S. Mullins: The Reversal of the Hero Myth

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S. Mullins: The Reversal of the Hero Myth

Postby SandRider » Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:41 pm

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2007

Reversal of the Hero Myth in Frank Herbert's Dune Series
January 10, 2007 by Seth Mullins


Portrayal of the Messiah as a Danger to the Human Spirit




Frank Herbert's Dune books comprise one of the most successful science fiction epics of all time

and have been given the distinction, by critics and a multitude of fans alike, as standing alongside the

greatest achievements of the human imagination. The recent publication of the saga's conclusion - in

a duology that begins with Hunters of Dune, written by Brian Herbert in collaboration with

acclaimed author Kevin J. Anderson - fanned the flames of Dune's mythology by reviving the central

figure of its original story: Paul Muad 'Dib.

With the publication of Children of Dune in 1976, Frank Herbert completed the first trilogy of his

great masterwork in a way that many readers - particularly fans of the first book - found

disconcerting. Paul's achievement was seen, in retrospect, not as a sweeping victory but rather as

something profoundly tragic for both himself and the people who followed him. He was

overwhelmed by the religious fanaticism that he initially stirred and became a desert vagabond

throughout the years preceeding his death. This portrayal of the Messiah as an anti-hero was

confusing to many fans who'd been conditioned to expect a protagonist who would serve as the

savior of his people. But betraying our expectations was a large part of Herbert's intent.

He once expressed in an interview his concerns about the dangers of hero worship: "I had this idea

that superheroes were disastrous for humans". In order to explore this theme in his fiction, Frank

Herbert had to portray Paul Muad 'Dib in his inexorable rise as an irresistible and almost flawless

leader of men. The secret lay in the ways in which Paul could use his prescient powers to bend his

will to the forces of the cosmos. Other factions, such as the Imperium, the Bene Gesserit, and the

Spacing Guild, try to resist the constant flux of the universe and create a safe and predictable future

for themselves - and this results in their ruin. Paul prevails because he understands the currents of

both history and the incipient future and learns to live in accord with them while keeping his freedom

intact.


In this way, the first Dune book ends on a triumphant note: all the repressive powers of the Empire

are brought to their knees and Paul has become the religious avatar of his people, the Fremen, and

the new Emperor. From this place, however, things quickly unwravel over the course of the ne
xt two books. Paul's prescience locks him into an awareness of a future that he cannot change;

what's worse, his Fremen followers begin to resemble much about the enemy that they'd once

opposed. The reason for this is that they behaved much like the repressive order of the old Empire:

they'd rallied around a leader in order to carve a predictable existence for themselves in an uncertain

universe. In raising Paul Muad 'Dib to the status of Messiah, they abandoned much of their freedom

and self-responsibility.

The myth of the Hero's Journey is meant to illustrate for us the ways in which we can become

conscious and self-sufficient - a law unto ourselves. In depicting the tragedy of Paul Muad 'Dib,

Frank Herbert is showing us what can happen when mankind ignores this inner message of the myth

and instead chooses to glorify those who live it out. His books carry a warning to any who would

follow a system - whether religious, political, or scientific - that promises a safe and assured future

for its followers at the cost of their own freedom of choice.
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