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Letter from Nirupama Raghavan to her American ‘uncle'.

Dear Uncle Bob,

I was recently doing Aristotle's Poetics with my mother in relation to my Literature studies, and as I couldn't remember his examples, I had to draw parallels in books I had read. While I was discussing this with my mother, I told her that a majority of the fantasy books that you or Garry Uncle had given me were based on ancient cultures taken slightly out of context and refreshed. I quoted several authors, but she couldn't follow because, very simply, she hadn't read any of those books. Since you are the only person I really know who reads fantasy - Garry Uncle quit reading those a few years ago - I felt I could discuss knowledgeably with you on this.

One of my first observations on fantasy:

Most authors base their books on ancient cultures. Some of them do it deliberately, like Drake. Others probably mix some history in unintentionally. For example, Tsuranuanni, the planet on the other side of the rift of Raymond Feist's Midkemia, is quite clearly ancient Japan. The Empire Trilogy explores the interaction of West and East. Arrakis of Frank Herbert's books is almost the same, mixing in the West as the Empire, represented by Jessica and Leto Atreides; the Chinese? Indian? - philosophy of the Tleilaxu; and the Islamic view of the Fremen. Paul is a mixture of Fremen and Atreides; Duncan Idaho is the compound of Tleilaxu and Atreides, the essential ‘civilized man.' Paul forces the Atreides culture into the Fremen, creating a dangerous mixture of fanaticism and sophistication. Which is probably why his successor is Leto II, nearly immortal, to balance the factors. This is also a common rule in history - if one king rapidly expands his empire, as a warrior, the next will essentially be a gifted administrator. In cases where this has not happened, the kingdom has collapsed. Then there are two probabilities - the grandson of the warrior will reinstate it, or it will decline into oblivion.

Paul Atreides is an unwilling tyrant. His abilities force him to rule; every step he takes is a historical event. The excerpts Herbert provides before each chapter prove that. Such a responsibility is taken in one of three ways. One is that the subject of such idolatry will succumb to his image and become shallow. The lives of most of today's actors and pop stars prove that. The second is that, again like some actors, they become recluses, hating what they do but doing it because there is no option. The third, and rarest, is that in spite of everything, they retain an objective view and act correctly. There are three Atreides whose lives are chronicled in the Dune books - Leto, Paul, and Leto II. Leto I is the startoff, the catalyst. He is an aristocrat, a leader. Paul is the conqueror, the seer. His flaw is that he is unable to come to terms with who and what he is. His son Leto does not have his vision, but he has his experience, and is able to think out logically what Paul had to do intuitively. He is the one who stabilizes the entire galaxy. There is a concept in science called the edge of chaos. The edge of chaos is the boundary between chaos and order. For a civilization to flourish, it must be held at that edge. Too much order stagnates a society, and too much chaos collapses it. Paul takes the Fremen out into the galaxy, and total chaos ensues. His son clamps down on and freezes the social structure, and when we next see Arrakis, it has lost its impetus, though not its significance. All structures of power - the Guild, the Bene Gesserit, the Fish Speakers - all have renewed their old rivalry immediately after Leto's death. Which is also a standard pattern. If a king has conquered several countries and consolidated them, when the peak of his achievement declines, the countries fall apart and regain their earlier status. It has happened in the wake of Alexander, after the Mughals, after the British Empire, after Soviet Russia, to name a few. In war, chaos is always stronger than order. Therefore the Fremen, who are representations of chaos, win against the feudal empire, until the best of the Fremen and the Atreides are united by Paul, who is then the edge of chaos, and the resulting mix overwhelms the unprepared and decadent rule.

In fact, in many ways, the Dune Chronicles resemble your book. Especially the first three: Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune. Both you and Frank Herbert speak of touching something beyond the realm of human perception. In both books, the primary contact is completely solitary. In both, it is initiated by a program calculated to bring about that effect. In Herbert's novels, it is the Bene Gesserit's breeding program. In The Legend of Brahman, it is a series of classes introducing everyone to the subject in hopes of finding those who have the ability to understand what is being said. It is rather like playing Battleship - once you make a hit, you can sink the ship easily. The purposes, however, are vastly different. The Bene Gesserit intrude upon the individual. In a concept in the book ‘The Runelords' - I forget the author - there is such a thing as a ‘personal circle' - which must in no way be impinged upon and cannot be touched against anyone's will without harming the individual. The Bene Gesserit intrude upon Paul Atreides as they have intruded upon his ancestors, and in him the stress reaches breaking strain. It produces a reaction that is the buildup of every emotion ever felt against them that comes out in a titanic destruction of their entire plan. Their whole purpose is destroyed when Reverend Mother Mohiam tells the fifteen-year-old Paul that they could help his father but would not. He understands the undercurrent - it isn't essential! - and it shapes his opinion of them. Had the teachers in your book intruded upon your hero's personal circle, it would have turned their plan on its head. Since he was the one whom they sought, he could also have negated whatever they stood for. Another thing that struck me was that in the beginning, an artificial means is used to procure the same effect that later becomes automatic. It also moves from the unknown to the known. The main difference between your hero and Paul is that Paul knows fully that his actions will create havoc, and that no matter what he does, he is powerless to prevent it one way or the other. That complete knowledge breaks him. Even when he is blinded, he is not absolved of his responsibility/necessity to act. The idea that despite being blind, he can see because he lives in the future, and therefore knows everything to the point of his death, is enough to finish him off. His flaw is that he feels bound to fulfil the future as seen by him. The sheer inevitability of his life is what kills him as a person, which is why he chooses to come back anonymously as the Preacher to undo his actions, seed enough dissatisfaction that his son does not have to go through what he does. Unfortunately, due to his own resignation, he dies exactly as he foresaw, and his son is forced to transform. This is all I have for the present. I have written this from my memory of both your book and the Dune series. Please send me your comments on this.

With love,


book | by Dr. Radut