In an article about Dune, a desert landscape with the sun in the sky
Incredible world building, characters, terminology, religion and more fill "Dune," though it may be easier to follow the movie if the novel is read first. (Illustration by Amber Duan, Pratt Institute)

Why You Should Read ‘Dune’ Before Watching the Movie

The popular science fiction novel is infamously complex, and you may understand Frank Herbert’s world better if you read the book first.

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In an article about Dune, a desert landscape with the sun in the sky

The popular science fiction novel is infamously complex, and you may understand Frank Herbert’s world better if you read the book first.

In October 2021, the highly anticipated theatrical reboot of “Dune” arrives. With a star-studded cast, an amazing soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and a promising trailer, people who haven’t read the book should still be excited for the movie. While the film will likely be enjoyable whether or not viewers have prior knowledge of the storyline, there are numerous reasons why reading “Dune” before heading to theaters can be beneficial.

“Dune” as a Beautifully Convoluted Story

Just as J.R.R Tolkien has been dubbed the godfather of the fantasy genre, Frank Herbert — author of the “Dune” series — has likewise been credited for founding modern science fiction. In 1965, Herbert released the first book in his series, titled “Dune.” It took an endless number of rejections before Herbert finally got his epic published. At the time, editors believed “Dune” was too long, too dense and too complex to appeal to the public, but they were proved wrong. When the novel finally hit the bookshelves, it became a wild bestseller.

With this wave of success, Herbert continued on to write five more books in the series. While these subsequent stories are must-reads as well, the original “Dune” epic is the book readers should pick up before watching the imminent film reboot. The new movie — starring actors Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya — will follow the plot of this first book.

Herbert’s “Dune” is an admittedly lengthy book. But every single page is beautifully written, containing unbelievably rich world building and character development, leaving readers hungry for more despite the size of the story. However, readers may spend the first bit of the story confused by the many places, characters and made-up words. With patience, however, the book will unfold into a stunning, intricate tale of honorable dynasties at war with corrupt ones. It is a story filled with spirituality, destiny, sacrifice, coming-of-age and more.

Soon into the story, readers will passionately root for the Atreides family. They are the honorable protagonists who have been coerced into moving from their luxurious Earth-like planet, Caladan, to the merciless desert planet of Arrakis. Here, water is the most coveted resource for its inhabitants, enormous sand worms are a constant threat and opposing powers are constantly grappling for control over the expensive spice melange.

As readers can see, there is so much happening within Herbert’s universe. With such a complex plot, it would behoove people to dive into these pages before attempting to take on the movie. While the movie — with a current rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes — seems like a promising attempt to recreate such a behemoth of a story, consumers will still be better equipped if they enter the theater with prior knowledge from the book itself. Diving into every minuscule written detail will help people understand things that the movie may not have time to explain in such a short window. It’s also just fun to imagine the universe of “Dune” in one’s own head before watching how cinematic professionals interpret Herbert’s work.

Simply Owning a Copy of “Dune” Is Useful

Readers may be worried they won’t have enough time to tackle such a dense book before the movie’s release, and that’s completely understandable. Not only is it a long book, but it is also a fairly convoluted read that naturally makes the digestion of each page slower. Herbert’s sophisticated writing, the constant use of made-up words that every reader is initially unfamiliar with and the juggling of the book’s many characters make “Dune” not exactly an “easy” read, despite how worthwhile it is.

If you find yourself with this concern, don’t fret. Even just owning a copy of “Dune” and bringing it to the theater or glancing at it before watching the movie will already help when it comes to understanding the plot. Herbert provides a thorough appendix at the end of his book that explains the characters, dynasties, made-up terminology, complicated religion and more. This brief overview of the world building will be of immense use for viewers to have on hand.

A quick glance at Appendix 1, for example, will teach people about the complicated ecology of Arrakis, the desert planet where a majority of the plot takes place. Appendix 2 will explain the equally convoluted religion of Arrakis, namely the beliefs of the Fremen, the desert people of Arrakis who play a central role in the story.

Appendix 3 discusses the Bene Gesserit, a galactic organization of spiritual women who possess special beliefs and powers that make them highly coveted and dangerous. For some context, Paul Atreides’ mother is a Bene Gesserit. Even in the book, these women and their abilities can be slightly obscure at times, so having this appendix on hand can help viewers understand characters like Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson.

Appendix 4 is particularly important, as it provides a rundown of the main characters of the story, which will be especially invaluable to review right before watching the movie. Herbert’s appendix also includes a complete list of terminology that he has created; this list will also be key to review before watching “Dune.”

Of course, reading “Dune” is the option that will best prepare people for watching the movie, because readers can then avoid spending too much time being confused over plot details. If this is not feasible, though, simply having a copy of the book will assist in understanding this complex universe.

This is an epic of a movie that viewers will want to have prior knowledge for — even just a little bit of information will maximize the theatrical experience so that there won’t be any time wasted trying to piece together things that the book or appendix will more clearly explain. And, who knows, you may find yourself so enamored by the movie that you’ll be reading Herbert’s entire “Dune” series anyway. So, go out and buy a copy — you won’t regret it.

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Sonia Noorbakhsh

UC Berkeley
English

Hello! My name is Sonia. I have always loved anything pertaining to English. In my free time I enjoy traveling, reading and drinking plenty of coffee.

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