Women Discuss Dune panel: Scholars dive into Frank Herbert's epic science fiction novels.

Women Discuss ‘Dune’ Panel: Insights From Academia

In this virtual panel, host Kara Kennedy (a.k.a. Dune Scholar) brings together a talented group of scholars—four women who have researched and written about Dune—to explore Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novels. Panelists Yosr Dridi, Olimpia Mailat Gurghian, and Leigha McReynolds share their insights and diverse perspectives across areas including Dune‘s cross-cultural influences, representation of women, disability studies, environmentalism, and analysis of its movie adaptations.

Watch the replay (63 minutes) here or read the transcript below.


For more information about these panelists, refer to the event announcement page on DuneScholar.com.


Kara: Hello everyone, my name is Kara Kennedy and today I have with me a panel of amazing women scholars who are going to be discussing Dune and what we find interesting and we’re studying about this epic story by Frank Herbert from 1965. So all of us have written something about Frank Herbert’s Dune and part of our scholarly work.

And so we have our own angles of research that we bring to the table. And so I’d like to explore that with the panelists today and what got us into this topic and what keeps us coming back to it. And today I have with me Yosr Dridi, PhD; Olimpia Mailat Gurghian, PhD candidate; and Leigha McReynolds, PhD. And each of them are going to introduce themselves before we get started.

Yosr: Okay. Hello everyone. Thanks for having me. I’m really happy to be on this panel. My name is Yosr Dridi. I’m an assistant professor and researcher at the There is one Sorbonne University. I specialize in literature and film and adaptation studies. And I have a PhD on cinematographic writing and reading in postmodern meta-fiction from Manuba University in Tunisia.

Olimpia: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Olimpia Mailat, PhD candidate from the University of Valencia in Spain, and I’m specializing in animal studies and science fiction, so I’m currently writing a thesis on animal Dune and nonhuman animal presence in the whole Dune franchise.

Leigha: Hi everybody, my name is Leigha McReynolds. I work on science fiction and disability. So my angle into Dune recently has been looking at eugenics in the Dune world building. I currently teach at the University of Maryland where I teach a class on science fiction disability. And I also offer science fiction classes for the local bookstore, Politics and Prose.

Kara: And I should probably introduce myself a little bit. So my name is Kara Kennedy. I also go by Dune Scholar and I have written three books on Dune. The first was based on my PhD, which was looking at women’s agency in the Dune universe across the six books. And my second one was a critical companion of the first book, looking at the different top themes in Dune, and then my most recent book was branching out looking at the film and TV adaptations of Dune, and I’ve also written journal articles on other aspects about Dune, and I’ve also written about Wikipedia and academia and digital literacy as well, that’s me. So let’s get started. If you could tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of what first got you interested in writing and researching about Dune.

Yosr: Unlike most of you, I’m quite new to the Dune fandom. I’m one of those who discovered the book or rediscovered the book through Villeneuve’s adaptation since he’s one of my favorite directors. And I already wrote about his film Arrival as an adaptation.

So I watched the film and I was intrigued by three things. First, the amount of world building in the film that is it’s a three hour long film, which is almost entirely dedicated to world building, especially by a filmmaker as skillful as Villeneuve who has a considerable experience making good science fiction at a.

And who masters also the economy of visual storytelling. So I figured that the original novel would have even more details of world building. Then I was drawn to the Dune story world itself as it is developed in the film. And I’ve found myself quite familiar with the words and concepts since my native language is Arabic and most of the lexicon is taken from basic modern standard Arabic and elementary tenets of Islam.

This is actually funny. I even found myself unwittingly correct saying some of the actors pronunciations out loud in a movie theater, which is a clear breach of movie going etiquette and yeah. And finally, I wondered if the material is so clearly inspired in great part by Arab and Muslim culture and language, then why aren’t any of the actors Arab, or Muslim, or both? So this drove me to actually think about the article I wrote in terms of Orientalism, Dune, and the contemporizing effort that Villeneuve makes in the film.

Kara: So just just a small topic to start you off with Dune.

Olimpia: In my case I had left Dune for a while before I decided to embark on writing a thesis about it. So back when I was doing my master’s degree, I found out about the animal studies field, which was something that seemed really interesting to me. And I realized that, since I had always wanted to do something in academia related to Dune, I could do that because it fit perfectly into this field.

Because there’s a lot of non human animal presence in Dune and lots of alterity representation. And since science fiction is a field that can work so well, to use as a as an ethical testing ground to analyze different problems that we are facing nowadays. Our relationship with animals.

It surprised me that there wasn’t much done and written about science fiction within this academic field within animal studies. So as I reread the books, I realized there was so much that could be explored. For example, the relationship of the humans In the whole story of Dune with the animals specifically the sandworms is so interesting and so ambivalent.

