I’ve been rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune. I’ve read it several times since my teens, but this is the first reread in a decade. Now that I’m reading with both eyes open: one to be entertained and one to see what Herbert did and learn from it, I’m finding brand new things to like and dislike about the novel. Despite some flaws, it’s still captivating.
Like many, I came to Dune through David Lynch’s movie. Dune purists hated it. The critics thought it was laughable. It was overwrought, overacted, and, in the Alan Smithee extended version, way overlong.
I loved it. I still do.
It’s colored my reading the book. I can’t help but read Paul’s dialogue in Kyle MacLachlan’s too-precise voice. Linda Hunt has become the Shadout Mapes for me. The late, great Robert Jordan was unfortunately miscast as Duncan Idaho, a small role in the film but a massive one in the books. Can’t forget Sting as Feyd-Rautha (in later years, when my friends and I played Avalon Hill’s awesome Dune strategy board game, we’d always refer to him as “Lovely Feyd” in a breathy Kenneth McMillan voice).
If I’d read the book first, I’d no doubt have a different opinion of both it and the film. Better or worse, I don’t know. The book was definitely better: a typical claim.
Contrast that with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. Same situation: I’d seen the movie first, then read the book. The difference here is that the movie was much, much better. It was tighter, more cohesive, more entertaining. The book had some weird subplots that included a mostly superfluous Johnny Fontaine and a young woman who needed an operation on her private parts, neither of which were connected. Characters came in and out with little rhyme or reason. It was a fun read, but didn’t do much for me.
Our current media culture tells us that the book is no longer enough. If it’s popular, it needs a movie. Or a television series. Or a movie sequel. I don’t attach a value judgment to this: it is what it is. Before I became a dad, I went to see a lot of movies, and I still like to watch them when I have the time.
What the media culture creates is a crossover effect for the book. The Dune phenomenon I mentioned earlier can’t be avoided. David Lynch’s bizarre vision of Frank Herbert’s universe has, in part, become my vision of it. I know I’m not alone in this. What’s seen can’t be unseen. Lynch has put himself into my copy of the book.
The late Puzo and equally late Herbert aside, do the authors of these books know what’s been done to them in the minds of their readers? Translating them to a new medium doesn’t change the words printed on the page, but it does alter our perception of them. They no longer exist in discrete vacuums; one format informs and alters the other.