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15 Facts About Dune

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Before Frank Herbert unleashed the first entry in his magnificent Dune series—a saga many now call sci-fi’s answer to The Lord of the Rings—almost nobody thought it had a prayer.

Publishers rejected the novel 23 times and even his own agents had their doubts. Yet, if anything, Dune’s humble beginnings bolster its appeal. To date, that first book alone has sold upwards of 20 million copies and been printed in over a dozen languages. Here’s some amazing stuff you may not know about this truly epic franchise. 

1. Herbert was Inspired by the “Moving Sands” of Oregon.

It all started with a scrapped magazine article. By the 1950s, coastal Oregon had gotten fed up with a serious ecological menace: sand dunes. As Herbert noted in a 1957 letter:

Sand dunes pushed by steady winds build up in waves analogous to ocean waves except that they may move twenty feet a year instead of twenty feet a second. These waves can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave in property damage… and they’ve even caused deaths. They drown out forests, kill game cover, destroy lakes, [and] fill harbors.

That year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had begun experimenting with beach grasses near the seaside city of Florence, Oregon. A certain species with unusually long roots was liberally planted in an attempt to stop the sands from excessively shifting. Fascinated, Herbert flew in and started gathering notes for a piece entitled “They Stopped the Moving Sands.” But his agent refused to send it to publishers unless it was rewritten, which Herbert never did. Still, Herbert remained intrigued and—after boning up on deserts and religious figures—outlined the story that eventually became Dune.

2. Dune Was Also Influenced by Psychedelic Mushrooms. 

“The spice must flow!” In Herbert’s Dune universe, the single most valuable commodity is—by far—an edible substance called “melange.” Also known as “spice,” this highly-addictive material is found only on the desert planet of Arrakis, where much of the action unfolds. Among its many properties are increased longevity and, in some cases, the ability to see the future itself.

Sound trippy? There’s a reason. While conversing with fungi expert Paul Stamets, Herbert revealed that the world of Dune was influenced by the lifecycle of mushrooms, with his imagination being helped along by a more “magic” variety.

3. Herbert had Previously Experimented with Dune-esque Plot Elements in an Uncompleted Story Called “Spice Planet.”

The tale’s protagonist is Jesse Linkam, who must endure a hostile, otherworldly desert with his 8-year-old son, Barri. “Spice Planet” touches on several topics that Dune would later explore, including drug addiction, aristocracy, and religious uprisings. Eventually, however, Herbert went back to the drawing board, shelving this primordial narrative en route (until his son released a new story based on Frank’s original outline).

4. It was Originally Released as a Serial.

Before getting published as the novel adored today, Dune started out in segments. Two main partsDune World and Prophet of Dune—were divided into a total of nine sections which appeared in Analog magazine from 1963 to 1965.

5. Eventually, Dune Was Picked Up by a Publishing Company That was Best Known for its Automobile Manuals.

Chilton Publishing—a small, Philadelphia-based organization—agreed to put out Herbert’s masterpiece in 1965. 

6. Herbert Deliberately Kept the Techno-Jargon to a Minimum.

By making its futuristic technology secondary to the plot, themes, and characters, Dune breaks from more traditional sci-fi. Despite being a huge novel (for its time), Herbert barely spills any ink covering his world’s machinery, feeling that going into too much detail about nuts and bolts would have made his story inaccessible to average readers.

7. Dune Features Several Nods to Zen Buddhism.

As Herbert’s son, Brian, wrote in Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert, his father “was attracted to Zen Buddhism,” a fact reflected in Dune by the presence of fictitious religious traditions with names like “Zensunni” and “Zensufi,” which supposedly evolved from the union of Zen Buddhism and Sufism (Islamic mysticism). Herbert was also acquainted with the writings of Zen master Alan Watts, whom he met during the '60s.

8. Before Dune Came Along, Herbert Had Worked as a Political Speechwriter.

Between 1950 and 1960, he climbed aboard four political campaigns—every single one of which fell short. 

9. Dune Won the Very First Nebula Award in 1966.

Nowadays, that’s a reward every sci-fi novelist craves. By the way, it also shared the 1966 Hugo award for Best Novel with Roger Zelazny’s …And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal).

10. Children of Dune (1976) Was the First Science Fiction Novel to Become a New York Times Bestseller in Both Hardcover and Paperback.

Sales for the original Dune stagnated at first, but by the time Herbert finished this third installment, a rabid fan base had been built which couldn’t wait to devour it in breathtaking numbers. 

11. A Dune Board Game was Released in 1979.

For those interested, a digital version is now available online.

12. A Never-Made Film Adaptation was Supposed to be Scored by Pink Floyd and Star Salvador Dali.

“I wanted to do a movie that would give people who took LSD at that time the hallucinations that you get with that drug, but without hallucinating,” says would-be director Alexandro Jodorowski. It sounds like he’d have been well on his way, having approached Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack and surrealist painter Salvador Dali to portray Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. Also, it would’ve been a butt-numbing 14 hours long.    

13. Theaters Distributed a Glossary of Terms When David Lynch’s 1984 Movie Version Came Out.

Lynch’s notorious box office bomb is 110% incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t read the book. Realizing this, cinemas began giving their theatergoers page-long appendices to help explain Dune’s intricate backstory.  Apparently, these didn’t help Roger Ebert, who called the film an “ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” Ouch!

14. George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) Once Bore a Much Closer Resemblance to Dune.

Early drafts involved conflicts between Dune-like feudal houses and, although these were omitted, characters in Lucas’ breakout movie do mention “spice mines” and the movie takes place on the desert planet of Tatooine. Coincidence? Herbert didn’t think so; he soon joked of banding together with several other ripped-off sci-fi authors to form a “We’re Too Big to Sue George Lucas” society.

15. All the low plains on one of Saturn’s Moons are named after planets in the Dune Canon.

Saturn’s largest moon—a body named Titan—contains some shady-looking terrain called planitia (low plains) that are all named after Dune planets. The first one discovered is now known as “Chusuk Planitia” in honor of the fictitious (and musically-oriented) planet Chusuk.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES: Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert and The Road to Dune.

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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