Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Heroes, Charismatics, and Messiahs

Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have announced the imminent publication of their two-volume climax of the Dune series, based on Frank Herbert's outline and notes for whatever Book 7 may have ended up looking like. The titles will be Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. The prequels written by these guys have been so appalling -- I stopped reading them a while ago -- though I may give these a try (much as I expect a similar decimation of Frank Herbert's vision) since they will be at least based on certain ideas the author had put down on paper before he died. Hunters is slated for publication this August, and who knows when Sandworms will come out.

So I've started rereading the original six-volume series in anticipation, and am almost nearly done the first book. It's been eons since I read these classics, and I'd forgotten just how good they are. A great story above all, but also a fictional "case study", as it were, of messiahship and the dangers of charismatic movements. Herbert had intended his epic to make a statement about the "messianic convulsions that overtake us" and inevitably fail -- the depths of their failure being directly related to how successful they are initially. In Omni magazine (1980), Herbert said the following about heroes, charismatics, and messiahs:

Don't give over all of your critical faculties to [heroes], no matter how admirable those people may appear to be. Beneath the hero's facade you will find a human being who makes human mistakes. Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero... Heroes are painful, superheroes are a catastrophe. The mistakes of superheroes involve too many of us in disaster.

What strikes me is how applicable this observation is not only to the Dune messiah, but the messiah we "revere" (some much more than others) on our biblioblogs, Jesus of Nazareth. Herbert's remarks are obliquely reminiscent of Dale Allison's, who has emphasized the Jesus who "made mistakes", not least in his expectations of the apocalypse. Jesus didn't stick around for as long as Paul Atreides -- and his later heir, the "God Emperor of Dune" -- but he remains with us nonetheless, followed mythically worldwide. I'd be inclined to call the Nazarene one of the greatest superheroes our world has ever known.

I'll have to blog more about this when I've finished all six books. The mistakes of superheroes involve too many of us in disaster...


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