Review: I never read “Dune”. Oh, I tried. How I tried. But Herbert’s dense writing was simply impenetrable to me at an age when I was reading everything. My brother had read the books and it was the fact that he had them that made me try to read them in the first place. I found the stories fascinating, but simply could not get into the novels themselves. (The passage of time has robbed of the memory as to whether I had seen the movie or not.) But then my brother got the book that seemed to solve my problems: “The Dune Encyclopedia”.
“The Dune Encyclopedia” is a collection of articles and images that tries to put all of Herbert’s universe into perpspective. It also expands on those works, providing backstory and a future history to the story of Arrakis. The writing is, naturally, not as expansive as a true narrative, but it goes into more depth than other similar reference works of the day, such as “The Star Trek Concordance”. What really makes “The Dune Encyclopedia” work is that rather than being presented as a “fanbook” intended to enlighten readers of the series, it is presented and written as an actual encyclopedia within the Dune universe, from a perspective of hundreds (if not thousands) of years after the events covered in the books.
This is important, because while Herbert authorized and enjoyed “The Dune Encyclopedia”, he did not give it the stamp of authority. In the introduction to the “Encyclopedia”, Herbert states; “I give this encyclopedia my delighted approval, although I hold my own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold.” He would, in fact, contradict many “Encyclopedia” articles in “Chapterhouse: Dune”, the only book he completed after this tome’s publication. Even more inconsistancies arise when one takes into account the prequels and sequels written by Herbert’s son, Brian, and Kevin J. Anderson. (Although much still fits.) But the decision to write the “Encyclopedia” in-Universe (even expressly pointing out the vagaries of history) can account for these inconsistancies by explaining them as details lost to time.
Entries are written in a clear and precise style. No matter how much material is being covered, it all seems completely digestable, which is not always the case with the source material. I remember being particularly struck by the long history of the many Duncan Idaho gholas. The “Encyclopedia” was able to make that part of the larger story stand on its own.
Illustrations are more sparse than I would have liked, but there are still a lot of images to help visualize Herbert’s creation. Many (if not most) of the images are by comic book artist Matt Howarth and his stylized, almost pointilist artwork is extremely effective in conveying a consistant look to the Dune Universe. (I prefer many of his designs to those seen in any of the live-action adaptations.)
Unfortunately, “The Dune Encyclopedia” is out of print and generally goes for a not insubstantial amount of money. This is most likely due to its status as non-canonical within the space occupied by the prequels and sequels. (Brian Herbert is hardly likely to want competing views standing alongside each other in the marketplace.) Still, status notwithstanding, “The Dune Encylcopedia” is a fascinating attempt to come to grips with Frank Herbert’s daunting mythology. To this day, if I pick it up, I will inevitably not put it down for hours; it continues to enthrall me. While it will hold little appeal to non-fans (especially given the difficulty in getting ahold of it), for anyone who enjoys the worlds of Dune (be it from the books, the film, the TV series or the video games), this is an extremely entertaining work.
Author: Dr. Willis E. McNelly, et. al.