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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

Culture and Water in Dune

J. Stephen Conn (2009)

Welcome to High Plains Radio Readers Book club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of Water and Replenishment in our Book Club Series. Rediscovering an epic science fiction title, Dune, written in 1965 by Frank Herbert.

Book I of Dune sets the scene of the political volatile environment between the Houses, specifically the Atreides House. Events of Barron’s well thought out plan to annihilate the Atreides House thickens the plot, and yet main character, Paul Atreides is a greater threat than the Barron is willing to consider. Barron’s perfect plan hinges on a traitor in the Atreides House, a traitor who becomes a wild card and this takes place on a desert planet caked Arrakis, a.k.a. Dune.

Throughout the novel water is seen as a very precious commodity. There are natives on the desert planet of Arrakis known as Fremen-a civilization that lives on the barren land that has very little water. The culture around the Fremen is deeply rooted in the lack of this natural resource which leads to interesting customs such as spiting on a table, which is an unknown custom to the powers that be of the Atreides House. Water is scarce and valuable and seen as commodity to be used as a way to create bonds of temporary understanding, as character Idaho explains, “Remember how precious water is here, Sire. That was a token of respect” (chapter 12).

Water is the primary resources in which civilizations have started and abruptly ended, so it would make sense that customs and traditions would develop around this precious resource. The type of customs and traditions around water differ in purpose as it does in meaning. Water is source that is viewed by some as a purifier for religious purposes. Water is viewed by some as having magical properties, such as the fountain of youth. There are some who view water as a god or similar, and as such provide gifts and/or dances to ensure water is made plentiful. It is interesting how we treat other people depends on something like water.