Thursday, May 28, 2015

Frank Herbert killed my friend.

Okay, not really, but in a small way he contributed.

The late Frank Herbert, shown without the blood on his hands.
Herbert, of course, wrote the Dune saga, which my friend and the other dorks in our circle began reading in high school. (Nerd herds didn't have book groups per se, but a book that got high marks got passed around, and discussed while doing other things.) I never warmed to the series, as much as I admired the writing and the complexity---basically I hated all the characters and got sick of the entire universe. I plodded as far as God Emperor of Dune, and then I gave up.

My pal continued for at least one more, but I don't think his heart was in it by then. (Spoiler alert!) I think his favorite character was Duncan Idaho, who was killed in the first book---although that didn't stop the guy from appearing in later books. It's complicated.

The problem was not D. Idaho; it was that my friend took some Dune mythology too seriously. The quasi-sciencey mystical types who populate the series are always on about focus and fear and stuff. Yoda totally ripped them off. One of the best known quotes from the first book goes like this:
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
Yeah, well. Fear serves a purpose sometimes. So does pain. Over the course of years I think my pal had conflated the two, telling himself that pain is the mind-killer. I remember when still young, my friend clutching his stomach, saying to himself, "Fear is the mind-killer." Perhaps he said "Pain is the mind-killer." Either fear or the acknowledgment of pain might have prevented his untimely death.

He died in middle age of a massive heart attack that I feel he almost certainly mistook for stomach upset. He'd always been a nervous sort, with the kind of family of origin that could make anyone nervous. And a real type A type. We know now that ulcers are caused by bacteria, but it doesn't mean the stomach is not upset by stress. And he had a lot of stress. We know too that indigestion and heart attacks are often mistaken for each other. By the time he got to the hospital it was too late.

I wonder if he was quoting Bloody Herbert's philosophy to himself all the way.

Anyway, I don't really blame Frank Herbert for his death, as pleasant as it is to blame someone when terrible things happen. I don't even blame my friend. We all make mistakes. That's why pencils have erasers. Sadly, some things cannot be erased.

If I have a point to all this, I suppose it's that fear and pain can be our allies---vicious, horrid allies---to help keep us alive.

And don't believe everything you read in novels.

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