Semantics, General Semantics, and Ecology in Frank Herbert's Dune

By Parkerson, Ronny | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, October 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Semantics, General Semantics, and Ecology in Frank Herbert's Dune


Parkerson, Ronny, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


Frank Herbert's Dune, a thematically rich and varied work of science fiction, is the first novel in a trilogy about the desert planet Arrakis, or Dune, and the rise to power of Paul Atreides, its messianic leader. Herbert initially conceived of writing one long novel about "the messianic convulsions that periodically overtake us. Demagogues, fanatics, con-game artists, the innocent and the not-so-innocent bystanders--all were to have a part" ("Dune Genesis" 72). Ultimately, Herbert produced six novels about Dune prior to his death in 1986 at age 65. These six novels comprise what has become known as The Dune Chronicles. The series has not waned in popularity since Herbert's death. Working from notes and other materials left by Herbert, Brian Herbert, his eldest son, and Kevin J. Anderson, have written ten novels in continuation of the series. Dune, the movie, was produced in 1984, and two television miniseries, Frank Herbert's Dune and Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, were produced in 2000 and 2003, respectively.

The intricate ecology of the planet--encompassing the Fremen natives' desire to turn Dune into a "green and fertile world," and the need of the Empire for the indigenous spice melange to facilitate space travel--forms the backdrop for Paul's struggle to overcome his enemies, control the planet, and fulfill his personal destiny. Throughout the novel, Paul must meet and overcome challenges that serve to confirm him in the minds of the Fremen as being their messiah. Paul does not seek this position, but is instead caught up in the events that lead to his deposing of the emperor and control of the throne.

Herbert's decision to examine the messianic superhero against a backdrop of ecological concerns was no accident. Drawing on his experience in journalism, he noted:

  I had already written several pieces about ecological matters, but my
  superhero concept filled me with a concern that ecology might be the
  next banner for demagogues and would-be heroes, for the power seekers
  and others ready to find an "adrenalin high" in the launching of a
  new crusade. ... I could begin to see the shape of a global problem,
  no part of it separated from any other--social ecology, political
  ecology, economic ecology. ... I find fresh nuances in religions,
  psychoanalytic theories, linguistics, economics, philosophy, theories
  of history, geology, anthropology, plant research, soil chemistry,
  and the metalanguages of pheromones. A new field of study arises out
  of this like a spirit rising from a witch's caldron: the psychology
  of planetary societies. ("Dune Genesis" 74; use of italics as in
  original, here and elsewhere)

It seems, therefore, evident that a central theme of the novel is not only ecology, but ecology examined in many different contexts. In addition to exploring environmental ecology--the study of the relation and interaction between organisms and their environment--Dune explores social, political, economic, and language ecologies, as well (Touponce 13-14). Herbert compared these variations on a central theme to a musical fugue:

  Sometimes there are free voices that do fanciful dances around the
  interplay. There can be secondary themes and contrasts in harmony,
  rhythm, and melody. From the moment when a single voice introduces
  the primary theme, however, the whole is woven into a single fabric.

  What were my instruments in this ecological fugue? Images, conflicts,
  things that turn upon themselves and become something quite
  different, myth figures and strange creatures from the depths of our
  common heritage ... ("Dune Genesis" 74)

These various ecologies evolve out of their respective relations and interactions with the planetary environment of Arrakis. Specifically, Herbert believed language mirrors the ecosystem from which life evolves (Touponce 2).

  We commonly believe meaning is found--in printed words (such as
  these), in the noises of a speaker, in the reader's or listener's
  awareness, or in some imaginary thought-land between these. 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Semantics, General Semantics, and Ecology in Frank Herbert's Dune
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?