So I analyzed the relationship that the Fremen have with them, which is cultural and utilitarian at the same time. And Then I also analyzed the importance of the sandworms throughout the whole story throughout the first six books, and I just want to keep on doing that. That’s what I’m working on my thesis.

I’m trying to analyze Brian Herbert’s and Kevin J. Anderson’s books as well, and the whole franchise.

Kara: Wow, that’s, it’s ever expanding, yeah. Have your work cut out for you there.

Leigha: Yeah, so I also had a long history of being a fan of Dune. And had not necessarily thought to bring it into my academic work until I was in graduate school taking a class on disability studies.

And I was reading one of the foundational books in the field called Cultural Locations of Disability. And I was about halfway through the introduction and I had a revelation. This was Dune. What they were describing was It’s the society that Herbert had built in the novel Dune. And so I wrote on that for that class and that’s what eventually became the book chapter that got published.

And that’s sustained my interest in Dune as I’ve continued working on disability and eugenics and science fiction. And then recently having the chance to teach Dune to, through the bookstore where I work just gave me, ideas for ways to continue working with what is a really rich text.

Kara: So I first, oh I loved Dune since I was a teenager, but I didn’t even really know you could study science fiction as a proper subject until the end of my undergraduate when I decided to focus on Dune for my honors project. Cause I had a very traditional literary kind of courses before then.

And I wanted to look at Jessica cause I really loved Jessica as a character. And so I wanted to look at what’s interesting about her, especially as a maternal figure. And so that kind of started the ball rolling and. And I just have kept studying Jessica, but also branched out to the Bene Gesserit as an organization.

For my master’s thesis, and then I always wanted to look at all six books, and so I ended up looking at all six books for my PhD, and looking at how are the Bene Gesserit and their agency across the six book series, because to me it was really, it’s really interesting that Herbert was writing those books across a period of such cultural and societal change in the U.S.

The 60s and 70s are just still known for that, everything going on. With changing American society. And, but then once you start researching Dune, there’s so many other topics that pop up. So along the way I started looking at the world building aspect, which I find really interesting and.

Has not really been explored that much in the literature, and then the Middle Eastern influences, Lawrence of Arabia, all those different connections that Herbert pulled on, I find really interesting to explore. And then things like spice and the historical spice trade and all the kinds of linkages that Herbert might have been hinting at.

And then. I’ve resisted looking at the adaptations, but finally I thought, with these new movies coming out and all of the new interest, I should start looking at the adaptations, so I finally looked at the three adaptations for my latest book And that’s a whole nother world and there’s so much in every scene that can be analyzed, I so I find it really overwhelming looking at moving from looking at a book to looking at the screen because there’s so much visual and audio information happening that’s hard to really isolate, unlike words on a page, I have to say that’s been, it’s been very interesting learning experience trying to unpack a scene versus on screen versus just on the page, but, yeah, so that’s and I’m really glad to say I’m still interested in doing even after all this research, sometimes people get really tired out of a topic.

And I think there’s just so much more to look at that. I still find interesting. So I think that’s a win.

Okay. So we see what everyone’s interested in. Do you want to each person want to go and tell us a little bit more about your topic and what angle you’ve explored in your in things that you’ve published or your kind of conclusions that you’ve come to about when you’ve gotten into the topic.

Yosr: I only wrote the one article entitled Deorientalizing Dune, published in Ekphrasis. It proposes to examine the extent to which that is Frank Herbert’s science fictional Orientalism survived in Villeneuve’s and I compared the aesthetic, literary and cinematic story worlds that is the representations of space of characters and their thematic implications.

I arrived at the conclusion that Dune: Part One aesthetically builds a diegetically and visually compelling science fictional story world free from the constraints of fidelity, in adaptation, we should not. really a focus on faithfulness to the book and also that is, it’s aware. The adaptation is aware of the affordances of literature and film in terms of storytelling and representation.

However, I found that there were, there was No serious attempt at representing Herbert’s other the same way that Herbert did that investment and learning about different cultures that cultural omnivorousness if you want that characterized Herbert’s Herbert’s work was not actually present in the film.

I felt that the Fremen, the representation of the Fremen was reductive in a way, okay, culturally, ethnically, there was this evasion of cultural, ethnic cultural and ethnic specificity. There was this that is this reduction of the Fremen to a non white other. Without any cultural, identifiable cultural identity.

Their otherness is solely color coded. Their language and their culture are not as important as their non whiteness. And I think that these changes are actually well-intentioned on Villeneuve’s part. Because Part One does not really represent the Fremen. And it just sets the tone, the atmosphere, and constructs the world for the rest of the film.

I believe we have to wait for Part Two, which will be out in a few days, to be able to judge.

