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Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert

by Venky

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Frank Herbert’s second installment in the Dune saga, ‘Dune Messiah’, bears an uncanny resemblance to one of its most telling characters, Skytale, a ‘Tleilaxu Face Dancer’. A Tleilax is a product of a renegade training centre and is representative of a twisted soul who is capable of assuming the face and voice of any human being. Even the most adept of Bene Gesserit would be stretch to her limits in attempting to unravel the disguise of a Face Dancer. ‘Dune Messiah’ is also a manifestly ‘malleable’ book. While arguably the most curious in the sage, it is unquestionably the most exasperating. Replete with dollops of quasi-religious mumbo jumbo, littered with elongated and esoteric musings and interspersed with passages that are downright electrifying, ‘Dune Messiah’ is a ‘necessary’ mess. It is the landfill by acting as a conduit between the 1st and 3rd parts of the series, brings the polluter and the cleaner in contact with one another.

Paul Muad’Dib is now the unquestioned Emperor of the Imperium. Having decimated the Harkonnen and the much-vaunted Sardaukar forces of the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, he takes Shaddam’ s Bene Gesserit daughter, Princess Irulan as his wife in addition to anointing Chani, the niece of his able Freman general Stilgar, as his favourite concubine. Paul Muad’Dib’ s ruthless and loyal Fremen snuff out 16 billion souls as they take over the galaxy. Paul’s sister Alia, born to Lady Jessica in extraordinary circumstances (at the time of the girl’s birth, the mother is in the grip of a spice mélange addiction, which bestows upon the child the powers of prescience and maturity of an adult at the time of her birth), apprehensive of the path which her now messianic brother is treading with gay abandon, fears for both the safety of his life as well as the well-being of the Arrakeen Empire.

Meanwhile, a cunning plot is concocted by a coterie of Paul’s enemies. The Tleilaxu Face Dancers form an alliance with the Guild Steersmen (the greedy mercantile organisation which once monopolized space travel, transport and international banking) to not just unseat Paul Muad’Dib, but to wipe out his entire legacy. At the heart of their scheme is the creation of a ‘Ghola’, an artificially created being that gets replicated from the dead cells of its human body. Gholas are produced in specially created ‘Axlotl’ tanks by the Tleilaxu. An Axlotl tank is a woman whose womb gets used to create a Ghola while she is in a vegetative state (yes you read that right. Cryogenic humans anyone?). The Ghola chosen to rattle Paul is that of Duncan Idaho, the unparalleled weapons trainer and Paul’s erstwhile Master who courageously laid down his life so that Paul and his mother can survive. How Paul, Alia and Lady Jessica face this eminent danger that threatens to imperil the entire Fremen existence occupies the majority of ‘Dune Messiah’. But Frank Herbert makes his reader swim through swamps and wade through thickets before they can grasp the cause and consequence.

In an introduction to the 2008 edition published by Penguin Random House, Brian Herbert, the son of Frank acknowledges that Dune Messiah is perhaps the most ‘misunderstood’ of not just the Dune saga, but of all Frank Herbert novels. In fact, the satirical magazine National Lampoon, in 1969, named the serialized version of Dune Messiah, ‘disappointment of the year’. Brian Herbert proposes that the rationale for such a scathing disappoint could be an inability to recognise the function accomplished by this book as a connector. Arguing that Frank Herbert resorted to a ‘deliberate’ sleight of hand in transitioning from Dune to Dune Messiah, Brian Herbert informs his readers that the quintessential objective of his father was to warn against the perils of mindless compliance and unthinking fealty. What is applicable to Paul Muad’Dib equally applies to every contemporaneous government plying its wares today.

Dune Messiah brings the Invincibles to their knees and ruptures the cocoon of the complacent. In the process, it also succeeds beyond imagination in puncturing the ego of its reader!

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