Do you think Dune is a white savior narrative*? Well, you’re wrong.

To accept that interpretation is to re-inscribe an account of the novel promulgated by adolescent white boys since the first of Frank Herbert’s Dune books came out in the 1960s.

Spoilers ahead.

* [For an explanation of how I define a white savior narrative, see “Coda III: Defining the Savior Narrative & the Problem of Fremen Agency.”]

The Authorial Intent to Critique the Savior

In a 1969 interview, Herbert directly situated Dune as a critique of T.E. Lawrence and other instances of “western exploitation” of “the avatar power”:

We’ve [“western man”] set out our missionaries to do our dirty work for us, and then come along behind them with the certain belief that we are right in anything that we do, because God has told us so — God and the person of the avatar. …

Something in particular has, more than anything else, kept me up at night after the Trumpocalypse: Only days after the election, PEN America promoted Ayaan Hirsi Ali across its social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr). Ali has called for a “war on Islam,” which she dubbed “the new fascism” and a “destructive, nihilistic death cult,” justifying these generalizations by reference to her unfortunate personal suffering and experiences. To claim “Islam” is a universal, monolithic category, as Ali assumes, is the definition of stereotyping — the equivalent of characterizing black people by reference to “gang culture” and “the inner city” or Latinos as “rapists and criminals.” I could go on for pages about Ali’s Islamophobic neoconservative conspiracy theories, but others have already done so better than I could have (“further reading,” below), and, anyway, PEN’s promotion could be a case of “judge the ideas, not the person.” But, sadly, it’s not. …

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