Dune Messiah was the sequel to Dune, a 1965 science fiction classic. My nerd confession for today is that I first read Dune in grade 8, if memory serves. (Which it pretty much usually does --- I have an encyclopedic memory chock full of useless information. Want more proof? The book was recommended to me by a gentle classmate named Lori. In the school library. Yes, I remember her last name. No, I won’t print it here.) Anyway. I thoroughly enjoyed it --- the book, not the grade, that is. Grade eight was as physically and spiritually awful as only the middle year of junior high school can be, speaking as one who has seen it from both sides/perspectives, student and teacher. (Although the second time, I was able to be a lot more dispassionate.) But I digress. (Besides, as far as nerd claims go, I can top my Dune one myself, having first read The Lord of the Rings in the summer betwixt grade six and seven. Nyah, nyah, nyah.)
Dune, I loved. (No, I’m not going into plot summary. Look it up if you really want to know.) It was painted on a grand canvas, replete with an intriguing storyline and settings and endlessly interesting and diverse characters. We’ll return to that, but first allow me the following minor rant. Dune Messiah, I did not love so much (sorry, Herbert fans). Like pretty much most of us who adore a given story, when I’m done reading something really compelling, I Want More, and so I eagerly sought out Dune Messiah.
Meh. Disappointing. It didn’t really go in the direction I was hoping it would (for example, the protagonist is --- gasp --- blinded, and dies at the end!), wasn’t as compelling as I hoped it would be, and through it and the remaining four following sequels Herbert wrote, the books gradually became impenetrably denser and turgid and pretentious, filled with endless soliloquys and Deep Philosophical Musings that even Chekhov and Tolstoy would have shied away from. And so, I lost interest. But when Herbert died, that was the end of it, right? Nope. Nothing as trivial as death can stop a literary epic cycle. His son entered into the void and took over, penning, according to Wikipedia, fourteen --- count ‘em, fourteen --- Dune novels. Plus short stories. Not to mention the films and attempted films and comic books and television series and role-playing games and video games and soundtracks and lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Oy. Talk about repeatedly going back to the well. And draining the damned thing dry. Why do we allow authors’ children --- or their estates, for that matter --- to do this? I’m really not sure it’s a good idea. (For example, Christopher Tolkien has done the same thing with his father’s notes and rough stories, creating an entire cottage industry of books bearing the Tolkien name --- and now there’s some sort of film series in the works.) No, no, you don’t need to tell me… I already know the answer. In fact, I let it slip a minute ago: it’s the consumer’s dictum of I Want More. So the kids obligingly step in, once their parents’ voices are silenced, and do just that. (All for ars gratia artis, of course, he said with a knowing wink).
To be fair, it’s not just literary works we do this to. Films. My gosh, the film industry, he groaned. It’s bloated with sequels, crammed with sequels, replete with sequels upon sequels… and now their newest awful progeny, the Reboot. Let’s do the whole thing over again! With new actors and new effects and new… All pandering to that obscene chorus of shrill voices all wailing I Want More.
It’s in comics, too. When Charles Schultz died, we thought that was the end of Charlie Brown. However, once again, nope. It’s rather like the old Ginsu steak knives commercials on TV: but wait, there’s more!
It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way, you know. One terrific example I often use with students is that of the grand Arthurian epic. This is a tale that --- we think --- germinated from a kernel of historical truth somewhere around 1500 years ago, from which the initial story arose. And then was added on to, over about 1000 years, by a number of different authors working independently over centuries, until we finally arrive at the epic story we recognize today about Arthur, Rex Quondam et Futuris (the Once and Future King). A romance here, a best friend who’s a knight from across the sea there, a wizard, a Grail, an illegitimate child… all kinds of disparate elements combining together to create a literary masterpiece. But that’s not the same as an author’s child attempting to carry on with mommy or daddy’s writing, not at all.
So. Um, I have a confession to make: rereading my post, this is not really what I intended to write about today at all. As I alluded to about four paragraphs ago, I wanted to talk about thoughts of character as inspired by my inadvertent discovery of Mr. Herbert’s sequel.
Oh well. The best laid plans and all that. Next time, then.
But this was fun.
I love a good rant now and then.