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||Frank (Patrick) Herbert (1920-1986)|
American science-fiction writer, who became famous with his ecological novel Dune (1965), set in Arrakis, a world of giant sandworms. The epic adventure won the first Nebula for Best Novel, shared the Hugo, and gained a cult status. Herbert's bestseller was followed by five sequels. Often Herbert's stories dealt with great cycles of development, environmental as well as cultural. Many critics have noted that Dune could be read as an allegory about the oil politics of the Middle East, equating the fictional drug, the spice mélange of Arrakis, to oil.
"The effect of Arrakis is on the mind of the newcomer usually that of overpowering barren land. The stranger might think nothing could live or grow in the open here, that this was the true wasteland that had never been fertile and never would be." (Dune, 1965)
Frank Herbert, Jr., was born in Tacoma, Washington. At that time his father, Frank Herbert, known as "F.H.", operated an auto-bus line between Tacoma and Aberdeen to the south. Later he worked as an electrical equipment salesman, automobile salesman, motorcycle patrolman. In 1928 the family moved to Burley to a small farm.
A crucial experience for the development of Herbert's view on human consciousness was his experiment with ESP (extrasensory perception). When he was about 16 years old, he correctly identified an entire deck of playing cards. Later in life he fictionalized this inexplicable event in the story 'Encounter in a Lonely Place' (1973). Herbert graduated from Salem High School in 1939 and began his career as a journalist. During World War II served in the U.S. Navy as a Photographer Second Class V-6 in the Naval Reserve. In 1943 he was given an early honorable discharge. He then worked for two years as a copy editor for the Oregon Journal in Portland, Oregon.
In 1941 Herbert married Flora Parkinson, still a
teenager at that time, whom he had met while working in Salem. They
divorced officially in 1945; next year he married Beverly Ann Stuart.
She was a fellow student at the same creative writing class at the
University of Washington, Seattle, where Herbert studied in 1946-47. By late 1947 Herbert was employed as a
feature writer for the Tacoma Times. His financial situation was not good, but in the mid-1950s, following the publication of his first novel, he was able to pay old debts, including some of the child-support payments owed to his ex-wife, Flora.
Herbert was a reporter and editor on a number of West Coast newspapers, and in addition, he wrote speeches for politicians. While working for the San Francisco Examiner in the 1960s, he befriended the Zen-master Alan Watts (1915-1973), who used to invite Herbert over for dinner and conversation. Like Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Watts was one of those writers and artists living in the West Coast, who had taken a serious interest in mind-expanding drugs and had experimented with LSD. In 1972 Herbert worked in Vietnam and Pakistan as a social and ecological studies consultant. From 1970 to 1972 he was a lecturer in general and interdisciplinary studies at the University of Washington. Herbert also wrote, directed, and produced the television documentary 'The Tillers', which was based on his field work with Roy Prosterman in Pakistan, Vietnam and other countries.
His first sf story, 'Looking for Something', Herbert sold to Startling Stories. However, editor after editor rejected his early fiction. During the next decade, he still continued as an infrequent contributor to science fiction magazines, producing fewer than 20 short pieces. As a novelist Herbert started with The Dragon in the Sea (1956). Originally it was published in serialized form in Astounding under the title Under Pressure (1955-56). The futuristic submarine thriller predicted worldwide conflicts over oil consumption and production. Dune World was first published in Analog (December 1963-February 1964), with illustrations by John Schoenherr. Before the work appeared in book form, Herbert rewrote much of his text.
In Dune Herbert plunged into an alien future centered around a complex interplanetary civilization. First rejected by nearly twenty publishers, the book eventually sold over 12 million copies, was translated into several languages, including Finnish and Swedish, and was adapted for the screen. Its idea date in the late 1950s when Herbert studied a governmental ecological project designed to halt the spread of sand dunes on the Oregon coastline. Inside a frame of an entertaining Space Opera, Herbert examined several themes – the development of psi powers, intergalactic politics, religion (especially Zen Buddhism), functions of an alien ecosystem, and messianism. In the first part the reader meets Paul Atreides, the outsider hero and future Messiah. His adventures follow the logic of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale 'The Ugly Duckling', in which natural talents triumph over ostracism and hostile environment.
Besides being an adventure story, many critics have been unanimous in the view, that Dune
has an anti-colonial position. American imprerialism and the political
situation in the Middle East are transposed into the far future, in a
way which shows that imperialism is a timeless historic phenomenon.
Primarily the story is about control and exploitation, and the need for
a messiah, or a strong leader, who will change the course of history.
But revolution leads towards a new religion of intolerance of anything
that questions it. Brian Herbert said in Dreamer of Dune
(2003) that "Among the dangerous leaders of human history, my
father sometimes mentioned General George S. Patton, because of his
charismatic qualities– but more often his example was President John F.
Kennedy. ... His followers did not question him, and would have gone
with him virtually anywhere."
