… and Chani with him."
"Then… why didn't he?"
"For the love of heaven," she whispered.
Paul, like Oedipus, is destroyed by his own uprightness. He cannot let go of his Atreides loyalty to those who follow him, even though, in protecting them from what he himself has had to face, he is perpetuating the old system of leaders and followers.
These tendencies in Paul are deliberately enhanced by the conspirators. The ghola is planned not just as a temptation but as a 'psychic poison." Scytale knows that no mere mechanical plan stands a chance against Paul's brilliance. Paul has to be turned against himself. As a reminder of the Atreides code, Duncan will re-awaken Paul's horror at the expediencies and the suffering of the jihad.
As a result, Paul falls prey to his conditioning (Duncan was a childhood mentor) and is no longer able to make truly conscious decisions. As the uncertainty mounts, he forgets the arbitrary nature of human morality, that "men create gods to enforce their definitions of good and evil." Morality is an order imposed on chaos. Paul seeks justification for his choices when there is none, apart from responsible decision-making. This is the existential wisdom of Karl Jaspers once again, in the mouth of Duncan Idaho: "I told him to judge, to impose order—in the simplest way: he decides." Paul tortures himself when he tries to align his decisions with some kind of innate morality, seeking justification for human order in a universe of order.
As Herbert had noted in his letter to Campbell, "the logical projection of completely orderly time and a universe of absolute logic—means that the system of knowing will one day enclose itself." The principle is the same for morality as it is for time. The only way to find a pre-existent order is to set up a closed circle. Such order becomes stasis. Order must be created continually by the will and genius of man. There is no respite from responsibility.
The son escapes the father's dilemma partly because he is not Atreides, but Fremen. In Children of Dune, Leto says to Paul:
"You didn't take your vision far enough, father. Your hands did good things and evil."
"But the evil was known after the event!"
"Which is the way of many great evils," Leto said. It is sad you were never really Fremen… We Fremen know how to commission the arifa. Our judges can choose between evils."
Leto is willing to commit great evils for an end he can see in the distant future. It is as difficult for him as it was for Paul, but he must bear it. He does not look for justification or escape. "I have no passionate belief in truth," he says, "no faith other than what I create." He is willing to go on creating the future moment by moment, shifting ground when past decisions are no longer appropriate
Much of Children of Dune recounts the paths of inner experience by which Leto reaches that point of maturity. Leto must face not only the perils of prescience, but a subtler, even more dangerous foe that has been hinted at since the end of Dune. Paul's sister Alia, awakened as a Reverend Mother while still in the womb, was named Abomination by the Bene Gesserit. The process of such awakening is difficult enough for the adept. For the pre-born, it is terrible beyond belief. They are awakened to the memories of all their ancestors before they themselves have a personality to contain them. Leto and his sister Chanima were born with the same curse as their aunt.
In Dune and Dune Messiah, "abomination" seemed little more than a Bene Gesserit superstition Alia's adult wisdom in a small child's body was frightening, but it was also very appealing. As she grew older, she seemed to be developing the same inner greatness as her brother. Now, eight years later still, the significance of the Bene Gesserit warning has become apparent. Alia is flooded by thousands of personalities screaming for a place in the forefront of her consciousness They were not integrated at the moment of awakening. Now it is too late. Alia's only solution is to form an alliance with one of the inner personalities in order to keep the others under control. As fate would have it, it is the Baron Harkonnen her maternal grandfather—dead beneath her knife when she was four years old—who is the strongest within her. Add to this the fact that Alia has taken over the destructive mantle of religion that Paul had managed to abandon. At first alliance, the contact with the Baron becomes a possession.
Leto and Chanima have seen what is happening to Alia, and they fear it in themselves. They know there must be another way out. They also see other problems to which Alia, her faculties dulled by the inner alliance, is blind. The ecological transformation is out of control. Although enormous expanses of desert have been reserved for the sandworms and the spice, the overall climate is too moist. Arrakis had been so dry that even the harshest desert on a planet with any open water was moist by comparison. Now the worms cannot survive. There will be an end to the spice on which the galaxy depends. Even more frightening, Leto sees that Paul's jihad was not enough to save the human race from stagnation and eventual death. As Paul had found, the old patterns kept reasserting themselves despite everything he tried. However, Leto envisions a "golden path" that will protect him from Alia's fate, save the Arrakeen ecosystem, and put the Empire—and Paul's religion—on a truly effective, evolutionary track.
