Interview by AMC’s Clayton Neuman
Dune author Frank Herbert’s son discusses picking up his father’s threads in Winds of Dune, out this month, and his hopes for Peter Berg’s film adaptation of the saga.
Q: The Winds of Dune is part of your Heroes of Dune series of prequels. What was the inspiration to go back?
A: When [co-author] Kevin [J. Anderson] and I started writing books together, he wanted to do Dune 7, which was the book my dad had not written before he passed away. I wanted to do The Butlerian Jihad and go back 10,000 years. So we settled on a third option — we’re doing the core characters of Dune when they’re all older. Winds of Dune focuses on Jessica, and it’s about her reaction to this jihad that’s going on — billions of people have been killed in her son’s name. My dad was a reporter and he liked to look at the myths under which we lived, and he would flip the myth of a charismatic leader: Isn’t it great we have this wonderful leader, but what if it’s the other way? Hitler and bin Laden were charismatic too.
Q: Was it difficult to write a Dune prequel that doesn’t conflict with canon?
A: It was a big challenge. Kevin has said he felt daunted. I felt like I was ready for this test. In fact before we wrote a word together I spent a year doing a concordance of all six Frank Herbert Dune novels. So I know on what pages all the Bene Gesserit are described and the eye color of the characters — I can go right to the pages.
Q: Did Frank Herbert leave you any notes to guide you in writing these prequels?
A: When dad died he was using a yellow highlighter on Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune. That’s all I knew. Then I got a call from an estate attorney who asked me what I wanted to do with two safety deposit boxes of my dad’s. I didn’t know they existed. So we went down there, and in them were the notes to Dune 7 — it was a 30-page outline. So I went up in my attic and found another 1,000 pages of working notes. As far as filling in these stories, Dad would say for example, “Between Dune and Dune Messiah it’s been 11 years and billions of people were killed in the jihad.” That’s very enticing. So we’re staying right on the Frank Herbert thread of his story line.
Q: Will you continue to write more Dune novels after you’ve finished with Heroes?
A: You could write them forever, but would they be substantial enough to be a major Dune novel? Maybe there could be Young Adult; there could be graphic novels that take little aspects of it. But we think there are perhaps three more Dune novels after Heroes. We may go on to the founding of the great schools: Dad says there are five, but we’re going to do it in three. You’ve got the Bene Gesserit — that would be The Sisterhood of Dune; then there’s The Mentats of Dune and The Swordmasters of Dune.
Q: Why do you think it’s been so hard to adapt Dune into a feature film?
A: The original movie by David Lynch was really popular overseas. But it was completed right when Universal Pictures changed their presidency, and the new president did not like the movie and he canceled a bunch of reviewers that he thought would be unfriendly. So it bombed over here, and I remember people talking to me who had not seen the movie, and they’d say, “Isn’t it a horrible movie?” And I said, “Well you have to see it, there are a lot of things that are very good.” It just doesn’t follow the plot in all places. It feels like Dune, has a great cast, and I like it. But it’s not the place to enter Dune. Then the two TV series followed the plot wonderfully.
Q: Are you optimistic about Peter Berg’s upcoming adaptation?
A: Kevin and I are technical advisors on it. We sat in with them for a meeting about the script, and we gave them a lot of information and our feelings about the need for authenticity. They want to do a classic interpretation of the novel, and it would follow the plot more carefully. But it’s such a huge canvas. And so we’re in the script-writing phase right now, and we’re hopeful it gets the green-light beyond that. And if the movie does well, then there will be additional Dune movies and perhaps some TV specials and that kind of thing.
Q: Do you think it’s an appropriate time for a remake since the plot so closely parallels what’s going on in the Middle East right now?
A: Absolutely. Look at all the predictive qualities that my dad had. The interesting thing about Frank Herbert is that he was living so far in the future, and he could just see how things came out.