Frank Herbert on Message Fic and Dune


Interviews with SFF masters of yore can be quite fascinating and insightful, and I like to watch or read them every now and then.

The other day a couple clips of Frank Herbert interviews popped up in my recommended YouTube videos, and I just wanted to quickly share them.


In this 1982 interview with Bryant Gumbel, we learn:

Herbert was a big proponent of Jungian psychology.

Maybe something worth further exploration in a future post.


He believed messaging in fiction should be secondary to entertainment value.

“I think it first has to be entertaining. Because if it’s not entertaining, nobody’s going to read it. I put a pot of message in there with a mess of pottage.”


The main thrust of Dune, according to Herbert: “Don’t trust leaders to always be right.”

“I think that our society was formed on a mistrust for government, and we seem to have lost that distrust of government. I kid around and say my favorite president of recent years has been Richard Nixon, because he taught us to distrust government.”


He was concerned about the future. 

“I have a very passionate concern for posterity, another thing upon which this country was founded, with a decent concern for posterity. And unfortunately posterity doesn’t vote.”


This second, shorter clip, is from BBC’s Breakfast Time. I’ve not been able to pinpoint the year. Here we get:

“Leaders – their mistakes are amplified by the numbers who follow them without question.”


Herbert disagreed with the conventional wisdom about power corrupting; rather he believed that power attracts the corruptible.


The wasteland of Dune was a metaphor for the resource shortages that we are encountering because of overpopulation.

I’m not sure if Herbert was an ardent Malthusian, but he apparently wrote another book called The Dosadi Experiment. The story once again revolves around a barren world, home to a highly adapted and powerful people. Clearly Herbert was an optimist in some sense; he seemed to simultaneously believe that overpopulation and lack of resources was a problem, yet his prominent stories feature men who thrive on such hardship.

It’s a shame. Although there are plenty of fans of Dune as a series, it’s a common feeling that the books really went downhill after the first entry. And beyond Dune, none of Herbert’s other works really made much of a splash. The guy had some interesting ideas, though.



  1. It is a shame.

    As much as I love Dune (and I really do love it), his other stuff just never got the attention it deserved. He wrote another book called The White Plague and it was haunting and amazing. Great book. I almost finished it in one sitting.

    • Nice to hear a conflicting opinion! I’d be pleased if Herbert had some other good stuff out there. I’ll keep an eye out for The White Plague.

  2. Really interesting stuff. I like his take on message fiction—if the “fiction” part is awful, nobody will care about whar what it’s trying to say.

    Regarding Dune, the first book is the best—arguably one of the best sci-fi novels ever. But the five sequels are absolutely worth reading. Five and six, in particular, really move the saga forward. I wish he wrote more!

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