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Dune's Dunes

Imagine you’re standing on a dune at the edge of the desert. A commercialized oasis is behind you, so there are no worries about food and water. But before you, as far as the eye can see, are endless dunes. Some of them are tall enough to dwarf an ancient oak, as the wind blows wisps of sand from the dune’s sharpened crests. Absence of water is the negative that makes this positively a desert. Then you realize it: Dunes are shaped by the wind, just like ocean waves.

Perhaps the greatest power of metaphor is its ability to cheat Time and Space. In the case of dunes, Frank Herbert saw dunes in Oregon as a menace, a state of mind that led to a temporal revelation. He wrote:

"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.”

Existential threats aside, the metaphor of ocean waves and sand dunes captivated the author. Sand Worms and extreme atmospheric conditions eventually came to haunt the imagined world of Dune. Time moves in diverse paces, with diverse persons, as Rosalind said in, As You Like It. Time certainly moves in diverse paces through diverse elements. Geologic time appears to be in a stasis in the relatively short courses of human generations. Up until the past century, glaciers slowly shifted, grew and receded, at a snail’s pace.

Outside of a fierce sand storm, dunes would appear relatively fixed in time to the observer. But if that observer traveled by foot across the desert, days into weeks and months, until she turned back and found herself in the spatial point she began, she would probably find a dune-scape much changed. She turned her back on the fixed and found it to be as restless as the wind-tossed sea. What unites and separates waves and dunes, beyond the difference in elemental composition, is Time. Dunes collide and ‘splash’ into one another. ‘Whirlpools’ of sand are looming at the bottom of ‘tidal’ waves threatening to crash down and bury everything in its path.

Through the metaphor of dune and wave, a bridge of Time is established. Such bridges can impart the person under its influence with an overwhelming sense of mortality, a fruit fly in the face of a long-lived parrot. I find myself compensating for this feeling by imagining beyond the limits of my present space and into outer space, across the cosmos, as if I were an immortal consciousness justifying my state of being by racing across the universe. But…no matter how far I go, there I am, in my imagination and the brain that holds it. What choice did Frank Herbert have when it came to making the metaphor of dune and wave thinkable? Hundreds of thousands of words, for better and for worse, followed. A space odyssey unfolded, but the synecdoche for it all remained, ever-changing, yet timeless, Dune.

Hayden Moore

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