Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert

What manner of weapon is religion when it becomes the government?

Edric the Guild Steersman, Dune Messiah

In the second book of the Dune series, we see the divergence from what would have been the regular tale of a Hero who avenged the death of his father. Instead we are treated to the beginnings of questions that will haunt us through the Dune series- How will humanity distort the original message of messiahs? Is it possible to imagine and control every single impact of mass-movements? Will that kill what it means to be human?

Dune Messiah is set a few years after the first book, Dune. Paul Atreides is now the Emperor of the Universe. His allegiance with the deeply superstitious Fremen has led to a “jihad” under the Atreides banner. A religious fervour now grips the planets, all centred around the Muad’dib and his sister, Alia. As Paul himself admits “at a conservative estimate, I’ve killed sixty-one billion, sterilised ninety planets, completely demoralised five hundred others. I’ve wiped out the followers of forty religions..

The planet Arrakis itself is beginning to see a transformation, from a desert planet to the centre of power. Unbridled power that is centred around Paul and his sister, power that he himself is disgusted with- “Paul felt sickened. What are we doing? he asked himself. Alia was a child witch, but she was growing older. Growing older is to grow more wicked

Meantime, the conspirators come together: the eugenics-focused Bene Gesserit, the space-bending Guildsmen and a mysterious race of technologists- the Bene Tleilaxu. The latter are able to recreate the dead to create gholas– revenants that usually have trigger-based actions embedded deep into their psyche. This is how we get back one of the well-loved characters of the first book – Duncan Idaho, now a ghola and a key tool in the conspiracy.

Jason Mamoa is all set to break our hearts in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune- 2020 release. Duncan has one of the most poignant character sketches in Dune Messiah. Image credit: Reddit thread

There are other Tleilaxu toys and concepts described in the Dune Messiah: Face-Dancers that are the Tleilaxu shape-shifting assassins, able to subtly mimic an original. {It is interesting that many of the concepts of the Tleilaxu seem to be inventions that replicate an original}. The Tleilaxu also have destroyers of original forms, viz. atomics like the Stone Burner.

Jack Gaughan Cover-Art for Dune Messiah

In an incident involving a stone-burner, Paul loses his eyesight, but not his sight. His prescience helps him navigate a physical world that he has traversed many times through visions of the future.

There is an unstoppable inevitability to everything around him. Everything, from conspiracies to the death of Chani at childbirth, is a well-trodden path in his vision. Until the birth of his son who stayed hidden in his visions. This inability to have seen twins helps Paul break free from the burden of oracular ability. He is now truly blind.

In keeping with the Fremen tradition, the blind Paul walks into the desert, never to return. His son, Leto II, will carry the burden of prescience and in the ensuing books, will be mapping out one path amongst many that humanity could take.

Paul’s entire life was a struggle to escape his Jihad and its deification. At least, he’s free of it. He chose this!

Alia, Dune Messiah

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