“Only fools prefer the past!”
― God Emperor of Dune
The last Dune novel written by Frank Herbert was the sixth one, Chapterhouse: Dune, published in 1985. Frank Herbert would later die in 1986. The speculation about Dune 7 was always centered around the apparent open ending of the sixth novel. Later on Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson would write Dune 7 and Dune 8, but those books sound like they’re awfully written, but worse than that, they are a kind of thematic reversal.
I was thinking about throwing my hat into the ring and try writing out a Dune 7, but the more I thought about Dune and reread parts of the series, the more I realized two things: Chapterhouse: Dune is very clearly the end of the series and I don’t believe Frank Herbert would want more Dune novels written by his fans.
#1. Frank Herbert’s avatars in Dune
To understand the end of Chapterhouse: Dune I think it’s necessary to look at the two characters who are what I consider stand-ins for Frank Herbert and that is Daniel and Leto II. Leto II in the fourth Dune novel, God Emperor of Dune, is plagued by millennia of boredom. His rule over the empire is absolute. There is no power in the Known Universe that can defeat him, and so he languishes in boredom, but as he does so he bores everyone else too. I think the name “Known Universe” is a key to all of this. Humans seem to inherently fear the Unknown, it’s a kind of neophobia that I think you can observe in creatures like rats.
But what is Leto II doing? He’s trying to cultivate a yearning for the Unknown. He’s trying to build up this drive within humanity to the point that it rebels against him, it destroys him, and humanity will scatter on such a massive scale that no one power, even a power like him, could ever dominate all of humanity ever again. Leto II craved the new, an endless progression of surprises. He wants people to yearn for the mysteries beyond what is known.
If you assume Leto II is the mouthpiece of Frank Herbert, and considering how much of God Emperor of Dune is just Leto II talking to himself I think it’s easy to believe, then we can start to interpret Leto’s goals and philosophy of that of Frank Herbert himself. Duncan Idaho, the man cursed to be resurrected again and again to serve the God Emperor, becomes the reader, the audience. Leto does this because he values Duncan’s humanity and tries to make him understand, but Duncan, being humanity, is resistant to the God Emperor’s vision of a future in the Unknown.
Now, for the moment let’s just say that in Chapterhouse: Dune a godlike character named Daniel is introduced. He, and his partner Marty, are mysterious beings that can peer into the universe on Duncan Idaho. They appear to be unremarkable humans engaged in gardening, and are engaged at a distance with the drama in the foreground of the novel. It’s important, for the second part of my argument, to assume that Daniel is Frank Herbert.
#2. Chapterhouse: Dune is the end of Dune
These days I see the fifth and sixth Dune as the deliberate deconstruction of the Dune universe. Without even realizing it, the Dune universe is gone by the end of the sixth Dune novel. The last two novels are all about the final destruction of the Known Universe, or more accurately, the Universe Known by the Audience. Think about it, the fifth Dune novel ends with the destruction of Arrakis.
The planet Dune is gone at the end of the fifth Dune novel. The Tleilaxu, another mainstay of the Dune universe, are eradicated down to a single man. The Ixians, Spacing Guild, and Fish Speakers are all rendered irrelevant and are otherwise in extreme decline. That just leaves the Bene Gesserit, but even they are so radically altered by the end of the series that they’re unrecognizeable.
How does Chapterhouse: Dune end? Duncan Idaho deletes all the navigation data in his spaceship then sends the ship hurtling on a random course into the unknown. On board the vessel is a motley assortment of peoples from the Dune universe (Mentats, Tleilaxu, Bene Gessert, Jews, sandworms).
After the ship disappears, the book ends with a conversation between Daniel and Marty. Marty is frustrated that they escaped from the pair, but Daniel shrugs the loss off.
“You know what you let get away, Daniel?” she [Marty] demanded, coming up beside him. “That Master had a nullentropy tube in his chest. Full of ghola cells too!”
“I saw it.”
“That’s why you let them get away!”
“Didn’t let them.” His pruning shears went snick-snack. “Gholas. He’s welcome to them.”
― Chapterhouse: Dune
Duncan is not just leaving the planet he was on, he’s leaving the Dune series. Frank Herbert hinted the space beyond the Known Universe was filled with wonders and terrors beyond the scope of their imaginings. With the Known Universe coming to an end, Duncan takes the leap into the Unknown Universe.
And in that leap he escapes from Daniel and Marty. Marty had plans to test Duncan and his allies, but Daniel seems content with them escaping. Where ever they land, it won’t be in a Dune novel, but in something new. Daniel aka Frank Herbert is glad that Duncan escapes.
The Duncan of Chapterhouse is all the Duncans, in effect he is the reader that has traveled through all the books. He’s the only character there with the breath of understanding to comprehend the whole. He, perhaps like the reader, matures to the point where he no longer needs the Dune universe, the safety of the old world. He escapes from the godlike parents of Daniel and Marty, and even that of the original god parent of Leto II.
He takes with him the seeds of adventure, certainly. There will be amazing stories with Duncan, obviously, but those adventures will be elsewhere with new and different things. Frank Herbert intended for the reader to leave for something new, right after he turns off the lights on the universe.
#3. The Tleilaxu are the new Dune novels
It’s worth noting that within the breast of the last Tleilaxu Master, on board Duncan’s ship, is a tube that symbolically contains the original Dune series.
Each Master had carried this resource-a nullentropy capsule preserving the seed cells of a multitude: fellow Masters of the central kehl, Face Dancers, technical specialists and others he knew would be attractive to the women of Shaitan… and to many weakling powindah! Paul Atreides and his beloved Chani were there. (Oh what that had cost in searching garments of the dead for random cells!) The original Duncan Idaho was there with other Atreides minions-the Mentat Thufir Hawat, Gunrey Halleck, the Fremen Naib Stilgar…
― Chapterhouse: Dune
It’s important to note that the character that is the most corrupt, and straight up evil in the book, is the one with the seed of the original Dune series in his breast. The Tleilaxu represent the extreme conservative force, wishing to lock everything down into perpetual slavery, and repetition of the same. Look at the way they think, they could repopulate the universe with old characters, relive Dune all over again!
And hilariously, this is how I see the New Dune novels. They are the Tleilaxu themselves, resurrecting old favorite characters to pantomime Dune, not unlike a Cargo Cult. They build replicas of airports in the hopes of summoning airplanes.
See! We have Paul Atreides! We have Duncan Idaho! He must save the universe! All of the older cooler characters are back!
But it’s like they don’t realize what was going on in Dune at all, so all of it feels hollow to me. Airports do not bring the gods.
Time and time again we are told that the Tleilaxu are evil, flawed and foolish. Why then should we embrace their craving for the past? Why should I write another Dune novel, just to resurrect Paul again? To start the cycle over?
No, I think Frank Herbert didn’t want a Dune 7. He wanted people to make something new. He wanted Duncan to leave Dune. You can take things with you, pieces of the old Dune, but where ever you go, it should not be Dune.
So I won’t try to write a Dune 7, because… well, it reminds me of something Bruce Lee is quoted for saying:
“It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
― Bruce Lee
Ironic really (maybe?) coming from a guy who just rereads Dune novels over and over again.