Kara: Yeah, I know that was one of the probably few areas where the film was criticized publicly. Not too much, but Looking at where those influences that for people that have read the book are quite strong, I would say, I don’t know that I picked up on them when I first read it as a teenager, just in terms of my world awareness was probably very low at that time growing up in the U.S., but especially reading it as an adult and with what’s happened, since the nineties and such.

I think to me, it signals there’s a, yeah. Still a reluctance to engage with that part of the world in American pop culture. Yeah, very interesting. What, I know you, you said something about fidelity to the book. See, that, I’m, that’s super interesting to me in terms of adaptation, which I know some people recoil at.

They think, oh, the filmmaker has to be free from You know the constraints of the book, but to me like the book is everything and so if you’re gonna make an adaptation You have some responsibilities to the work. Yeah interesting

Olimpia: So as I said what I’ve written so far is my master’s thesis and in it I try to examine The cultural and political importance of animals in science fiction in general and focusing on Dune.

I mainly focused on the first book and also God Emperor of Dune because I feel like the, even though the animal presence, as I said, is pervasive in all of the books, those are the most interesting ones from my perspective in that sense. And I chose to focus on the sandworms because they are the, of course, the central figure, but also because of their relationship with the ecosystem of dealing with the political turmoil that’s going throughout.

Going on throughout the novels and I found really interesting how depending on the interests of each faction in Dune they treated sandworms or saw them differently because one of the aims of animal studies as a field is to try to see the animal you without the significance that we ascribe to them.

We establish categories in which we that we assign to animals, depending on how we see them, what we use them for. even though sandworms are not animals in a real world they can be seen as parallels to how we treat animals in real life. For example, the colonizers on Dune and the Imperium they use sandworms to profit.

They use them for their, they use the spice and try to profit from it as much as possible. And then the Fremen have a more complex and profound relationship with them. They venerate them, but at the same time they weaponize them. And they have a very complex relationship. And then if we go into the whole terraforming that goes on during the the sequels.

I don’t want to spoil anything but we know there’s something going on with the whole Dune ecosystem and the, how it affects the well being of the sandworms. And they’re very vulnerable creatures and essentially all the actions that the political figures in the novels take end up affecting them and affecting their lives.

So I find that Interesting. And that’s what I’ve been trying to explore and also how they are related to the whole Bene Gesserit story and the kind of power that the Bene Gesserit end up having. So I don’t want to spoil too much in case anybody who’s watching this hasn’t read the other books, but yeah.

Kara: Yeah. I find it was interesting when the Atreides first come to Arrakis, like the first question is almost. Can’t we just blow up the sandworms and get rid of them so that we can more easily get to the spice? And Liet Kynes is like no, not really. But also that would be not a good idea if you still want to have the spice.

Yeah. But yeah, that, that mindset of this is an obstacle in our way. We need to just, destroy it rather than, oh, they live here. This is their home. Humans have a history of that. I had a question. Do you consider the sandworms to be aliens? Do you think they fit the definition of alien in science fiction?

I know that’s been talked about a little bit in the research and I don’t have a clear opinion on. Are they alien?

Olimpia: I guess pretty much everyone in Dune is alien. They’re all extraterrestrial. But yeah I don’t know if it’s been determined what the origin of sandworms is. I think there is something in the Dune Encyclopedia, but I don’t really know if that is canon.

I’ve read somewhere that their origin might be terrestrial and that they were, you know, implanted on Arrakis, but I, yeah, I would say they are alien, essentially.

Kara: It’s an interesting question. I think it’s like the animal and alien and like how foreign they have to seem to humans to seem alien.

Olimpia: Exactly. And that’s a question that I’ve tried to touch upon because One of the questions that stands at the core of the whole dune universe is also what it means to be human and we see that from the get go with the gum job artist and how the notion of humanity has been changing throughout the millions of years that in which the story takes place because you’ve got humans with mutations, the spice has altered them.

And that also establishes a connection between the animal and the humans, the spice being a byproduct of the sandworm. And then you’ve got the golas, you’ve got the kind of the metamorphosis that happens with the sandworms and the humans. And you’ve got creatures like the feudars, which are… I’m not sure if I want to get into that, but yeah, it’s very interesting. I guess Dune is a post humanist story and humanity and humankind are not. Are quite different from what we have today, if we see this as a future story.

Kara: Cool. Yeah, I agree. I think that’s part of what attracts people to it is like , the characters seem human, but then also not there’s a bit of extra there.

That’s like interesting to think about oh, what if we had this power or this ability, or we honed ourselves in this way.

Leigha: That’s actually a great transition. And so my work that question of what it means to be human is why the disability studies is such a great lens for looking at this text.

