Dune has often been called the science-fiction equivalent of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but compared to that oeuvre we have almost no scholarship about the development of the Dune saga. Certainly nothing like Christopher Tolkien’s fantastic History of Middle-earth series exists. Fortunately, The Road to Dune helps to remedy that, at least partially. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson provide an earlier draft of Dune, deleted chapters, as well as letters from Frank Herbert to his publisher.
The early draft of Dune – titled Spice Planet – provides a fascinating look at Frank Herbert’s creative process. Superficially, the story is recognizable. It covers many of the same themes as the final version of Dune, including pseudo-religious spice trances and political scheming. However, there are no Fremen on the planet and Leto does not have a son! Instead, Leto himself is the main protagonist. The story is much more streamlined than the published novel. It’s hard to imagine it becoming a science fiction classic without the plots within plots, but it’s passable.
The deleted chapters are also quite interesting. Most of them provide additional background information about the politics of the Dune universe. The chapters actually help answer questions I’d always had about the setting (for example, the Great Houses agreed upon the Great Convention because planets are vulnerable to nuclear attack from space). Some of the secondary characters also received more development during the trip from Caladan to Arrakis. These chapters would have slowed the story down even more in the beginning of the novel, so I understand why Frank Herbert removed them. Nevertheless, they should be required reading for Dune fans because they provide important context.
Even more interesting are the deleted chapters from Dune Messiah. Frank Herbert wrote a completely different ending for the novel, one that resulted in even more deaths. Apparently, Herbert had not decided to write Children of Dune until relatively late in the process.
Overall, The Road to Dune is required reading for fans of the Dune saga. It’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a History of… series for this franchise. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson missed an opportunity to provide a definitive “making of” account. There’s relatively little analysis or commentary on the texts. At the least, Brian Herbert could have pointed out the differences between the deleted chapters and the final text. For example, do we know why Frank Herbert remove the deleted chapters? Do those chapters actually conflict with the final text? Again, readers looking for analysis on par with Christopher Tolkien’s will be disappointed. Hopefully, the book will inspire more research into Frank Herbert’s writing of the saga.
My journey through Dune continues next week with Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary about the film adaptation that never was…