Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Study the critics’ objections to the anthropological content of Dune. To what did anthropologists object? Are any of their objections valid? Are there any real-life desert peoples who have adapted to their environment in ways similar to the Fremen? Does Herbert’s anthropology of the Fremen enhance or hurt the novel?

2. Herbert contended that Dune was about the dangers of charismatic leadership. What did he mean by this? Paul’s leadership seems well intentioned. Why, then, is it potentially harmful?

3. Read Dune Messiah. Readers are strongly divided on the merits of this book; some consider it the best of the sequels, while others consider it the worst. Where do you fall in this debate? How do you think Dune Messiah compares with Dune? In what ways is it better than Dune? In what ways is it worse?

4. In the 1960s, when Dune was published, young audiences in particular were becoming concerned about the well-being of the Earth’s environment. Words such as “ecology” were becoming part of everyday speech. Dune’s popularity was probably due in part to the novel’s ideas about human beings’ ability to shape their environment. What were the major environmental concerns of Americans in 1965? How does Dune address these concerns? Do the environmental themes of Dune still have relevance, or are they out of date?

5. There are references in Dune to a jihad, or holy war. What is a jihad? To what does the word specifically refer? Have there been any holy wars that started the way the novel’s jihad begins? How valid are Dune’s views of holy wars?

6. Some critics complain that a novel that requires appendices and a glossary to explain some of its ideas is badly written; the story should clarify everything by itself. Do you agree with this view? What other novels besides Dune also have appendices supplied by the author? How about other literary forms, such as poetry? T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land comes with extensive notes by its author, but is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century. When are notes and appendices good? When are they bad?

7. How does Herbert’s Dune series compare with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Both feature elaborately developed societies and cultural histories. Which does the better job of creating fully believable cultures? Which is more entertaining to read?

8. Dune first appeared as two short novels in the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction (December 1963 through February 1964 and January through May 1965). Herbert then revised and expanded these shorter works into the novel Dune. How does Dune differ from the original stories? What did Herbert change? What did he add? What reasons might Herbert have had for making the changes he did?

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