So I, there actually, it’s not been a lot of work on disability in Dune. I think there’s my piece and there’s one or two other pieces. But I came to it through thinking about eugenics because when I started working on it, there was a recognition that there’s eugenics in Dune but not really an unpacking of what that means or how that works.

And so my reading of the novel and I just focused on the first novel because once you get farther into the universe, things get more complicated and I hope to tackle that one day, but that was more than I could fit into my word limit. But in the first book, I, Suggests that we can read it as a disability narrative not to necessarily say the characters in this story are disabled, but to say we think about what’s happening to the characters in this story using a disability perspective, we can reach insights about what’s happening to them.

So this idea that’s It’s become pretty much generally accepted that we treat characters with extraordinary abilities like they are disabled because those extraordinary abilities make them so different from what we consider a normal body. And there’s lots of different ways that people can talk about that.

One of them is this idea of the problem body, the body that causes a problem. And generally in our world, we see that through the disabled body, but in places like Dune and X-Men, we see that with extraordinary bodies. But that essentially, even though these characters like Paul might be very powerful or very special, they’re treated by their society as outsiders for whatever reason.

So I look at the way that Paul is basically a genetic deviant. His genome is not supposed to exist. And I talk about the Bene Gesserit as a diagnostic regime, the people who are implementing and reinforcing the kind of eugenic project of this world. And one of the things I suggest is really that if we’re going to take a eugenic lens, then one of the things that identifies people as disabled is whether or not they’re judged as fit to have children.

So the kind of eugenic project in the U.S. and in the U.K. was always tied up with these ideas of monitoring and eliminating disability and kind of this goal for ensuring the fitness of individual bodies by monitoring who and who couldn’t have children. And if we think about that as a kind of disabling narrative, then even the emperor in the Dune universe, is suffering from this eugenic program and that he’s denied the ability to have, children.

He has, he’d have female hair, female children, but not male children. And so in a sense, he is disabled by the system that he finds himself in. So I think Dune gives us a way to look at disability and kind of take the concepts and discourses around disability and eugenics and think about how they up.

And individuals in our science fiction, even when we see them in these extraordinary circumstances.

Kara: I’m really interested in your take on it. I definitely never thought about the disability angle until your work. And then suddenly it made so much sense to, to view Paul through that lens because he is a, I think quite conflicted character. He’s. Not a stereotypical hero. In some ways is, but then in many ways it’s not.

Herbert was trying to put warnings there. Not everybody gets them when they read that story. But, and I think you, you bring up the complicated nature of the Bene Gesserit as well. So they’re, Bene Gesserit are my focus area. My most favorite thing to focus on. But they’re complex and they’re not 100 percent good or 100 percent bad.

They’re definitely gray characters, which some people find hard to wrap their heads around. People want to put them in a box and I really resist the idea of putting them in a box. But yes, they are conducting a breeding program, across centuries to try to control and, but then at the same time, like you’re talking about the emperor.

Like by controlling reproduction they really harness that ability that women have to reproduce and so doing are able to have this channel of influence and in guiding events and controlling the lineage, right? Which is a really, in the medieval feudal setting that Herbert gives us that’s everything.

Having a male heir is what kind of sets the whole events of the novel in motion because Jessica doesn’t have a daughter like she’s supposed to. But then at the same time, they’re criticized for wanting to have this male Kwisatz Haderach, why can’t it be a female Kwisatz Haderach? And that’s a valid question, but I think they’re, the amount of abilities that their bodies have, that they train their bodies to have is really extraordinary for science fiction especially because it’s not technology that enables it.

A lot of science fiction is, Here’s some gadget, or here’s some enhancement, or here’s some robot that makes people be able to do something extra. And Herbert was really interested in what if the body could do it just by being trained? You don’t, they don’t need to have a weapon, they don’t need to have anything else they just can do it by themselves.

And I think that’s, for me, is what’s really empowering about the Bene Gesserit. Can you all tell me what you find most rewarding, but also what do you find most challenging about researching dune?

Yosr: Okay. What is rewarding is it has to do with the with the gratifying feeling that comes with the research, especially a research in a new topic and a new genre because Science fiction is quite new to me since in academia, they don’t teach you that a lot. They don’t encourage research and science fiction.

Ever since I started doing research I devoured every book I could find which is which is from the science fiction genre. I learned a lot about the Dune universe. I was impressed by the immersive storytelling of Herbert, and I learned a lot about Herbert himself. As for the challenges When working on the topic, it was about distancing myself from the science fictionalization, if you will, of historical world events, people, and cultures.

With the representation of the Bene Gesserit or the Fremen, I tried to keep my reading as formalistic and detached as possible. But one way or another I always felt represented, no matter how many times I told myself that this is a fictional world, these are fictional characters, and drawing on and from the real world is how fiction actually works, but Herbert is a genius.

