After I finished reading Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time years ago, I put down the book, fairly certain I would not be returning to that fictional universe. Although it was a science fiction classic and I appreciated its importance to literature overall, it just wasn’t for me…or so it seemed.
I wasn’t feeling the magic of the spice in the sands of Arrakis back then, but I definitely am now. I literally haven’t stopped thinking about the world of Dune since I watched Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation back in October. I saw the movie twice in theaters, watched it once at home on HBO Max, and have already pre-ordered the special edition Blu-ray from Target. My phone background has been Star Wars related for years, with no interruptions, until just recently when I saw some gorgeous art inspired by the Dune film on Twitter (don’t worry, Star Wars, you’re still first in my heart when it comes to pop culture).
While of course I’m thrilled that Warner Bros. greenlit a Dune sequel for 2023, I didn’t want to wait that long for more Dune content in my life. After loving the film so much, I decided it was time to give the Dune novel another chance, even though it didn’t really speak to me initially.
This time, reading Dune has been an entirely different (and much more positive!) experience.
Although the first time I encountered the story of Dune was through a print copy of the novel, I decided to revisit the story as an audiobook, based on my husband’s recommendation. I’m currently listening to an unabridged version narrated by Scott Brick that features a full voice cast, sound effects, and a musical score. It was a very long wait to check out this audiobook from the library – a testament to how the movie has sparked renewed interest in the book – and I was immediately captivated. I can feel the suspense building, chapter by chapter, and the audiobook immerses me in the world every time I hit play.
So, what changed? Why does a story I didn’t really care for years ago mean so much to me now?
I’ve always felt that people shouldn’t be pressured to like a book just because it’s been critically praised or is considered to be a classic. Your reaction to a story is a very personal thing, and if it just doesn’t appeal to you, you shouldn’t feel ashamed. The world would be a very boring place if people were forced to have identical opinions about pop culture.
At the same time, just because a story doesn’t speak to you right now, in your current phase of life, doesn’t mean it will never speak to you. I think the first time I read Dune, I was expecting a story like Star Wars or Star Trek, and Dune really isn’t that. In fact, it feels a lot closer to Game of Thrones (but in space!). During my original reading of Dune, I wasn’t very familiar with Game of Thrones; however, after binge-watching the entire TV show during the summer of 2019, it’s now one of my favorite fictional universes. My newfound Game of Thrones fandom definitely primed me to be more interested in the story of Dune.
For me, the Dune film also was a fresh entry point into this fictional universe. That first trailer did everything a good trailer should do – it teased the story, hinting at all the juicy political intrigue taking place behind the scenes; showed off the beautiful cinematography; and caught my interest with a cast of actors I already liked/admired. Then, once I fell in love with the movie, I was willing to admit it might be worthwhile to return to the book.
Due to its sound design and full voice cast, the audiobook is almost more like an audio drama. The story surrounds you when you listen to it, and makes it easier to track some of the long, complex discussions that take place throughout the course of the story.
If, like me, you found the original text a little intimidating, I’d definitely recommend checking out the audiobook, as it makes the story even more accessible. It’s 21 hours long, which I know seems like a long time, but I’m already 40% through and I wasn’t even aware I’d already committed eight hours of my life to listening to this book.
Understandably, some of the subplots from the book don’t make it into Villeneuve’s film, which is already fairly dense and packed with world-building. There’s a cool subplot about the House of Atreides searching for a traitor (if you’ve seen the movie, you know that’s Dr. Yueh, but he isn’t the person suspicion first falls on in the book). You also learn a lot more about the Mentats, who are basically human computers in a world that bans artificial intelligence (a fascinating concept and probably worthy of a spinoff series all on its own).
I’m impressed by how well Villeneuve’s film captures the tone and style of the book, and so far the changes he made to the original narrative have made sense. If you adapted Dune verbatim, it would be way too long to work as a blockbuster movie. For me, listening to the audiobook feels like experiencing an expanded edition of the film. It doesn’t take away from my love for the film, it just adds extra layers of meaning.
What I haven’t decided yet is whether I’ll listen all the way to the end of the audiobook, or stop at the point in the story where the movie ends, so I’ll be surprised when I watch Villaneuve’s Dune: Part Two. Maybe this is a somewhat controversial opinion, but when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations, I actually like to watch the movie first. For me, it’s a good way to meet the characters and get an overview of the story, and then when I read the book, I find even more to get excited about. I feel like if I read the book first, sometimes I get caught up in analyzing what’s changed, what’s been added or subtracted from the narrative, etc.
Either way, I’m fully invested in the story of Dune now, and I’m glad the movie helped me rediscover this world.