Alia will have no part in Leto's solution. Even while Paul was still alive, she was acting as high priestess of his cult. Unlike Paul, she has been corrupted by the lure of that immense power. She will never give up the rule to Paul's children. Rather would she see them dead.
This is also the intention of House Corrino, the family of the former Emperor. Exiled to Salusa Secundus, the Sardaukar planet, they scheme to regain their rule. The first step is to assassinate the royal twins, a plot to which Alia gives tacit support.
The Corrino assassination attempt, foreseen by the prescient children, gives them a chance to break free from Alia's stranglehold and pursue their own vision. Chanima autoconditions herself to believe that Leto has been killed (otherwise she could not bide her knowledge from Alia's eyes), while he, though only eight years old, calls a worm and rides out into the desert to seek a lonely destiny.
Meanwhile, Jessica, who had retreated to Caladan and its memories of the older Duke Leto during Paul's rule, realizes that she has erred in staying away from the centers of power. She returns to Arrakis to set things right. She recognizes Alia's condition immediately, but too late. The two are deadly enemies. However, Jessica is able to set a number of other steps in motion. Through Gurney Halleck, a former Atreides liegeman now placed with the spice-smugglers on Arrakis, she learns that Leto has appeared at the smuggler's sietch. He thought it was abandoned, a perfect hiding place.
Jessica has him held for testing. He must prove his mastery of abomination or die: there will not be another Alia. He is also to be put to the test of prescience. He had never intended to use the Water of Life to awaken his full powers, lest he fall into the trap that killed Paul, but it is forced upon him. He must learn to master his visions as well as his inner multitude.
The story is further complicated by the presence of the Preacher, a mysterious old man who appears suddenly from the desert, cries down the church of Muad'Dib, and vanishes. He is thought by many to be Paul himself returned from death. He is blind (an uncommon condition on Arrakis), and who else could be so fearless or so wise? Could it be that Paul, hidden in the desert, has seen that his martyrdom did not serve its purpose and now seeks to reawaken the old myth of Muad'Dib and unseat Alia's religious tyranny?
Duncan Idaho is sent by Alia to investigate the Preacher. Idaho has stood by Alia these many years; he is her husband. But now he sees, with the cold metal Tleilaxu eyes of the ghola, what has happened within her. He accepts a commission from the Preacher—to take Jessica and go to Salusa Secundus to train Farad'n, the Corrino heir, as Paul himself was trained, in the Bene Gesserit arts.
When Leto is ready (he has never quite managed to satisfy Gurney that he has avoided abomination, but he has satisfied himself), he escapes from the smuggler's sietch. His escape heralds the beginning of the Golden Path. What Leto does is to enter into a symbiosis with the sandworm itself Fremen children have long played a game with the "sandtrout" or waterstealer stage of the sandworm life cycle, allowing the thirsty polyps to climb onto their hands and then sucking the sweet moisture from them instead. But Leto allows the sandtrout to cover his entire body. A normal human—even an extraordinary human—would have been killed, as the sandtrout sent questing cilia through his pores. But Leto's newfound inner strengths give him such control over his bodily chemistry that he is able to keep the sandtrout at the surface as a second skin. There is no returning to what he was before; the symbiosis is irrevocable, a slow process of mutual adaptation that will last for thousands of years. Leto is no longer human. In exchange, he has gained time and the power to carry out his vision. The "skin-which-is-not-his-own" gives him unbelievable physical strength as well as an ability to tunnel through the sand like Shai-Hulud himself. Leto is able singlehandedly to wage a guerilla war from the desert, shattering qanat and sietch alike, and in a few months turning back the course of the ecological transformation.
Leto's next confrontation must be with Alia and with the church of Muad'Dib she rules. Her forces are on the defensive, locked into Arrakeen city like the Harkonnens' before Paul's Fremen. But she must be confronted herself, made to step down or be publicly discredited. For this, Leto needs the help of the Preacher. He is engineering not just the takeover of a government but the takeover of a myth. He meets with the Preacher in the desert, at a point shown to him in prescient vision, and finds what he had suspected, that the Preacher was indeed once Paul Atreides. Now he is truly only the Preacher, emptied of visions, no longer at the center, but full of wisdom gathered through pain.