I know we’re discouraged again from, all these superlatives, but I think he’s a genius in, putting all of that thematic and cultural framework together to come up with a timeless piece. Yeah.

Olimpia: Yeah. I agree with Yosr. In my case I would say that the most rewarding thing, it’s also the novelty because even though, science fiction is. It has always been a popular literary genre. It’s not that popular within academia and even less so in the animal studies. So getting to do something that is relatively new and, merging these two things is something that I’m enjoying.

And then, I would also say that since, the whole Dune lore is so vast and so rich, it gets you it makes you get interested in new subjects and in new themes. And you have to document yourself and do some research on topics that, you Maybe you hadn’t researched before, and I guess I would describe it as the gift that keeps on giving because it’s, you can always find something new when you analyze these books, and for example, what Leah was saying about doing as a disability narrative, that’s something I had never thought about, and now it’s something that I will do.

Pay more attention to so it’s these things. You can always find something new. And then the most challenging, I would say there’s a lot of reading to do. There’s a lot of doing material. But that’s also good. So I would say it’s a win.

Leigha: I think the most rewarding thing is the community of scholars. around Dune that I’ve gotten to be a part of this community being one example.

And The other, the editors of the edited collection I published in and people who’ve come to the kind of roundtables and events that we’ve done around this work it’s really wonderful to have conversations with people who are invested in a kind of sustained analysis of this really rich text, and I think are willing to look at it in interesting ways, and also in critical ways.

It’s not just, we, most of us come to this as fans of the text, but we’re not talking about it just as fans, we’re talking about it as scholars, and I really appreciate. The kind of investment in that work that everybody has around that. I think the most challenging thing for me is the way that, I think you guys have touched on this, all these other things come into the conversation, and often there’s a part of me that just wants to be pushed them out.

I don’t care what Herbert said in that interview, and I don’t care what happens in the sixth. book. I just want to make an argument about what’s happening right here in this book. Those other things can be important in their time and place, but sometimes we need, sometimes I just want to talk about, this chapter of this book.

And it’s good to have that conversation, but for me, that’s the most challenging in terms of making a space for my own argument in the Dune world. And then I’ll also echo what everyone else has already said. said that if I’m talking about doing in the disability studies world, I’m generally talking to people who aren’t as familiar with science fiction.

And then if I’m talking about disability in the science fiction world, I’m generally talking with people who aren’t as familiar with disability studies. And so that’s a good challenge for me, because it requires me to be able to, talk to a variety of people about my work. But there is, it is interesting to bridge that gap between the, a theoretical discipline and a genre discipline.

Kara: Yeah, I agree. I think, for me, what’s rewarding is, again, that there’s always something new to explore, which sometimes gets overwhelming, but I’ve learned a lot in cross disciplines to literature, like history and philosophy, and Yeah, even like translation and disability studies other aspects that people write about or that maybe they’ll just casually mentioned in their article and suddenly it takes me off on wanting to look more into that.

And I’m really. I like exploring, I like rereading, so I find that great about studying Dune. But what I find most challenging is how subtle Herbert was, which I like, but it’s sometimes really hard to pin things down enough to talk about them or to make an argument around them because I’m looking for support in the text to back up my argument, and then I’m finding that it was just two words.

In one chapter that he casually hinted at something and then moved on and then trying to build an argument around that becomes difficult and especially with the Bene Gesserit and some of the other factions. They’re really not described all that much, and so trying to figure out where they were talked about in the book and then trying to build an argument around their characterization when there’s just sort of little hints here and there I find myself running up against that quite a lot and I think that was one of the challenges in making adaptations is there was a lot of freedom because Herbert was great at world building, but part of world building is not describing everything.

It’s just giving some hints and letting your reader do the work. But as a academic scholar trying to, build support for your argument, I find that sometimes I thought something was there and then I find that it was just a world building in my head and it’s not actually on the page. , I want to get your perspective, promise this is not a trap, but I find the women of Dune the most fascinating characters and I argue that they’re influential and powerful even though others have criticized them for just being mothers or just being concubines because they’re not, at least in the first book, they’re not in official positions of power, say like the emperor or dukes and barons and things.

What are your thoughts on the women of Dune? Either Bene Gesserit and/or Fremen women, just curious what you think about that? I think about this all the time, but I’d love to hear your perspectives.

Yosr: Okay, so obviously, I find them formidable. All of them and away from the characterization and their agency in terms of plot development, their importance to the plot, which I’m sure Kara has a lot to say about I love the narratological importance that Herbert gives them.

What piqued my interest were the epigraphic framing of each chapter by Irulan’s voice, which is ingeniously replaced by a Chani voice-over in Villeneuve’s adaptation, a change that I really loved. So here we feel like Herbert chooses to give up his authorial control to a female character from whom the reader gets their their first information about the story world, about the chapter or the section they’re about to read.

