Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dune as Detourned Weird Fiction

I'm sort of surprised that Frank Herbert's Dune hasn't been read as more speculative, philosophical riff on Lovecraftian weird fiction. The correspondence isn't prefect, of course; Herbert isn't interested in parables of xenophobia, his stories are ultimately heroic in scope, and he doesn't mind having women as characters, for example. But, a skewed reading of Dune might perceive it as the productive additive inverse of H. P. Lovecraft's universal pessimism, a detournment of the weird's cosmic horror toward a science fictive hopefulness that burns with the sullied intensity of a bloody conflagration:

  • Dune features a horrific cosmic plan--the Golden Path--that is beyond human comprehension. However, the Golden Path isn't ultimately a threat to mankind. As awful as the destruction wrought by the Golden Path will be, it's actually the only possibility for humanity's survival. This might be weird fiction at its most utopian, even though this is an imperfect utopic vision of the future. A future that comes at a grave cost might be all we can hope for; after all, a detournment of Lovecraft's intensely bleak view can bend only so far before it breaks.
  • The spiritual transformations in Dune lead to the physical transformation of one its protagonists from human to chthonic, primordial form. And yet, there is again a positive difference between becoming sand worm and becoming deep one, aside from the obvious difference between desert and sea in terms of their respective imagery and thematics. Whereas such transformations in Lovecraft are generally associated with a loss of humanity--in the sense of racial degeneration--the transformations in Herbert are a transcendence of the human condition, and are actually an evolution beyond human limitations.
  • Both Herbert and Lovecraft's fictions feature strange familial inheritances. In Dune this takes the form of race memories and purposeful galactic inbreeding. In Lovecraft this takes the form of cosmic miscegenation and the fearful histories of tainted bloodlines. Both carry the potential for danger, as in the narrator's eventual realization of he is a descendant of Obed Marsh in Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth and the influence of Baron Harkonnen upon Alia in Herbert's Children of Dune, but Herbert's version at least allows for genetic memory to function as a useful tool if it is resisted and mastered.
  • Both also express fears over the gene pool. See, for example, the Bene Gesserit mission to produce the Kwisatz Haderach and Lovecraft's vivid depiction of monstrous, racialized Others in "The Horror at Red Hook." The difference, of course, is in the ends: the Kwisatz Haderach functions as a messiah, if only a messiah that must destroy in order to preserve and create. In Lovecraft, the gene pool is only ever an endangered fantasy of a less than progressive outlook.
  • A minor key note: Dune has Fish Speakers! C'mon, that's a straight-up Innsmouth-y name.
  • Ghola & Ghouls would be the name of my old-school Herbert/Lovecraft mash-up. Nobody gets to steal that now.