Friday, July 25, 2008

Still more on DUNE

I'll continue today discussing more that I liked about Dune.

- Omniscient POV: I mentioned this in one of my mid-way posts. I love the omniscient point of view. This is where the narrator sees everything from the narrator's perspective, and can get inside the character's heads to know their thoughts. The omniscient narrator sees what he sees, what each character sees, what each character thinks, and can even tell you what the narrator thinks. Herbert leaves off the latter, but does all the former. In one paragraph he sees what Paul-Muad'dib sees and what he is thinking. In the next paragraph, in the same scene, he sees what Jessica sees and what she is thinking. Omniscient POV has gone out of fashion. At writing classes, new authors are cautioned against using this POV. Go with third-person limited, they say, or even just third person. Too much chance of making a mistake with omniscient.

I just can't agree with that. Most of the books I have liked--the sagas of Wouk and Michener--are in omniscient POV. To my way of thinking, this gives the reader a richer experience. We are not limited by what one character sees in a scene. We know what all characters see and what all characters think. That's what I like, and Frank Herbert gave it to me in Dune.

- Violence is downplayed: I am not a big fan of violence, and I hate shoot-'em-up books and movies. In Dune, there is violence, but it is written so skillfully and so downplayed that I almost missed some of it. When Paul and Jessica were captive in a 'thopter, looking for a way to escape, Paul winds up killing one of their captors. I didn't realize he had done so until a little later in the scene there was only one captor left. I had to go back and re-read the earlier description, and then I saw it. Maybe I read right through it. Certainly we saw pieces of battles when the Harkonnens returned to take back Arrakis. But to me the violence was kept to a minimum. You knew some of it was going on in the background. It was foreshadowed a lot, but actual scenes of violence were few, and subtly written.

- The spice: Arrakis, as a desert planet, has little value to the universe, except for one thing: the spice, melange. Mildly addictive in small quantities, this stuff can be found on no other planet. Consequently men go to great lengths to find it, mine it, transport it, black-market it, etc. Apparently the giant sandworms manufacture it, though how they do this was not made clear, or at least I didn't fully get it in the read. It turns the whites of eyes light blue, and the iris/pupil dark blue. At first I thought the Fremen having these eyes was genetic, but by the end of the book I understood it to be environmental, for Paul and Jessica's eyes were beginning to change after a few years living as Fremem. I'd like to know more about the spice, as I'll mention in another post.

- Paul & Jessica's escape: I'm out of time and can't write much, but this was superbly written. Over several chapters P & J are drugged and bound, taken before the vile Barron Harkonnen, taken off to be dumped in the desert, escape from those guys, are found and helped by Duncan Idaho and Liet Kynes, must go into the open desert again, must dodge sandworms, and eventually must convince a group of forty Fremen they are not enemies to be killed for their water, but friends who need help. Their adventures were a highlight of the book for me.

More coming. Next will be the things I didn't like about Dune.

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