Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dune: Part 6: Initiation Rituals

In our last reading, Paul and Jessica continued their flight into the desert as both their friends and foes regrouped after the catastrophe at Arrakeen.

Kynes is in a bad situation. He gave shelter to Paul and Jessica as they fled the Harkonnens and was captured. Since he is an Imperial Agent on the planet, the Harkonnens do not dare kill him outright; so they have left him out in the desert without a stillsuit to let the elements finish him off. But he has spent his entire life surviving in the desert and he is not dead yet.

As he struggles to hang onto life, grasping for hopes of rescue, he hears his father lecturing him on ecology. Re-reading the book this time around, something occurred to me that I had overlooked before. I had always assumed that his father's appearance was a hallucination; but perhaps it wasn't. The spice has awareness-enhancing properties, and later on in the book and the sequels we learn that Paul and his sister (whom we haven't met yet) and the Fremen's own Reverend Mothers have the ability to access ancestral lives. Kynes is lying directly on top of a pre-spice mass, the strange biological fermentation process that produces the spice melange. Perhaps this concentration of spice is enhancing his own latent abilities, whatever they might be, allowing him to hear his dead father's memories. Perhaps.

His father chides him for getting involved with the boy, and warns him that a Hero could be the worst thing that could happen to his people. This is an important theme in the book; the dark undercurrent to the surface adventure plot of the Special One seeking his Rightful Place. In then end, Kynes' efforts to stay alive come to nothing. The spice mass blows and he is engulfed by the desert, just as he has been sucked into the tragedy of the House Atreides.

Paul and Jessica have been searching for Fremen. Well, now the Fremen have found them; led by Stilgar, the Fremen leader of Stiech Tabr whom we met in an earlier chapter. Kynes has sent orders to the Fremen to look for the Atreides fugitives and aid them. Stilgar is willing to save Paul, who may be the Lisan Al-Gib, the Mahdi promised by prophecy, and who in any case is young enough to train in the Fremen ways. But what of his mother? Yes, she might be the Reverend Mother also mentioned in prophecy, but what if she isn't? What good is she?

She's good enough to kick butt, that's what she's good for. "I am the mother of the boy... In part, his strength which you admire is a product of my training." And she goes on to prove it by disarming Stilgar and grabbing him in a judo hold. This impresses him; the Fremen are unpracticed in what they call "the weirding way", the advance techniques of unarmed combat that the Bene Gesserit know. He agrees to let her and Paul live if she'll teach his fighters the weirding way.

During the confrontation, Paul encounters a familiar face: Chani, the daughter of Kynes, whom he has seen in his earliest prescient dreams; ("Tell me of your homeworld, Usul...")

Paul and Jessica are taken to Stiech Tabr, the refuge of Stilgar's tribe; but their new position in the tribe has not quite been established. Stilgar and Jessica feel each other out about this. The obvious thing to do would be for Stilgar to marry Jessica; but both reject this option, each for his and her own reasons. The Fremen suggests an alternative: that Jessica take over for their tribe's own "Reverend Mother" who is old and may die soon. The B.G.'s Missionaria Protectiva, the program of seeding planets with legends to make them more open to the Bene Gesserit, has succeeded on Arrakis so well that the Fremen have adopted B.G. titles and rituals for their own religion.

But there are still problems. Jamis, one of Stilgar's men, was embarrassed by Paul in the earlier confrontation and bears a grudge. He demands that they prove themselves by combat. Under Fremen custom, Jessica cannot fight for herself; she must be championed by another. Stilgar tries to put a stop to it, but Jamis accuses him of being bewitched by Jessica. The only way to resolve this to everyone's satisfaction will be to let Jamis fight Paul.

The fight is done in the open, without stillsuits, with crysknives, the sacred Fremen weapon carved from a sandworm's tooth. Although Paul is well-trained in fighting, he is accustomed to using personal force shields which block fast attacks. He is quick on the defense, but his habits make him slow in striking, which makes it look to the Fremen like he is toying with Jamis. Also, Paul does not immediately realize that this is a fight to the death; that quarter will be neither given, nor accepted. Adding to his uncertainty, his prescient visions have not shown him this fight; although he has seen a possible future in which he lies dead of a knife wound.

He defeats Jamis and kills him; thus cementing his and his mother's place in the Fremen community. Stilgar recognizes him as a man and gives him the name Usul, meaning the base of the pillar, as his private name to be used by the Stietch Tabr community. (Hm. It just occured to me: "the base" is also the translation of "Al-Qaeda". Interesting) Stilgar also tells Paul to choose a Fremen name of his own, to be his public name. Paul asks what the little desert mouse is called, which he had observed earlier. "We call that one muad'dib," Stilgar says.

Once again, Paul feels destiny tightening around him as he remembers his visions of fanatical legions waging war under the Atreides banner shouting the name "Muad'Dib". "Could I be known among you as Paul-Muad'Dib?" he asks. He hopes this will alter the future somewhat; but he suspects it won't help.

Afterwards, a funeral is held for Jamis. As part of the ritual, the man's fellow tribesmen step forward to claim friendship with Jamis and take one of his possessions. Paul realizes that he too, is expected to take part in the custom.

Slowly, Paul got to his feet.

A sigh passsed around the circle.

Paul felt the diminishement of his self as he advanced into the center of the circle. It was as though he lost a fragment of himself and sought it here. He bent over the mound of belongings, lifted out the baliset. A string twanged softly as it struck against something in the pile.

"I was a friend of Jamis," Paul whispered.

He felt tears burning his eyes, forced more volume into his voice. "Jamis taught me... that ... when you kill ... you pay for it. I wish I'd known Jamis better."

The Fremen are awed by this. "He gives moisture to the dead!" And they gather around to touch his face as if his tears were something sacred.

After the ceremony, Paul learns that as part of Fremen custom, he is entitled to the water recovered from Jamis' corpse. The actual water itself will be stored in the Stietch's reservoir, of course, but Paul is given water counters, tokens which represent his share of the communal wealth. This frankly creeps Paul out, but his mother impresses on him that it is better to abide by the custom than to refuse. Unsure what to do with the water counters, he asks Chani to hold them for him; and when Chani blushes and the Fremen around him chuckle, he realizes that under Fremen custom he's just proposed to her. Stilgar reminds Chani that Paul is still unfamiliar with their ways and advises her to hold his tokens without commitment for the time being.

But after the rituals are over, Paul and Chani sit together getting to know each other. Paul plays a song for her on the baliset he has acquired. A romantic ballad.

Jessica does not like where this is heading.

NEXT: Feyd celebrates his birthday in the Harkonnen fashion, by killing something. Paul inherits something else from Jamis. Jessica takes the Waters of Life and disregards the warning label about "do not take this while pregnant".

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