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Dune Messiah

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert


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Book Review

Paul Atreides has become ruler of the known universe. But the machinations and conspiracies of his enemies may bring everything he values to ruin.

Plot Summary

Some may think that rising up from the sands of obscurity and beating down oppressive evil is the only point of war. You must, of course, rally the world and crush the wicked! You must find victory and win freedom.

But what about after all that? Once the planets have been conquered and the throne of power is yours, what do you do then?

That is the thing that Paul Atreides—the man christened Maud’Dib—must now wrestle with.

That wrestling is no small task. For he’s worshipped as a religious icon by the fanatical Fremen. And he must live up to those messianic prophesies. He is also hated by the universe’s displaced political houses, who plot to bring him low … or worse. And the witch-like sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit are using all their mystic powers to steal away his seed in hopes of creating a pliable religious powerhouse of their own.

And then there’s the ongoing struggle over melange, a psychedelic spice drug that offers a longer life span and heightened awareness. For Paul and some other genetically blessed individuals, the spice can even unlock a form of precognition, a prediction of the future.

Paul currently controls spice production on the harsh desert planet Arrakis. But many want control of this essential and valuable commodity. And they’ll stop at nothing—be it machination or murder—to wrest that control away.

Perhaps the greatest threat to Paul’s reign, however, is something of his own making. Great power, you see, leads to corruption. It can open the door to narcissism that has crippled many a king and kingdom.

Truth be told, Paul would like nothing better than to slip into his moisture reclaiming Fremen stillsuit, walk into the desert and leave it all behind. With Chani, of course. She is his one true love. But in his current tangled world he is married to another—a marriage of political convenience—while Chani can only be a concubine.

In a perfect world, though, it would simply be him and his beloved Chani. Alone. On their own.

But this is far from a perfect world. This is an empire, born anew from the triumph of war.

That victory, and all it tendered, may yet crush Paul Atreides, and everything he holds dear.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The above-mentioned Bene Gesserit order is one form of spirituality in this tale. They’re a group known for their shadowy, duplicitous ways. We meet one official member of that order, but the larger focus is on Bene Gesserit-adjacent Paul and his younger sister, Alia.

Paul, we’re told, was trained in the mystic abilities of the Bene Gesserit by his mother. And he uses those abilities, in combination with large doses of melange, to have visions of the future. He’s also able to still see the world around him after losing his eyes in an explosion.

The sisterhood believed at one point that Paul was their sought over kwisatz haderach, a prophet who would change human destiny. But when Paul was not so easily controlled, they decided to create a new kwisatz haderach to their liking.

Fifteen-year-old Alia, meanwhile, gained all her Bene Gesserit memories, training and insight while still in their mother’s womb. Her mother had been part of a special melange-based ritual that is said to have been a “terrifying” in utero experience for Alia when she, as a fetus, was imbued with full awareness and “knowledge of countless lives embedded in her nerve cells.” As such, Alia was born with Paul’s mystic soothsayer abilities and more. And she is feared by nearly everyone around her—in particular, the Bene Gesserit.

The desert-dwelling Fremen people are the religious protectors of the other main order of faith in this story. That faith system bears a slight resemblance to our world’s Islamic faith. They are a very devoted group who came to believe that Paul was the longed-for spiritual leader described in their prophecies. And they follow Paul as the Maud’Dib, ready to give their lives for this “messiah’s” protection. They also use the psychotropic melange regularly, which turns their eyes a solid blue.

Someone says of the Fremen’s sacred beliefs that, “As with all things sacred, it gives with one hand and takes with the other.” A proverb of Maud’Dib is quoted as saying: “There exists no separation between gods and men; one blends casual into the other.”

A swordmaster friend of Paul’s named Duncan Idaho is brought back from the dead by a group called the Tleilaxu. Theirs is not a spiritual process, however, but more of a mechanical and chemical one. (We’re told that “good and evil carried strange meanings in their philosophy.”) The revived man, renamed Hayt, is given to Paul as a gift. And with time he begins to reclaim some memories of himself as Duncan.

Authority Roles

The major thrust of this story centers around the many plots and machinations swirling about Paul. And so, nearly everyone in this story may be saying one thing but secretly planning something else. That includes Paul and his closest allies. We learn of several deceitful plots and watch them slowly unfold.

We find, for example, that the resurrected Duncan was programmed with actions that the Tleilaxu hope to use in their own plot for power.

Profanity & Violence

We see uses of the words “d–n” and “d–ned.”

The hallucinogenic agent melange is swallowed and breathed in regularly by nearly everyone in this tale. One character, for instance, exists in an enclosed container of the swirling spice.

That drug takes on, however, a more mystical capacity than simply being a recreational habit. In some instances, characters receive piecemeal visions of the future. Melange is also said to be integral to space pilots navigating between worlds.

At one point, Alia consumes a very large amount of melange in pursuit of an important, discerning vision, but nearly poisons herself.

People are poisoned, plotted against and murdered. One atomic-based explosion, for instance, wipes out a house full of people and burns the eyes out of a group of people nearby, including Paul. A woman dies in childbirth. A shape-shifting individual threatens to kill a pair of infants with his blade.

Paul orders several people killed, though their deaths are not fully described. Someone is poisoned by a dart hidden up a sleeve. The corpse of a murdered woman is found—half eaten away by the blown sand—in the desert. Someone struggles against the programming he’s been given to keep himself from killing a friend.

Sexual Content

Paul’s young sister is called a “virgin harlot” by someone. And members of the Bene Gesserit plot to get she and Paul to blend their gene pool in some way. They try to force them into illicit sex (though that never transpires). For her part, though, young Alia does have thoughts and visions about having a sexual affair with some vision-suggested person. She describes it as “lust in tension with chastity.”

Paul’s future offspring are a part of a pair of plots. He’s married to the former Emperor’s daughter, Irulan, in a marriage of political convenience. But he refuses to sleep with her. “I swore an oath never to take her into my bed,” Paul declares. But in turn, Irulan laces Chani’s food with a contraceptive.

We hear of Paul and Chani caressing one another intimately.

One of the assassins plotting against Paul is a “face-dancer” named Scytale. He’s described as a “Jadacha hermaphrodite.” Another group of plotters talk of, “The orgy as a tool of statecraft.”

Discussion Topics


Additional Comments

This book is the 1969 sequel to the award-winning Frank Herbert classic, Dune. It continues the story of Paul Atreides in something of a Greek tragedy and warns that the frailties of human kind can lead to societal ruination, especially when clothed in a cultish devotion.

Though Dune Messiah isn’t as flashy and sweepingly epic as the first book, it’s still very compelling and raises interesting questions about religious fanaticism, and the misuse of government and political power.

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Review by Bob Hoose