“Polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert.”

–Fremen saying (DUNE, Book One, by Frank Herbert)

“If you were to raise tough, strong, ferocious men, what environmental conditions would you impose upon them? How could you win the loyalty of such men? There are proven ways: play on certain knowledge of their superiority, the mystique of secret covenant, the esprit of shared suffering. It can be done. It has been done on many worlds in many times.”

–DUNE, Book One, by Frank Herbert

Not sure how, but I’d somehow gotten to my sixth decade of life without ever reading the “monument of science fiction” that is DUNE (nor seeing the films.) And then, this past summer, I got a sudden urge to delve into the series with my 12 year old. Each day, we read a few chapters, the bells signaling my son’s coming-of-age ringing loud and clear. This tome is NOT for children, after all.

DUNE intricately paints the harsh monochromes of a desert landscape filled with clandestine political maneuverings, bloodstained suicide missions, and religious fervor baked, intentionally and unrelentingly, into the sands on a massive, multi-generational scale.

Sound familiar?

Chills move up my spine as I read. This “story” feels all too real right now, all too familiar: The twisted plotting of elite powers bent on avenging old grievances, the manipulation of entire populations as pawns in a militarized feuding so old it has become impossible to trace how it started. Any who attempt to dig into the sands of the past will be unavoidably smothered by avalanche or the deadly sand worms.

Whichever road our main character Paul Muad’ Dib chooses, he provokes superstition, prophecy and seemingly inescapable holy war. He struggles to find some way of changing his fate. But since there appears to be no way to stop the jihad spreading out before him on every future road, he eventually resigns himself to his “terrible purpose.”

Slowly, and painfully, as the pages turn, we get the sickening feeling that the person who we have been rooting for the whole time, the one who we were groomed to believe is the “hero” of this saga, is NOT actually the good guy. We even begin to lose faith that there CAN BE a good guy at all. Only ever-shifting allegiances, deals and compromises, and trauma stories on repeat. We experience the deepening nausea characteristic of ethical and spiritual disorientation.

Even the magicians in this story are losing their way.

Like I said: all too real. All too familiar.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched our world go so utterly mad, that I am no longer able to make sense of what we are supposed to accept as reality. I suppose I’m not alone in this.

Each day asks me to spend time lying prostrate on the ground, praying for mercy. Each day passing day, brings a melting of reality so comprehensive that I often wonder if the sun will actually rise tomorrow.

In times like these, epics like Dune are medicine. Myths, stories, fairy tales and sagas are the only things that seems to make sense anymore. Their providence is a life-giving, a milky sustenance. Without them, I would truly starve.

This desert tale is both prophetic, historic, and mythic all at once. It is a work of stunning genius.

So if you’ve thoroughly dizzied yourself reading the news, the posts, the reels on Gaza, and are more confused than ever. Join the club. Maybe it’s time to close the laptop, and pick up a copy of DUNE, where one gets the title “good guy.”

There are no heroes anymore. Only endless jihads, layered in drifting dunes of time.