The adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 book Dune by director Denis Villeneuve is by far the best cinematic adaptation of the story. After two years of its release, the Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya epic is finally coming to Netflix this October. But as intriguing as the film is, the true inspirations behind Herbert’s work are even more fascinating.
Herbert’s 1965 novel expanded into the Dune universe later, extending across numerous works, including books, short stories, comics, games, a television miniseries, and two film adaptations, separated by several decades.
The socioecological themes that run through Dune are apparent from the start. The novel delves into the consequences of actions, particularly those that impact the environment and humanity.
Dune, the epic science fiction saga created by Frank Herbert, has captured the imaginations of readers and viewers for decades with its intricate world-building and complex characters. Yet, beneath the surface of this intergalactic tale lies an astonishing connection to real-world experiments and ecological concerns.
Real US experiments inspired Frank Herbert’s Dune
One of the key inspirations for Dune was an experiment conducted by the US Department of Agriculture in the 1950s. The experiment aimed to combat the relentless movement of sand dunes using ‘poverty grasses’, which could thrive in arid and sandy soils. These grasses were intended to stabilise the dunes and prevent them from engulfing highways, cities, rivers, and lakes. Herbert’s involvement in this project provided the spark for his imaginative journey into the world of Arrakis, the desert planet in Dune that becomes home to Paul Atreidis (played by Chalamet in Villeneuve’s adaptation).
Herbert’s experience with the desert experiment led to five years of research and writing, resulting in the serialisation of Dune World (1963) and The Prophet of Dune (1965) in Analog Science Fiction magazine. These serialised stories eventually culminated in the publication of the novel Dune in 1965, which would become a seminal work in the realm of social science fiction.
The parallels between the desert experiment and Arrakis are striking. In Dune, the Fremen and Dr. Liet Kynes employ a similar strategy of using plants to stabilise sand dunes and transform the planet into a water-rich environment. The consequences of these ecological plans are explored in later books in the series, such as Dune: Messiah.
The sand dunes of Oregon shaped Herbert’s vision
The massive Oregon sand dunes, located between Florence, Oregon, and the Pacific Ocean, played a crucial role in shaping Herbert’s vision. The realisation that these massive dunes were not stationary but, in fact, moving, sparked Herbert’s curiosity. He visited the Oregon Dunes in 1957 to investigate this phenomenon and intended to write an article about it. Although the article remained unfinished, the ideas it generated regarding precious natural resources and the potential dangers of unchecked environmental changes became integral to Dune.