The Preacher, remembering Paul who was, tries to stop Leto. He is driven to return from the desert by the same nobility that originally banished him to it. He had seen Leto's Golden Path and refused to follow it. It is the path of the absolute tyrant, uncluttered by morality, ruthless in pursuit of its goals. There follows a contest of vision similar to that between Paul and Kynes in Dune, ending as the Preacher bows to Leto's larger dream.
Leto takes the Preacher back to Arrakeen with him, to preach one last time and then fall beneath the knife of one of Alia's priests. Muad'Dib is slain by his own church at last. Meanwhile, Leto breaks into the palace for his final confrontation with Alia. She is unable to accept the salvation he offers her, and commits suicide. Leto's rule begins.
Leto's Golden Path is rooted in the peculiar method by which he has overcome abomination. His solution is similar to Alia's, but for his ally he reaches back to the farthest origins of human civilization. And then, he does not form an alliance with this being alone, but joins with him in achieving a synthesis of all the inner lives. He says:
I had to seek the active cooperation of those aroused lives within me. Doing this, I avoided the most malignant and chose a dominant helper thrust upon me by the inner awareness which was my father. I am not, in truth, my father or this helper. Then again, I am not the Second Leto… I'm a community dominated by one who was ancient and surpassingly powerful. He fathered a dynasty which lasted three thousand of our years. His name was Harum and, until his line trailed out in the congenital weaknesses and superstitions of a descendant, his subjects lived in a rhythmic sublimity. They moved unconsciously with the changes in the seasons. They bred individuals who tended to be shortlived, superstitious, and easily led by a god-king. Taken as a whole, they were a powerful people. Their survival as a species became habit.
Leto intends, like the early Egyptian pharaoh Hartim, to found an empire of peace and tranquility that will last four thousand years. He himself will live that long before the worm-change destroys him, and he will spend the entire time in a eugenics and training program that will dwarf anything the Bene Gesserit had ever dreamed. And when his empire falls, as eventually it will, mankind will be reborn in a "typhoon struggle" so titanic that Paul's jihad "will be a summer picnic on Caladan by comparison."
There is a genetic logic to Kralizec, the typhoon struggle, similar to that for the jihad. Leto tells the Preacher, "It's that or humans will be extinguished." In an interview, Herbert explained further:
I can state it for you very straightly: human beings are not through evolving. And if we are going to survive as a species, we're going to have to do things that allow us to keep on evolving. And that's it. It's a very simple statement.
Whatever he might think about Leto's particular solution (Herbert presents different scenarios for human evolution in other novels), Herbert is serious about the gravity of the problem, both in the Imperium and by analogy in our own world. Evolutionary priorities take precedence over man's desires for an ideal world.
Increasingly, Herbert has come to believe that at the heart of many of humankind's most pressing problems is a failure in understanding "what are we human animals?" Locked in our species-past is the source of our racial sicknesses as well as our salvation. When we know ourselves as an animal species, and apply that knowledge to our behavior, we will have made a beginning at self-understanding and change. The significance of Leto's struggle with the multitude of lives locked in his genes is that it forces him to come to terms with genetic history in a way that Paul did not.
Leto's conquest of abomination has a mythic as well as a biological significance. Joseph Campbell's influence on the myth structure of Dune has already been noted. Many other elements of Campbell's thought may be traced in Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Most provocative of these is a comment that (when read in the context of Herbert's genetic psychology) sheds light on Leto's ordeals in the smugglers' sietch and his rediscovery of the species-past. One need only substitute the words "racial unconscious" for "infantile unconscious" and "racial history" for "childhood" in the following statement by Campbell to grasp its significance:
The first step [of the regenerative process described in many myths]… consists in a radical transfer of emphasis from the external to the internal world, macro- to microcosm, a retreat from the desperations of the waste land to the peace of the everlasting realm that is within. But this realm, as we know from psychoanalysis, is precisely the infantile unconscious. It is the realm that we enter in sleep. We carry it within ourselves forever. All the ogres and secret helpers of our nursery are there, all the magic of childhood. And more important, all of the life-potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization, those other portions of ourself, are there; for such golden seeds do not die. If only a portion of that lost totality could be dredged up into the light of day, we should experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivid renewal of life. We should tower in stature. Moreover, if we could dredge up something forgotten not only by ourselves hut by our whole generation or our entire civilization, we should indeed become the boon-bringer, the culture hero of the day—a personage of not only local but world historical moment.
