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Dune | Study Guide

Frank Herbert

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Dune | Herbert's World-Building


Although today's science fiction and fantasy novels rely heavily on world-building—creating an entire galaxy or universe from scratch with its own history, languages, political systems, and economic systems—this was uncommon in the 1960s. Fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the first to do such a thing in his Lord of the Rings epic, published in 1954–55. For those unfamiliar with Dune, there are a few important items that may provide context for a first reading.

Butlerian Jihad: The events of Dune take place in a time after a great uprising against computers, thinking machines, and sentient robots. The result rid the galaxy of these crutches on which humans had become dependent, seeking to restore humanity to human control. The Orange Catholic Bible (O.C. Bible) referred to in the novel is a reflection of this jihad and its religious nature. Its main teaching is "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." The elimination of thinking machines allowed for the development of human capacities blocked by the dependence on these machines. The disciplines of the Bene Gesserit, Spacing Guild, and Mentats grew out of this jihad and its aftermath.

Political and Economic Basics: After the unrest of the Butlerian Jihad, peace was rebuilt. Part of this peace in the novel's present is the Great Convention. The Great Convention is a truce meant to balance power among the Spacing Guild (with its monopoly on space travel), the Great Houses, and the Imperium. It stipulates atomic weapons may not be used against human targets. The economic world of Dune is dominated by the Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles (CHOAM). This large corporation is run by the emperor, the Great Houses, the Spacing Guild, and the Bene Gesserit.

Properties and Importance of Spice: Dangerous to harvest, melange is present only in the sands of the planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The spice, melange, is called "geriatric." The term geriatric conventionally refers to "an aged person." Thus spice is meant to extend life. However, it has other properties, the most important of which is that it allows the Spacing Guild navigators to see into space and make space travel possible. It is addictive and highly sought after, although it can only be found on Arrakis. This makes Arrakis an extremely valuable resource.

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