Thoughts on Chapterhouse: Dune

Written by Dan

Published February 13, 2004

My mom bugged me for years to start reading the Dune series by Frank Herbert. I didn’t start it until January 2003, after I finished rushing through The Lord of the Rings in time to see the second installment. And after I finished the first three books (read in the space of about two and a half weeks), I kept telling myself, “What took you so long?” Dune has become one of my favorite sci-fi universes, practically overnight. It’s caught my attention, not because of its intense action and detailed characterization (although those are certainly part of it), but because of the incredibly detailed— and convoluted— plots that have developed over the course of the first six books delve into the complex soul of Humanity itself, and what future that soul may lead us to.

To an inattentive reader, the original Dune is almost completely unlike any of the other novels succeeding it— it’s much more adventurous, taking place in large part outside the halls of power, away from any place that a sane person might consider important. And yet, going back to read it a second time, even there you can see Frank Herbert laying the foundation of this awesome story of unthinkably monumental consequences stemming from a few seemingly-unimportant decisions.

(In that way, it has more to do with evolution that I originally thought. Consider that the current theory is based around random mutations that are gradually spread and become commonplace. The changes might seem totally unnecessary at first, or even detrimental— but in the end they pave the way for something that was completely unthinkable before.)

After I finished reading Chapterhouse: Dune, I spent about two hours discussing that oh-so-bizarre ending with my mom. She’d read the book back when it first came out, and had been confused by it ever since. I’ve never had too much of a handle on it either, but here’s what I think. (Oh, there’re probably spoilers ahead for the uninitiated.)

As soon as I read it, I thought it was pretty obvious that those two people were supposed to be those “new” Face Dancers that had been sent out by the Bene Tleilax. The one guy’s wish to have met a Master made that seem clear (at least to me), plus the reference to developing minds and personalities of their own (which the original Face Dancers couldn’t do).

I’m not so sure if those Mysterious Individuals were supposed to be the force that was attacking the Honored Matres, though. I always got the impression that the threat menacing the HM’s were aliens of some sort, or else some group of Humans that were even further removed from the tree than the HM’s. (Perhaps a group that fled the Butlerian Jihad? Or even a new generation of thinking machines of some sort?)

However, we also know that the group attacking the HM’s also created those beast-humans (I forget what they were called at the moment). Genetic engineering and manipulation is definitely the trademark of the Tleilaxu... and the Face Dancers are another result of genetic engineering. That may not be a coincidence.

Of course, there’s also the Mysterious Individual’s rather dismissive attitude towards gholas ("He’s welcome to them..."). Based on the previous assumption that those beast-humans were genetically engineered, this seems contradictory. Or could it be the evolved Face Dancers considered the use of gholas to be an evolutionary dead end? Ah! That would make perfect sense, considering that gholas are basically clones, which will effectively stop evolutionary changes dead in their tracks!

Also, making that threat of the Phantom Menace (pardon the pun) attacking the Honored Matres would create a very interesting parallel, considering how the Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tleilax were constantly at odds over the millennia. If the Honored Matres were the outgrowth (or perversion) of the Bene Gesserit, then it might make sense that the Mysterious Menace (that better?) is an outgrowth of the Bene Tleilax.

One very interesting thing about those Mysterious Individuals (who may or may not be of the Mysterious Menace), is that one of them was female. There were never any Tleilaxu females— just those disgusting Tleilaxu axlotl tanks. So one could take that difference either (1) as evidence that there’s no connection between the MI’s and the Tleilaxu, or (2) as evidence that they’re definitely an evolution of the Face Dancers and the Tleilaxu. (Heh, doesn’t prove anything either way, though...)

Looking back, it occurrs to me that Chapterhouse: Dune could probably be one of the most successful works of fiction in recent history— simply because it’s provoked so much thought and discussion about its meaning and its intent. In a way, it’s actually good that Frank Herbert never wrote Dune 7... although if he intended to write it, I’m still very eager to know what he had in mind! We’ll see how closely his successors, son Brian Herbert and co-writer Kevin Anderson, adhere to whatever he had planned. Given the excellent nature of the four prequels I’ve read so far, I’m very optimistic.

And I suppose, in a way, that’s the entire point of Dune, isn’t it?