Kralizec, too, has a mythic dimension. Armageddon, Ragnarok, the Kali-Yuga—many of the world's religions foretell a day of destruction before man will be reborn. Joseph Campbell notes that:
schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new—For it is by means of our own victories, if we are not regenerated, that the work of Nemesis is wrought: doom breaks from the shell of our very virtue. Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified—and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn.
Rebirth through chaos is also a logical outcome of the kind of time-stasis Paul created for himself in Dune Messiah, which Leto now intends to create as the peace of the Empire. "For it is by means of our own victories… that the work of Nemesis is wrought." This conclusion was foreshadowed as early as "The Priests of Psi," in which the Halmyrach Abbod told Orne:
"Let us consider this idea of absolutes," said the Abbod. "Let us postulate a finite system in which a given being may exhaust all avenues of knowledge—know everything as it were—Unutterable, deadly boredom would face such a being. Its future would be endless repetition, replaying all of its old tapes. A boredom worse than extinction."
"But boredom is a kind of stasis," said Orne. "Stasis would lead to chaos."
Later, the Abbod remarks similarly on the imposition of peace:
'It's like a drug habit," said the Abbod. "If you enforce peace, it will take greater and greater amounts of peace to satisfy you. And you will use more and more violence to obtain it. The cycle will end in cataclysm."
At the same time, the Abbod sees the possibility of an inner permanence more solid than any mastery of the outer world.
"Always ahead of us is the great burning from which the Phoenix arises. Only one thing endures: Faith. The object changes, but faith endures. It's the absolute we yearn after in a changing universe.
Orne felt overwhelmed by a sense of outrage. But— Faith? In What?"
"In our appetite. Faith that we will encompass this other dimension and find there a new area of mystery to beckon our senses. Faith that there is something enduring in all this chaos… and if not, that we can create a thing that will endure."
Leto says something similar during his confrontation with the Preacher out in the desert:
"I have no passionate belief in truth, no faith other than what I create," he said. And he felt then a movement between himself and his father, something with granular characteristics which touched only Leto's own passionately subjective belief in himself By such belief he knew that he posted the markers of the Golden Path. Someday such markers could tell others how to be human, a strange gift from a creature who would no longer be human on that day. But these markers were always set in place by gamblers.
It is clearly Leto's intention that mankind shall be reborn, and to more than renewed fertility. In a moment of awe at the thing that had been his son, the Preacher asks, "Where will that flesh take you?" Leto replies, "Into a place where humans may create their futures from instant to instant."
The meaning of this statement is illuminated by Farad'n's role in Leto's phoenix-dream. Although the training of Farad'n was ordered by the Preacher, it fits in perfectly with Leto's purposes. After he has defeated Alia, Leto gives Ghanima in marriage to Farad'n and renames him Harq-al-Ada, meaning "breaking of the habit." He will replace the Preacher as the voice of questioning, the thrust of uncertainty into the life of the Empire. Paul could not awaken the people because, no matter what he said, his wisdom only added to his stature as a superhuman leader. But Harqal-Ada will be the voice of rebellion. "I'll resist you every day of my life," he says. And Leto replies, "But that's the function I expect of you, cousin. It's why I chose you. I'll make it official." Leto's grip on the Empire will be unbeatable; he will be the focus of unthinkable hatred for those individuals who do not accept him unquestioningly as the savior they desired. But out of their oppression, the people will begin to learn.
"For a time they'll call me the missionary of Shaitan—" Leto said. "Then they'll begin to wonder and, finally, they'll understand,"
Leto's statement captures nearly exactly the reaction of most readers of the novel. There are many things about the story that are very hard to accept—Paul's denigration, Alia's abomination and suicide, Duncan's death in a gesture of "brutal foolishness" even more striking than the Old Duke's or Paul's. Duncan and the Preacher are the only major characters who have the familiar, noble motivation that makes it easy to identify with them, and both are killed in service to Leto's vision. But the greatest difficulty by far is that there is a very strong expectation—set up by our culture as well as by the previous two novels—that Leto, as the "hero," must be speaking the truth. And while there are some strong arguments for the Golden Path, few people would be convinced by Leto's logic. His plan is so monstrous that no amount of good intentions will justify it to us.
