following reaction will contain spoilers for both Dune and Dune Messiah. As
a policy, Iím trying to keep the spoilers in What
reactions to a bare
minimum and limited to the first fifty pages of the book. If the
spoilers exceed those guidelines, Iíll make a point to include a note
From a certain point of view, Dune Messiah
is a disappointment: It simply doesnít live up to the incredibly high
standard set by Dune
Some of the problems with Dune
Messiah are failures in the basic craft of storytelling;
flaws which would be notable in any work. For example, there are far
too many scenes Ė particularly in the first half of the novel Ė which
are told in flashback or exposition instead of being shown. One is
often left with the feeling that Herbert just didnít quite feel up to
the challenge of telling the story to be found in those scenes.
This central flaw, in fact, contributes to many of the problems in Dune Messiah. For
example, the stellar character conflicts of Dune are notably
blunted in Dune MessiahÖ
often because key components of those dramas are ignored or elided
over. For example, there is a cold war tension between Chani and Irulan
which begins to flare into open conflict at the beginning of the novel.
But then the resolution of that interplay is simply shoved off-screen
and then cursorily resolved in an almost incidental and completely
off-hand fashion. (And this despite the fact that its resolution is
absolutely pivotal in setting up the novelís conclusion.)
What ultimately keeps Dune
Messiah from achieving the true status of classic is that
it fails to find that precious gestalt of Dune: Where Dune operated on
many different levels at once, Dune
Messiah is stripped down to a far simpler dynamic.
Elements of the political thriller, character drama, and high tragedy
remainÖ but Herbert canít quite seem to keep all the balls in the air.
For one example, let us consider the tragic grandeur of Yuehís betrayal
Herbert almost manages to capture the dynamic of high tragedy once
again in his portrayal of Paulís prescient vision turned to bane. Paul,
trapped by the inexorable fate seen within his prescient vision and
bound by the irresistible momentum of the race consciousness lying
behind the Jihad carried out in his name, has all the makings of
such a tragedy. But Herbert lets it slip through his fingers: The
itself, although brilliantly handled in many respects (such as the
scene where Paul must let a doom befall himself in order to find a
greater good), also ends up denying some of the central necessities of
I also think that Dune
Messiah is a difficult story specifically because it ties
Paul in those chains. I think a lot of people (myself included) read
the end of Dune
as a triumphÖ and Dune
Messiah makes it explicit that Paul failed and failed badly. Thatís a
tough pill to swallow. I know itís what made me put the book down the
first time I tried reading through the Dune saga: It
wasnít the sequel I had written in my own head. I wanted the Messiah
Triumphant and I got something akin to the False Godís Fall.
With all that being said, I would be seriously remiss in ignoring the
strengths of Dune
Messiah, particularly in the bookís second half: Duncan
Idaho's personal struggle is a very powerful and well-handled piece of
characterization. Paul's manipulation of his prescient vision -- his
constant struggle to find the slightest loophole through which to
escape the chains of his own future -- is often powerfully dramatic.
And there's also some great expansion done on the nifty, sensawunda
stuff, along with the depth and unique feel of the Dune
universe (Tleilaxu face dancers, for example).
But, with that being said, I would still love to
read a version of Dune
Messiah in which Herbert managed to:
(1) Avoid the storytelling errors in the first
(2) Expand Alia's personal drama (something which
would have also added a great deal of depth to Children of Dune).
(3) Let the Chani and Irulan conflict play out
with the type of detailed political intrigue that he displayed himself
fully capable of in Dune.
(4) Communicate the by-play of the mutual and
interacting betrayals between the conspirators (and let more of those
by-plays and betrayals play themselves out).
(5) Handle the framing devices of the story better.
In short, Dune
Messiah reads like a rushed novel. There's a lot of
potential in the basic structure of the story, but little or none of it
is realized in actual practice. Perhaps if Herbert had taken the time
to develop the novel more fully, we might have gotten a work that would
stand up better in the inevitable comparison to its predecessor.