--"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind," Paul quoted.
is the son of Duke Leto and his concubine Jessica,
members of the House of Atreides, who are opposed by the Harkonnes. He
undergoes a painful initiation at the hands of a reverend mother, who
is member of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. (As models for the
Sisterhood Herbert used his Irish Catholic maternal aunts, who had
attempted to force religion on him in his childhood.) With Jessica Paul
escapes a Harkonnen plot. In the second part Paul finds his true self
in the sand planet Arrakis, where the citizens, the Fremen, live like
Bedouins in the desert and ride on huge, deadly sandworms. Their secret
is that the worms are the sole source of melange, a spice that is
necessary for interstellar travel and grants psychic powers and extends
life. The production of melange generates a means for controlling
Paul takes the Fremen name 'Muad'Dib'; Herbert also uses the term mahdi, the word for the prophesied redeemer of Islam. Moreover, there are unmistakable similarities between the physical environment from which Islam began to spread through the known world and Arrakis' barren landscape and lack of water. Part three describes Paul's way to power, foretold by the Bene Gesserit Order. He rides a sandworm and drinks the Water of Life, a poisonous but mind-altering drug, which works like LSD. Along the saga Atreides makes his metamorphosis into a kind of god, his destiny culminating in God Emperor of Dune (1981), "perhaps the least complex of the Dune novels in its plotting, yet all the more satisfying for that." (Brian Aldiss & David Wingrove in Trillion Year Spree, 2001).
The film version of Dune (1984) was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by David Lynch, starring Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, with Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, Sting, Sean Young. The screenplay was also written by David Lynch, who struggled to build up a coherent story line and managed to produce a draft which Herbert accepted. However, one of the crucial changes was that Paul seeks to "conquer" the sand-dwelling worm, instead of riding on top of the monster in a symbiotic act. Before this production Lynch had made Eraserhead (1976) and The Elephant Man (1980), both acclaimed by critics. Dune was considered failure – especially it was mocked by U.S. critics, though in Japan and Europe it found success. "... even Lynch's trademark touches cannot fully compensate for perhaps the film's gravest weakness: the simplification of the key characterizations. Paul's (Kyle MacLachlan) seizure of the emperor's throne lacks the ambivalent tone presented in the novel. Herbert's deep suspicion of messianic fervor makes Paul's victory far less triumphant than Lynch would have his audience believe." (Novels into Films by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, 1997) Lynch's next movie, Blue Velvet (1986), and the television series Twin Peaks restored his fame as one of the most original modern directors. A new and more thorough adaptation of Dune was a made by John Harrison, who wrote and directed a three part television mini-series (2000), starring Alec Newman, Saskia Reeves, Barbora Kodetová, Julie Cox, William Hurt, Giancarlo Giannini, Ian McNeice.
All of the novels in the series focused on relations between individuals in conflict over political power. Another central theme was the effects of an ecological disaster on an interplanetary scale. In Dune Messiah (1969) the central problem is Paul's wish to have an ordinary family life with his beloved Chani. The famed editor John W. Campbell, Jr., rejected this volume because it undermined the heroic image of Paul Atreides. "While writing the third Dune book," Herbert said, "I first realized consciously that I had to be entertainer above all, that I was in the entertainment business." The planet Arrakis is becoming desert again in Heretics of Dune (1984), sandworms are dying, and the children of Dunes children practice the new power of a heresy called love. Chapterhouse: Dune (1985) ended the series. Arrakis has been destroyed. The heirs to Dune's power have colonized a green world, and they are turning it into a homely desert. But power corrupts: -"Isn't it odd, Dama..." No reaction; continue. "... how rebels all too soon fall into old patterns if they are victorious? It's not so much a pitfall in the path of all governments as it is a delusion waiting for anyone who gains power." (from Chapter House Dune)
Herbert's other works include Hellstrom's Hive (1973), in which a human hive has evolved through centuries in North America. In this society the individual's existence is of minor importance. The Dosadi Experiment (1977) was a spy thriller set in a universe populated by several conflicting alien races. Additional themes are psi powers and total mind transference. The White Plague (1982) was about a madman, who creates a disease that kills only women.
Until 1972, when he began to write full-time, Herbert published socially engaged science fiction. He divided his time between his house on the island of Maui, Hawaii, and farm in Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, where he developed his "ecological demonstration project". When visiting his son in Port Townsend, he flew on a private jet – he couldn't bear to ride a commercial jet with all the crowd. After the death of his wife in 1984, Herbert married Theresa Shackleford. In the 1970s and 80s' Herbert worked with Bill Ransom (1945-), and published with him The Pandora trilogy – The Jesus Incident (1979), The Lazarus Effect (1983), and The Ascension Factor (1988), which explored the relationship between God-"protected" human stock and the natives of Pandora. Herbert died of massive pulmonary embolism on February 12, 1986, after a long treatment for cancer. He left behind extensive notes about Dune and in 1999 appeared a prequel to the series, Dune: House Atreides, written by Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert's son, in collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson. Brian has also published with his father Man of Two Worlds (1986) and edited other Herbert's works. Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert by Brian Herbert, came out in 2003.
For further reading: Herbert's Dune and Other Works by Louis David Allen (1975); Frank Herbert by David M. Miller (1980); Frank Herbert by Timothy O'Reilly (1981); The Dune Encyclopedia, ed. Willis E. McNelly (1984); Frank Herbert by William F. Touparce (1988); A Frank Herbert Bibliography by Daniel J.H. Levack (1988); The Notebooks of Frank Herbert, ed. Brian Herbert (1988); Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert by Brian Herbert (2003); The Science of Dune: An Unauthorized Exploration into the Real Science Behind Frank Herbert's Fictional Universe, edited by Kevin R. Grazier (2007); 'Postcolonial Science Fiction: The Desert Planet' by Gerald Gaylard, in Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World: Essays on Postcolonial Literature and Film, ed. by Ericka Hoagland and Reema Sarwal (2010)