Dune is often called a Science Fiction masterpiece. Now, in 2020, it’s coming out as a movie that will probably be a major hit. After the release of the movie, I’m guessing the Dune books will enjoy a new wave of popularity, so I recently read them with a view to determining their level of appropriateness for teen readers. In order to make this review a manageable length, I will concentrate on the issues I found in the first book.
Dune‘s setting is a futuristic interplanetary society where noble houses, a corrupt emperor, a power-hungry pilot’s Guild, and big-business CHOAM vie for power and wealth. There’s also the Bene Gesserit, a warrior-nun group which pursues its own agenda striving for racial purity and power. Wealth in the world of Dune is measured in terms of Melange, also called Spice, a drug which has whole universe under its thrall.
The plot centers around Paul Atreides, a teenager coming of age in one of the noble houses. Paul’s family takes charge of Arrakis, the planet which produces all the Spice. Paul is a unique combination of visionary, genius, and leader. With the aid of his Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica, he becomes the leader of the Fremen, a nomadic warrior tribe who control the Spice fields. At the head of the Fremen, Paul takes control of the Empire.
There’s no denying that the scope and richness of the Dune series is captivating. The insights about greed for power and wealth and its results are commendable. I even appreciated the first book simply as a literary work. But as a parent, I found several concerning aspects with this book on multiple levels.
Drug Use: the entire planetary system in the world of Dune is addicted to Spice, their drug of choice. Many are well aware of this fact, but choose addiction because they want the heightened senses and visions the Spice brings. There is a heavy emphasis on the powers and enhancements the drug provides. A recipe for encouraging teens to try drugs, anyone?
Sexual content: Lady Jessica is a concubine. There is a scene where another Bene Gesserit “sister” is sent by her husband to sleep with a teenage boy whose DNA they want for their breeding program. Paul takes a concubine from among the Fremen and has a son with her. None of this is particularly graphic; it is more stated than described.
Anti-Catholic content: The Bene Gesserit are basically nuns. Well, except they’re obsessed with preserving the best genes, so frequently become concubines, commit adultery, and so on. They use terms like “Reverend Mother” for their leaders. They send “Missionaries” to other planets to sew seeds of “storylines” in case one of the sisterhood is ever in need. The concept of an “awaited Messiah” is one of these intentionally created legends.
Both the depiction of Bene Gesserit and use of Messiah motif are troublesome. In the world of Dune, the coming of a Messiah is basically a big hoax carefully planned for millennia. “Religion” is an intentional manipulative force used by the Bene Geserit to further their own secret goals of racial purity.
I really dislike it when authors take Catholic terms and intentionally try to pervert the mental connotations, seeding doubt and reversion in the reader’s mind when they hear terms like “Reverend Mother,” “Messiah,” or “Missionary.” In Dune, this agenda extended to the entire concept of religion. For me, that largely ruined the Dune books so I wouldn’t recommend them for teens.
But, if you have an older teen who loves science fiction and really wants to read them, I recommend encouraging an analytical approach. For example, ask your teen to intentionally try to spot all the examples of twisting Religion and Christian terms in a negative way. Or ask them to form an opinion on whether author Herbert was intentionally normalizing drug use and free love. A mature teen can gain a lot of benefit can by this kind of intentional analysis.
Looking for better books for your teens? Check out my book lists, especially my lists for high schoolers!
6 thoughts on “Review of “Dune””
I am an Orthodox Catholic writer with two self-published books: Sons of Thunder, Only Saints Get Top Heaven, and Apocalypse Zion. I wrote to exemplify the quest for holiness and virtue in very realistic characters that young people can related to. I would like to send you copies of each if you would review them for me. email@example.com Please let me know. Thanks for the Dune review, very helpful, as the enemies of Christ are very clever in their attacks on the Church and society.
I am surprised you did not mention the graphic live of killing and homosexual behavior of se real characters. I just read this for the first time after finding it hailed as a science fiction classic comparable to The Lord of the Rings. Not even close. It is a lot to stomach even for an adult reader. Not something I would feel right about continuing to put into my brain or soul.
I agree this is not worthwhile reading as you can see in my review. I think I focused more on the philosophical and anti-religion elements in my review, but you are correct: there is a lot of graphic violence in this series also.
When I attended high school, this book (DUNE) was seen in the arms of all the science club students, together with the latest issue of “analog” Magazine. I never read it until a few years ago. While it certainly contained some fascinating concepts, such as the sand worms, and the idea of rejuvenating a desert; and gave me a greater appreciation for the importance of water, its non-judgmental-to-favorable attitudes on such things as promiscuous sex and “taking someone’s water” (i.e. killing by rapid dehydration) for merely being a suspicious character, renders it unsuitable for young people. One thing that struck me personally about it was what seemed to be its overall immersion in the atmosphere of ecumenism/ syncretism and optimistic materialism/ humanism/ scientism (i.e. worhip of “science”) that was so trendy at the time of its publication. I saw it as strongly marked by the era of the 1960s from which it sprang.
I found your page because you reviewed a book, Heaven’s Hunter, by my daughter Marie C. Keiser. Good review, BTW. Thank you for your observations.
Great review! Just what I was looking for in terms of a Catholic approach to this series. After watching the new movie last night I thought I might give the book a try once again… Nah… I probably won’t bother. The movie, according to my youngest son (age 36, who writes impressive epic poetry from a Catholic worldview and with whom I agree), is the the best science fiction movie ever. The negative elements of the book mentioned in your review appear in the movie, but seems to be handled so as to (at least to these eyes) downplay sexual, anti-Catholic and anti-religious connotations. There is plenty of violence without gratuitous gore, but the lead character’s aversion to killing is contrasted with the mindset of other characters.
After watching various friends and family succumb to elements of the sexual revolution and drug culture when the book was first catching on decades ago, I could never get very far reading the book before these elements would build an aversion at a very visceral level and the subtle power of literature for ill would cause me to toss it. Turning to Tolkien instead was like a refreshing bath in goodness.
If I do read it, it will be so I can converse knowledgeably with readers inspired by its current phase of popularity.
Thank you for what you are doing in providing reviews with this outlook!
Thank you so much!! I couldn’t remember all the details and didn’t have the time to re-read it. My soon to be 13 year old loves to read, but we want good books. I will check out your list!!