Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Pondering an unusual absence on Dune

Well, I'm in the midst of re-reading Dune, one of my favorite books of all time. It has been a while since I last read it, so I'm finding I didn't remember it as well as I thought I did. Some of the scenes I don't remember, and some of them are playing out differently than I recall. Which makes for a very good read. I'm having a ball.

Frank Herbert was at the height of his talents while producing this work, and I appreciate the intricacies of the plot and the focus in his style. I also love the richness of the universe he has created, and the hard purpose of the characters as they struggle for existence on a barely habitable planet.

But for all of Herbert's grand concepts that he sets forth in Dune (terraforming, galactic politics, the metaphorical and literal power of language, etc.), as well as the barely workable ideas he explores (ornithopters, glow globes, still tents, and the like), I find that he left out one very important detail, one that seems as obvious as it is absent.

I'm talking about sunglasses.

They are not to be found anywhere in Dune. It seems almost a given that people on Arrakis would protect their eyes from the ruthless sun, but instead Herbert goes to great pains to show how exposed everyone's eyes are. The eyes -- and their colorations -- even become a dominant theme in the story. A prolonged existence on the planet and the resultant exposure to the all-present and all-important spice causes a physical change that results in a blue color throughout the scleras and irises of the eyes. The native Fremen have deep blue-on-blue eyes, and newcomers to the planet have traditional eye colorings that eventually become bluer with the passage of time on the planet.

Herbert exposes the characters' eyes to show how the amount of blue can be seen as an indication of status. In fact, that's often the only body part showing on the Fremen, who are covered in stillsuits, masks, and robes. The deep blue of the Fremen eyes shows that this is a people who have consumed spice in their diet for all of their lives. In contrast, the lightly tinged blue eyes of the smugglers show these people are supplementing their food with off-world fare. And the stark white scleras of Stilgar's prisoners alert him to the possibility that they may be dangerous, that they might be spies or assassins from off world.

And I would think it would be newly arrived spies and assassins that would want to cover their eyes most of all, to not stand out in a crowd. And what's the easiest way to do that? Sunglasses.

 And I can't see how anyone on Arrakis would begrudge anyone else the habit of wearing shades on such a bright planet.

But Herbert didn't see it that way, apparently. He relishes his descriptions of the eyes, and he treasures the way characters respond to each others gazes. Perhaps he did think about including eye coverings but then thought better of it to show how important it was to see the variations in colorings. Perhaps he thought true desert people don't need shades. Or perhaps the thought never even occurred to him. I'm not sure what it is, but I found it a bit jarring when I suddenly realized that all these people on this desert planet were squinting for no good reason. All they needed was a pair of shades.

Later, when I finish the book, I might give a little review. But, for now, sunglasses.

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