Leto literally becomes inhuman in pursuit of his vision. Although it is suggested that by so doing he has removed himself from the biases of the human evolutionary track and can therefore be objective about breeding the race, the real reason for Leto's inhumanity is found in myth, not in logic. It is the inevitable culmination of the myth that the messiah will be justified to his followers by the belief that he is not really human at all, but some kind of god. Since Herbert uses science fiction as a way of conceiving myths, assumptions, and possibilities as if they were physically true, Leto does in fact take on the characteristics of a god.
Leto would adapt and adapt; the skin-which-was-not-his-own would adapt and adapt. The evolutionary thrust of each part would melt into the other and a single transformation would emerge. When metamorphosis came, if it came, a thinking creature of awesome dimensions would emerge upon the universe—and that universe would worship him.
Leto is the physical embodiment of a psychological god-projection by his people, and like the computer in Destination: Void, he is then completely beyond their control. He gives them what they have asked for, with all its hidden consequences: a utopia of peace that is not a utopia at all. He says: "You have felt thoughts in your head; your descendants will feel thoughts in their bellies." As Herbert explains,
Utopia is seen as a place where not only are there no wars, but they are impossible—which requires a certain kind of control—and many painful things have been excluded or walled off. Now this requires a particular kind of consciousness… It's very clear to me that if you really create that kind of a world, you are lowering consciousness. You will, in the primitive sense, think in your belly and not in your head… To create that kind of a universe is the demand of all the people around him. It's their unconscious demand as well as their conscious one.
Paul tried to wake his people up. Leto is going to put them to sleep, a lesson they will never forget. Through millennia of stultification followed by turmoil, they will "learn it so it's in their bones." Leto's solution is in contrast to the alternate scenario presented by Paul or by Lewis Orne in The Godmakers, in which the god does what any sensible god would do, and abdicates.
Leto's action is particularly confusing because one assumes that, as the hero, his choices represent a path that the author conceives as desirable. But Leto makes no such claims to justify his acts, and Herbert himself says, "The only consistency I demand of my story is that it be internally consistent." When the Preacher asks Leto if his path is any better than Paul's, Leto says, "Not one whit better. Worse perhaps." While this statement is meaningful in terms of the existential concept of truth created by decision, Herbert is also clearly up to his old trick of "confusing the images" to make his readers think. Character cues are at variance with the spoken word, introducing elements of uncertainty at all the wrong moments. Is Leto a hero or a villain? Or are all such simplistic concepts outdated, since Leto acknowledges both good and evil within himself? The situation is complicated because Leto's choice of the Golden Path is at variance with his own values. The novel ends with Ghanima's words, "One of us had to accept the agony, and he was always the stronger." Earlier, she had told Farad'n:
"He runs to tire himself… He's Kralizec embodied. No wind ever ran as he runs. And when he has exhausted himself at last, he returns and rests his head on my lap. 'Ask our mother within to find a way for me to die,' he pleads
"You see why he runs?… Because the memory of being human is so rich in him. Think of all those lives, cousin. No. You can't imagine what that is because you've no experience of it. But I know. I can imagine his pain. He gives more than anyone ever gave before."
Leto is really Atreides after all, an admirable character making an enormous sacrifice for his vision. But does this mean that the things he chooses to do are right? Herbert once again raises all the confusions of the hero mystique.
At times, one gets the feeling that Herbert set out to make the novel defy analysis, that even he does not know where all the parts fit. Children of Dune is perhaps too full of ideas forced together without the brilliant layering technique of Dune. It is saved by the strength of the images. Note, for instance, how the image of the "granular characteristics" of Leto's vision uses an odd leap between concreteness and metaphysics to grip the unconscious and summons up the force of the desert planet to back Leto's words. And it is saved by the depth of characterization. One was awed by the number of fully realized characters in Dune; Children of Dune surpasses its parent in this respect. The novel reaches episodically from one mind to another. While one character—Duncan or Leto or Farad'n or Alia or the Preacher—holds the stage, the novel exists totally from his point of view. When the scene shifts, the same is as true for the next character. Dune was monolithic, in that every strand converged into one. Children of Dune is explosive, expanding rather than coming together at the end. There are scenes and ideas that apparently add nothing to the plot. But far from leading nowhere, such scenes lead out of the novel, out of the ken of both the author and the reader, into the private lives of the characters, One loses the sense of inner continuity by which a novel is contained in its own form. One knows that everything is there by the author's intention, but an illusion is created that the story, the characters, and the ideas they express have been set free.
