The Hero of Dune
Muad’Dib as an Archetype
The protagonist of Frank Herbert’s Dune and the choices made by Paul Muad’Dib Atreides are best understood in the context of Joseph Campbell’s heroic monomyth. In this light he is both heroic and humanized.
Paul is called into his epic adventure twice: once to leave his home-planet and again later when he flees for his life into the wilderness of Dune. In both of these circumstances the adventure is pushed upon him and he must accept it—a device frequently used in prophetic stories from various religious traditions. Notice that Moses, Siddhartha the Buddha, and Mohammed each according to religious tradition were forced into their lives as leaders of their faiths through events beyond their control. Prophets rarely choose their role.
As Paul makes his way through the arid wilderness he comes to the attention of Stilgar, the Fremen leader who will become a surrogate father and guide on his path to becoming a legend. Before greatness, though, Paul must become a Fremen, which means accepting their ways and engaging in what Campbell calls a brother-battle. Paul must kill Jamis because tribal rule demands it. In doing so Paul enters into the true adventure of his life and is renamed as a Fremen, Muad’Dib. Because of his genetic lineage and his exposure to the spice he can foresee certain future events making some of his heroic tasks, such as defeating Harkonnen attackers and masterminding the rebellion on Dune easier.
Prescience, however, becomes a variety of weakness in his heroic quest because he seeks perfect foreknowledge. This craving leads to his symbolic death when he ingests the poisonous Water of Life in an attempt to see into different possible futures, wishing to avoid one where he is responsible for the deaths of millions. He is ultimately revived when given enough time by the manipulative actions of his mother, Jessica, and consort, Chani. Upon his revival Paul not only has the superhuman foreknowledge he sought but also the fanatical loyalty of the Fremen who interpret his actions in a religious context. Paul is still a human but the Fremen see him as a messiah who will lead them against their oppressors.
Returning to the world stage is accomplished in what Campell calls a “magical flight.” In this instance, Paul rides a Sandworm and leads the Fremen to attack the imperial leaders who have lived for too long on the labor and natural resource of the Fremen. This triumphant return is a resurrection, seeing as Paul was assumed dead by his imperial foes and friends alike. Though his superhuman insight all but assures Paul’s victory here, this is but a secondary climax when compared to the true climax Paul achieved by increasing his awareness and becoming a leader of the Fremen community.
The monomythic circle is complete here. Paul finds personal justice in punishing those who murdered his father, destroyed his family, and left him to die in Dune’s arid wastes. On a personal level he has achieved a leap in human awareness, granting him the ability to foresee the ways he can shape the future. Paul’s victory is also a victory for social justice in that the Fremen are raised up with him into the positions of influence and authority that were denied them by the despotism of the old empire, and now they reap the benefits of their natural resources instead of being exploited for them. Though Dune is a science-fiction story set in the distant future, Herbert’s story is a timeless one, echoing the stories of many other mythic and religious figures and built on mythic patterns such as those explored by Joseph Campbell.
Frank Herbert's Dune Trailer
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© 2009 Seth Tomko