So I found this narratological and narratorial agency especially empowering to women in a special kind of literary way. And it’s even playfully hinted at the end of Dune. The first book when Jessica was reassuring Chani and she told her, she seems to have a literary tendency or literary taste.

So I found that amusingly self-reflexive because you feel like Herbert intended her to be that way. So this is only my take on women because I’m sure you have a lot to say about them in terms of plot and themes.

Kara: Yeah, I think Irulan in the epigraphs is really special about the novel, challenging to analyze though because of her not really being a character per se throughout the whole story and just appearing at the end. And then you realize, oh, she’s been the historian the whole time, but. but she hasn’t really been physically present in the story, but she still shaped it. And that was also, it’s also been quite under-analyzed.

I think we could use a lot more work on that, that that framing device and how Herbert uses it. Not just with a woman’s voice, but also like how does it influence the story and how you perceive the story. I’ve heard a heretical statement that some people don’t actually read the epigraphs when they read the book and I’m a little bit shocked, but they’re actually important, they’re not just a little throwaway line.

They’re part of the, they’re part of. Herbert’s narrative in a crafty.

Yosr: And they introduce, they also introduce the characters, the main actants in each section and the main event or the novum that is being introduced in each section. They’re very important and they’re important in terms of, intertextuality as well, because we can read them as fictional historical sources within the story. So they’re not like the appendices or the the other side lore that is written about Dune, but they are part and parcel of the book. So I think they’re very interesting in that way.

Kara: Please read them if you haven’t read Dune, please read them.

Olimpia: So I would say that there’s very few things in Dune that are straightforward or simple and so is the representation of women. I would say it’s quite dichotomic. For example, the Bene Gesserit, I’ve always found it a bit conflictive because there’s things I really like about them and other things that I don’t know that I dislike, but the whole faction of the Bene Gesserit also goes through a constant evolution throughout the books and there’s quite a few changes that they go through and I especially like what happens heretics in Temperate House Of Dune, but then you also have other characters that are very complex, like the Honored Mattress, the Fremen women You’ve got the fish speakers, you’ve got lots of interesting characters.

You’ve also got the Bene Tleilax women, or, what is left of them. I think there’s the representation of women in general is quite interesting. You always got you, you always see important women in positions of power, but that’s not always made clear. Like in Jessica’s case, you can see she’s clearly powerful, but she doesn’t really have that much of an important role until she joins the Fremen.

I don’t know. I think it’s really interesting, but at the same time, even though there’s things I don’t really like about the Bene Gesserit portrayal. I would say for the time it was written, especially the first book. It was quite transgressive and it was something good because I think you didn’t really have that many science fiction books that chose to represent women in that way and to give them that much agency.

So that’s definitely something positive and I would say I do like it. I do like them. But there’s things I’m unsure about. And that happens with every single character in Dune because they’re all quite gray. They’re, you never have a straightforward character. And I think that’s also something very characteristic of the books and something that shows the genius of Frank Herbert.

So yeah. And also regarding the adaptations. I’m very eager to see how they are going to show us more about the Bene Gesserit in the film adaptations because I think they’re not very easily adaptable. So yeah that’s what I can say of them.

Leigha: I’ll just follow up with a couple of other things. I have to agree wholeheartedly with Yosr’s point about their narratological importance. And one of the first things that struck me about Dune when I was originally falling in love with it is that it is opened and closed by its female characters.

So we have Irulan’s epigraph at the beginning and then the last words of the text are Jessica’s words to Chani that, we shall be wives. History will remember us as wives. And I don’t know, maybe I’ll be the one who writes that paper. But I, that has always seemed so significant to me that they pit, they either voice or pen the words of both the beginning and the end of the novel.

Which, is for all intents and purposes, especially on a surface read a novel about great men and the way, the impact that great men have. But there’s many ways that, that Herbert undermines that, and I think that’s one of them. As far as the Bene Gesserit go in my reading, in my own work, of course, they’re incredibly powerful.

You can, argue that control over reproduction is the ultimate control, and if we are reading that narrative, then they are more powerful than the Emperor and the Landsraad because they are controlling who gets to literally exist and step into those places. So again, a very subtle behind the scenes and maybe gendered control.

But I don’t necessarily think any of those things make it. necessarily bad or evil or poor representation or any of that. But yeah, I think that their ultimate power can be overlooked. And I think that’s one, one advantage of paying attention to a disability in a eugenics reading is to really emphasize the.

Power they have in shaping the society, which I think, Kara, as you pointed out, is one of the subtle things that Herbert has done in the book that you have to be looking for.

