I live in a beautiful city in South Texas, a place has good civic amenities, a nice population, a low crime rate, and a moderate cost of living. It’s a little slice of green heaven for eight months out of the year, this city, this place crisscrossed by rivers and rich in languages.
But, starting today, on the first day of June, the entire population of South Texas will pay the heavy price for living pretty. We will stand at the mouth of Hades for the next four months, dueling rising temperatures and temperaments, culminating in a statewide existential crisis in August.
In the third month of this relentless heat, Texans everywhere wear shorts and watch old movies in dark rooms. The streets become bright and silent at midday. People speak less, say little.
By August 15th, I, personally, will cry sweaty little tears for a week in the privacy of my bedroom while simultaneously and repeatedly applying a prescription cream to the back of my knees for prickly rash.
It is the ultimate insult to injuries most grievous.
Not only do I hate summer, I am allergic to it.
I have an antidote.
Starting today, I will begin my annual reading of Frank Herbert’s Dune.
It’s a celebrated event amongst my friends and family, and somewhat of a joke, because Dune rhymes with June (hardi-har-haaaar!).
I’ll spend a week reading it and savoring it, and the next three weeks thereafter making myself increasingly obnoxious to my loved ones as I discuss the intricacies of this ferocious novel.
The first sentence is a “quote ” from a book written by a scholarly princess who belongs to the mysterious and sinister Bene Gesserit religious order, one of three powers that runs the galaxy:
A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.
As I go farther and farther inside Herbert’s universe every summer, I have time to consider the delicate balances that must occur for difficult climates to function.
I speak, of course, of the climates of people and the climates of place.
When one thing, however small, is out of balance, it threatens the balance of all that surrounds it.
The heat pulls at me like an insistent child. I see the sun as a relentless eye that will not blink shut for hours and hours.
My blood is too thick for this country, but my heart yearns for its strange shifts in climate, its varied ecosystems, its people, and its singular sense if itself as a place set apart from places.
Texas was several times over its own country. The land remembers it, and the people do too. You can feel this sense of separateness all the time here.
With Dune, I speak, always, of the bigger implications of Herbert’s beautiful and sturdy award-winning epic.
In Dune, we follow the story of a royal family sent to oversee a planet called Arrakis (“Dune”), a place so harsh that it destroys all but the hardiest people, but rich with a type of drug that is powerful enough to allow the spacing guild (the second power in the galaxy) to navigate space.
Without this natural mined drug, called “spice” or “melange,” each planet would become as landlocked as the continents of Earth before the advent of sea transport.
Texas is not Dune. The heat can kill you, yes, but not the way Arrakis can kill a man.
God created Arrakis to train the faithful, said the young duke who, due to the worst deceit and circumstances, is forced to affect the messianic prophecy of Arrakis in order to avenge his father’s death.
Or does Paul Muad’Dib become an actual messiah? It’s hard to tell.
And, in a way, it doesn’t matter. The future rolls on regardless of the truth.
The truth being, of course, a mutable subject in places of extreme temperatures.
South Texas, my friends, is a place made of delicate balances and compromises that shift, turn, and trail back to a place before the time of any people at all.
I must be part of this balance, or I threaten to upset the balance of those around me.
When Herbert wrote Dune, the first and most lyrical book of this longer epic, he had been studying dry-land ecology. In fact, the first edition is dedicated to dry-land ecologists:
To the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of “real materials”— to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, wherever they may work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration.
Dedicated in humility and admiration. I am shaking my head. What grace Herbert had for this world of ours and this world of his.
Please teach me to be as gracious as Herbert. Please, let me approach the heat with a heart steeped in humility and admiration.
Until I find my way in this heat, I will stew and consider this statement by Paul Muad’Dib, the would-be messiah of this sprawling story:
There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles.
Today, I begin to read a story about beginnings and oppression. Dune does one thing well— it takes my mind far away from this heat, to a different heat. And that’s something, isn’t it?
I will spend the next month talking about Herbert’s mythical universe with everyone I know. I will dream of the desert planet. And I will seek stillness in myself. In humility. In admiration.
This essay is dedicated in humility and admiration to my friend Phillip, who made a couple of LOL-type Dune cats a few months ago, and allowed me to pester him into making a batch just for Dune in June.
Would you like to do a Dune in June Read-Along with me this month? It didn’t occur to me until just this moment, but we might have some big fun talking about Dune together. What do you think? Let me know if you’d like to pop by once a week. Maybe I’ll post some chronological questions to prompt talk about Dune on the next four Saturdays starting next weekend? Let me know if this sounds like fun to you, okay? It will be informal as all get out. In this heat, we relax around here, okay?
I forgot to mention that “Walk without rhythm and you won’t attract the worm” is from one of my favorite song/video combinations from Fatboy Slim. A few months ago, I posted it. Have you ever seen Christopher Walken tap dance? 5-Minute Dance Party [Weapon of Choice] Thanks, Kate!
Also! My friend Kate decided to read Dune after I talked about POV in Our Sunday Best: Who Is Driving This Story, Anyway? POV in Writing. You can read her thorough review here— Dune, Or, the dawn of an epic journey through other peoples’ favourites. It’s really good.
As a result of this story, we all decided to do a DUNE in JUNE read-along! Here is the full series:
DUNE IN JUNE 2012