Because Herbert is so good a storyteller, this multiplicity of viewpoints creates an uncanny sense of reality. It also frustrates the reader's hunger for a single point of view that will sum up the rest. While Leto gives all the indications of having such a summary view, his conclusions are difficult to accept. Many of his ideas are so far out that it is a struggle to comprehend them. It is hard to know whether there is a clearly defined logic to the whole or whether Herbert has merely chiseled out from some great block of myth the rudimentary forms of insights still at war with each other. To an extent, Herbert may have been carried away by his own pretensions. Throughout the trilogy, he had used portentous statements hinting of ultimate success or failure, of infinite peril or unmatched significance, to heighten the intensity of the story. Despite (or perhaps because of) his stated dislike of absolutes, he took every concept to its limit. In Dune, this served to build Paul up as an unmatched hero; in Dune Messiah, to bring him down through the excesses of his own power. But in Children of Dune, Herbert must strain to make both Leto's powers and his confrontations with the universe more spectacular and more believable than Paul's. He succeeds, but only partly. The notion of abomination and Leto's assimilation of all the human genetic past are staggering in concept but less striking in effect than Paul's powers of prescience and heightened awareness, because they have fewer roots in the reader's own experience. And though Leto stands preeminent in his own novel, he is greater than Paul only because Herbert has torn down Paul by changing the explanations for his behavior. The nobility—foolish though it may have been—of Paul's last march into the desert is now recast as cowardice. History is rewritten so that Leto will eclipse Paul.
However, even this apparent change of course in the trilogy may have been intentional. Man endlessly pursues the illusion that his actions will make the difference that will transform the species. History must be rewritten in order that its lessons do not demonstrate too strongly the repetition that the present inflicts upon the past. Such repetition is underscored throughout the trilogy, by details that have less significance in themselves than as signposts of structure. The ending of Children of Dune, in which Leto "marries" Chanima, though giving her Farad'n as lover and father of her children, echoes—in reverse—Jessica's words to Chani at the end of Dune: "We who carry the name of concubine—history will call us wives."
And as Paul's triumph in Dune was followed by tragedy in Dune Messiah, one might guess that Leto's plans will not turn out as he expects. Leto is still playing the leader game, believing that he has the wisdom and the strength to guide the course of history and to shape the less gifted mortals under his sway. He is playing out the shadow side of leadership, but Paul's light and Leto's shadow are inseparable halves of the same destructive whole.
Leto expresses many ideas to which Herbert does subscribe, but his solution is as much a sham as Paul's was. The pattern is still repeating itself Leto comprehends this. He is deliberately setting a trap for the unconscious will of his people, but it is a trap nonetheless. The Golden Path is one more beginning for the perpetual human dream of a final solution to mankind's problems. There is an evolution, to be sure, and its "markers are always put in place by gamblers"—by those who are willing to stretch the bounds of possibility in pursuit of their vision—but the patterns also persist. The dream outstrips reality, forgets itself as a dream, and is eventually destroyed to make way for a new vision.
To some, such cyclical history is a tragedy; to Herbert it is an adventure. That man cannot dominate the universe is a sure sign of its illimitability. It is only when man forgets himself in his schemes that there is danger. In his 1963 letter to John Campbell, Herbert concludes his thoughts on time and stasis by saying:
For my part, I can conceive of infinite systems. I find this reassuring—the chaos reassuring. It means there are no walls, no limits, no boundaries except those man himself creates. Magnificent degrees and permutation of variability.
Now, of course we build walls and erect barriers and enclosed systems and we isolate and cut cross sections to study them. But if we ever forget that these are bubbles which we are blowing, we're lost. If we ever lost sight of the possibility that a wall we ye erected may someday have to be torn down, then we've bricked ourselves in with the amontillado and we can yell "For the love of God, Montressor" all we like. There'll be nobody listening outside who gives a fat damn.