Kara: Yeah, for me, it always helps thinking of them like the Catholic Church. So I try to think, if this were a male order of Catholic Church, types in the book, I think people would have a different perspective because we know how much power the Catholic Church has, even as, just a church or just a religion that’s actually incredibly powerful and influential.

People are still practicing thousands of years later and they do similar things like using religion as a method to gain influence, having a Messiah figure that they use. Spreading propaganda, missionary education work, all of those things Herbert used the Jesuits as a model for. And so to me, you can’t deny that the Jesuits had an incredible impact on the world and still having an impact on the world.

And because they’re women, they also are able to use reproduction and sexuality. And this is an advantage perhaps that the Catholic Church didn’t have. And so Herbert’s exploring yeah, what if women were going around and being the ones that, that leverage these things to their advantage?

And also we have to recognize Dune isn’t a utopian story. And I like that about it. I like that it’s grounded and it feels more historically based. And so I think historically, how have women gained influence and power when they’re not able to access certain avenues? Their mothers, their guides, their regions, they have children, they have lovers.

Those are. Those are things that happen that doesn’t that in itself doesn’t make someone weak or strong. You have to look at what they’re actually doing in those roles and having a mother at the side of the hero figure, you don’t really see that in most stories. So I think, like props to Jessica and for Herbert putting her there and those closing lines, like I always saw those closing lines as really empowering.

Some people don’t see them that way, but I think read within the context of everything else going on. It’s saying women don’t need to have the official position of this or that title. They can show it through their actions not whatever society chooses to give them. Cool. Why do you think Dune is still relevant today?

And having new adaptations made? What about this story is still interesting other people, to keep going with it?

Yosr: I think that Dune will remain relevant as long as the themes it expounds are relevant, as long as you’re willing to discuss imperialism, colonialism, oppression, feminism, determinism, the ecological crisis, and as long as we are willing to study immersive story world built in the science fiction genre, so it will always be appealing to to all types of audiences, to scholars, to lay audiences.

It has all the elements of captivating storytelling and its themes will always remain relevant, I think.

Kara: Unless we dismantle all of the isms, yeah. Unlikely.

Olimpia: I would say that, it’s a story that’s been written more than half a century ago. And It speaks about society in the future in the far future, but it’s it touches upon things that are happening today and that were happening in the sixties and seventies and in the eighties apart from the ecological crisis that you also mentioned.

There’s also other things that it touches upon, like political issues psychology. It can even be seen as an extinction narrative, techno-science progress. It touches upon things that we are worried about nowadays, like AI. That’s also quite an important element throughout the whole Dune story.

So I think that all of those are things that we’ve been working on. Have been our anxieties for many years and are probably still going to be in the future. Having adaptations can be useful in the sense that it can make us go back to these books and rediscovering them.

And, I don’t know, seeing them as testing grounds for what could happen in the future or what we could do about the future. So I think Dune is quite powerful in that sense.

Leigha: Yeah, I have to heartily agree with everything that Yosr and Olimpia have already said. Absolutely. In terms of the richness of its themes and its world building and the relevance of the questions it asks to us as a society. So I’ll add something slightly different and say that I think it’s very well written and it’s a good storytelling, which will draw people into the experience of reading and then also lends self well to adaptation.

We’ve seen adaptations recently that have science fiction and fantasy major franchises that have not done particularly well. And I don’t want to go on the record here or anything because I know how people get about that. But I think in part it’s because for some of those, the storytelling just wasn’t there for them to build on.

But you don’t have that problem with Frank Herbert. You definitely have, solid storytelling that you can use to adapt maybe the kind of central story of the central narrative as we see in the movie, the movies that are coming out now, or, take those kind of other parts that exist like the Bene Gesserit and work those work through those.

So I think that. Herbert’s craft, I know, I think Kara and I, you and I have talked about this before, his craft is underappreciated but because it’s there, that’s another one of the things that lends to the text’s kind of longevity and continued appeal.

Kara: Yes, I totally agree. I think, for me, the themes are really relatable, and I think that, that will keep it going Politics and family culture and religion. We’re probably going to be struggling with those as humanity for quite some time, especially as our population continues to grow the world building for me is what that’s what pulled me in at the beginning and keeps me going And that ability to immerse yourself and to feel like you’re really somewhere else when you’re inside of a story is what I really love about science fiction and fantasy.

And I think that’s what appeals to people is you can get out of your everyday life for a minute when you’re in those stories. And I think even just like on a more basic level, like identifying with Paul as someone who’s going to somewhere. That’s not safe. That’s new. That’s unfamiliar. It’s a little bit scary.

And he’s curious about it, but he’s also really apprehensive about those challenges. And I think that’s really relatable, but like Olimpia mentioned the psychology, and I think that’s a real strength of the book. And Herbert was definitely ahead of his time on is the psychological insight that he gives into the characters.

And through that, that his technique of telling us what they’re thinking. Usually through italics in the text that’s what helps us feel connected and close to them because we can literally listen to their thoughts and that’s not something that you can always get, say, like with the third person narrator.

And I think why new adaptations are continue going to continue to be made is that science fiction has moved into a more visual genre, which is sometimes sad for those of us who really like the books, but. There’s a lot to be said for moving it into the visual media and I think that demand to, to show what’s happening in the stories is going to continue to be something that people try to take on, even though with someone like Herbert very tricky sometimes to try to figure out what did he mean here?

What kind of group was this and how do we put this on the screen? But I think there’s always going to be room for new visions of what that looks like. Wrapping up here do you want to let us know about any future projects that you’re working on related to Dune or science fiction or fantasy and where people can follow your work?

Yosr: Okay. So for starters, I can’t wait to watch Part Two because I’m waiting for it. It will be released in a couple of days here in France. I plan to write about it. I plan to re-examine how how Villeneuve repurposes themes and characters, how Chani will be represented and how some of the key scenes that are most anticipated are going to be filmed.

For science fiction in general I have I have an article due to be published next month in Film International about alienhood in first contact science fiction films. I have already published in Foundation about the work of Brian Evanson in science fiction. And I wrote, because I specialize in adaptation, so I wrote about aesthetically authentic adaptation of fantasy, science fiction, and gothic fiction in Adaptation Journal.

And currently I’m working on a book chapter discussing Miyazaki’s adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle.

Olimpia: My plan is to finish writing my thesis, and of course I can’t wait, just as Yosr said, to watch the second part of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation, because my plan is to focus more on the on your visual adaptations and on even the comic books and the video games. So I want to see how they choose to portray, animals in Dune, especially sandworms.

And of course this time we’re gonna have more sandworm presence than in Dune: Part One. So I’m excited about that and I’m also trying to find new ideas to write to write a few articles on the sequels on Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s books because I don’t know them as well as the first six books I will probably keep a record of what I’m doing on Twitter and on ResearchGate.

Leigha: So I’m not currently working on anything Dune-related. I’m in the very early stages of a book project. The goal of which is to introduce people to how they can use eugenics and disability to think about contemporary science fiction. So if that’s something that’s of interest to you, that will exist in the future, hopefully.

And then I would like to return to do an after that. To think through how eugenics and disability are working in the series and the franchise in a larger way. I teach classes regularly at, through the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D. C. I have a class in April that’s going to be on first contact novels.

And we’re going to read The Mote in God’s Eye and A Half-Built Garden. So you can always find me there if you would like to take a more in depth look into science fiction. And then you can follow me on Twitter @LeighaMcR and I’m also on LinkedIn.

Kara: Cool. Thank you. I have recently branched out into fantasy by studying the names in the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin and as well as the adaptation. And that’s because I’ve written on names in Dune. So names are really interesting. And so that was a really actually fun article to write to look at all the different names that Martin uses and the significance that they have to his world building.

I’ve just finished my third book, Adaptations of Dune, so the last year has been a real roller coaster and a lot of research and writing. And although I didn’t necessarily write it just for future scholars, I did make sure to reference everything. So I hope people in the future who are working on scholarly projects will thank me because referencing that was a lot of work.

And I did look at the faithfulness of the three screen adaptations, and so my plan is to then write a sequel book that will cover Dune: Part Two film, and as well as the Children of Dune miniseries, and then include a full comparison of all the adaptations once they’re complete, and then I’d also like to get back to blogging, which is more short form, things about Dune that I find interesting that there’s not quite enough to write into a full book.

And I also should have a tor.com article coming out about the adaptations as well. And you can find me at dunescholar.com as well as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

I want to say thank you to all of you for participating in the panel. I’ve really enjoyed getting to hear more about your research and your perspectives. I think we all have our own takes on the book and or the adaptations. But it’s really great to hear the different, even just hear how many different angles of research that you can take and different perspectives and Herbert is very nuanced.

And so when you’re researching and writing about it, you have to also add a lot of nuance to your argument, as I’m sure you all know. And so I’m really appreciative of you coming in and talking with us all today. And I hope that we will continue to talk about Dune in the future. There’s so much more to talk about and to explore and you can be fans of the book as well as scholars and I really like that about science fiction.

Yosr: Yeah. Thank you for having us and it’s very nice to meet all of you virtually. Hopefully next time it will be in person. Yeah thank you.

Olimpia: Yeah, thank you so much. It’s always nice getting to talk about Dune, especially with other fans of the books and the movies. So it’s even more enjoyable when you get to see how interesting it can be from a scholarly perspective, and how many options you have and angles and perspective.

So I feel like this has been really enriching and I’m glad I had the chance to talk to you all.