Author's Afterthoughts and Commentary
(Warning: Spoilers for Dune books and TV shows)
Welcome! First I hope you enjoyed the story. It is a tradition of mine to discuss my fanfics after they've been completed: what motivated their creation, the themes I wanted to discuss, and interesting tidbits about how the story was constructed. So I am doing with this story involving my favorite Dune characters, Leto II and Irulan.
First, a few words about my relationship with Dune. I first read Dune in middle school, and while I enjoyed it I didn't really understand some of the deeper themes of the work. Accordingly, I did not really enjoy the next four books (Messiah, Children, God Emperor and Heretics) and didn't even read Chapterhouse until recently. I also enjoyed the Dune movie - even though it's been criticized and revamped (not least by its creator David Lynch) and took liberties with the book, more than any other sci-fi movie it really created a future human society that was almost completely different from today, very feudalistic yet alien.
I did not get back into Dune until the two miniseries on Sci-Fi came out back in 2003. The Dune miniseries was very good, mainly because it was more faithful to the book, both in plot and themes. My only real complaints were that the costumes were a bit corny and too often it felt like it was taking place on a sound stage than in the desert. The actors as a whole were a good if mixed bag; some of the actors were shaky and noticeably worse than the Lynch movie (Leto, Chani, the Emperor), but others were terrific (Paul, Irulan, Jessica, Baron). As good as Dune was, Children of Dune was even better - I honestly think it's the best production of science-fiction that has ever been done for television, certainly as an adaption of a literary work. The first episode in particular (which was Dune Messiah) is nearly perfect. Rereading the books immediately afterward, I could tell they did a very good job in condensing the plotlines. I also took the time to reread God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune; GEOD is actually now my favorite Dune book of all. Heretics of Dune is IMO a noble failure: a very interesting portrayal of the Empire 1500 years after Leto II is gone, with some very interesting ideas entertained (the true nature of the Tleilaxu, the Bene Gesserit finally reconciling itself with Leto II's legacy), but the main antagonist is deadly dull (the Honored Matres). Unfortunately, Chapterhouse is terrible, which is quite the indictment from me because I tend not to be supercritical; it's not because it lacks Herbert's characteristic dense plotting and intricate detail, but because the Honored Matres are now the main focus, and like I said, cardboard villains. Oh well, four-and-a-half out of 6 isn't bad!
Not long after the Dune Exapnded Universe really began to take off. I have only skimmed through the Butlerian Jihad books and the House books, but I did enjoy Paul of Dune and The Winds of Dune. Note: I completely skipped the noncanonical parts! They have some very nice portrayals of Irulan in both of them, although IMO they do not write Maud'Dib convincingly. I also recently found a copy of the Dune Encyclopedia, which provides lots of interesting (albeit noncanon) backstory for the Dune Universe. One of the themes about the Encyclopedia, along with Paul of Dune and The Winds of Dune, that I find very interesting is the idea of how distorted history can be compared to actual events. Much of the material about Leto II and Muad'Dib, for example, is written from a future perspective, looking backwards to the contemporary time of these characters (Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune), and it's very interesting to read how they both confirm and dissent from the picture painted in the novels. Paul of Dune and The Winds of Dune do it as well; if one wants to be cynical, one could say they do it as a justification to take liberties with canonical history as portrayed in the original Herbert novels! But the twist involved with Bronso of IX in The Winds of Dune, who is very much a different kind of character in Dune Messiah, is extremely poignant.
Coming back to the fanfic, as I said before Irulan and Leto II are my favorite characters, and I'm not ashamed to say that the miniseries are a major reason why. They make for an interesting contrast: Irulan is the most human down-to-earth, reassuring, even innocent, character in the saga, while Leto II is the most exotic, alien, and beguiling and terrifying one. James MacAvoy, who has gone on to bigger things, successfully portrays Leto II's whimsey and power, yet is not as alien and unnerving as the 9-year old in Children of Dune; he's much more human, which makes even more sympathetic and appealing. Julie Cox is a nice presence in Dune, but in Children of Dune she's very sympathetic, and that extra scene with her and Alec Newman is terrific in filling in why Irulan becomes so loyal to the Atreides in Children of Dune (a turn which is not really explained in the novel). Paul of Dune and The Winds of Dune seem to build on that, although Irulan's character does seem a bit incongruous in Paul of Dune, which takes place before Dune Messiah, and ends with her much more comfortable with the state of affairs than she is portrayed in Messiah. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was so captivated by her that I was much more attracted by the idea of a Paul-Irulan relationship than the actual Paul-Chani one - or in modern fanfiction parlance, I was definitely a Paul-Irulan shipper! In fairness, the canon portrayal of Paul and Chani in Dune Messiah is only slightly better.
Meanwhile, because I love God Emperor of Dune so much, Leto II is my favorite character. It's kinda funny and scary to think that all the events that Muad'Dib sets into place in the first three books are in the grand scheme of things only important because Leto II comes into the scene, and he becomes the most important figure in human history (and the novels). Regarding the 'conclusions' to the Dune Saga of Hunters/Sandworms of Dune, I am less than enamored with them, mainly because I was hoping Leto II would make a comeback, but that's for another day. Anyway, like I said Leto II was my favorite character, and for some time now I wanted to write a fanfic involving him and Irulan. As past readers of my works know, I mostly write fanfics that try to fit within existing canon. There is very little interaction between Leto II and Irulan in the novel of Children of Dune, and the Dune Encyclopedia has an inconsequential denouement for Irulan's fate: she is involved in raising the Atreides household, then dies of obscurity on Wallach. It suddenly became very clear what kind of story would be interesting to write between Leto II and Irulan: one in which Leto is there just when Irulan dies. Like that quote about children's authors in the story suggests, I could imagine Leto forseeing the future to see when Irulan would die, and arrange to bring her into his presence, and revealing some of his deepest secrets to her. The extra twist I added was that it was Irulan who first asked Leto to be with her when she was about to die. In reality, I could imagine Leto II being enraged at anyone presuming to ask that he be their Oracle, but I posit that he has just enough of a soft spot within to grant this audacious request.
As I discussed earlier, the distortion of history and the possibility that events in the past are far different from what they were in reality is a recurring idea in Dune. I used the Dune Encyclopedia's account of Irulan's fate as the 'official' history, and construct the story by showing how things actually turn out. Referring to Leto II's thought-recording machine in GEOD, I assume that, occasionally, Leto wants to go 'off record' and do things without any witnesses. Giving this unorthodox audience with Irulan is one of the things which would be puzzling to future historians (Leto showing such sentimentality), that I would imagine it's something he would not want known. Also, such blatant use of prescience is something I think Leto II hates to do (both he and Paul had serious misgivings about their powers), so again he would not want it known.
What follows next are comments about specific parts of the story, in chronological order; comments relate to quotations from the story in bolded italics:
...but down here in the heart of his Citadel...
The story starts in a large underground citadel that I imagine is constructed under the Imperial Palace of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune - it may or may not be the Citadel of God Emperor of Dune.
...It was times like this when the fullness of Leto's Foresight blossomed into its full and awesome completeness...
Abstract and allegorical language is the only way to begin to describe what Leto perceives, especially when talking about the future.
...Minutes later four Fremen Guards entered the chamber...
The female Fremen Guards are a hint of the Fish Speakers to come. Duncan Idaho is thrown in as an afterthought, although he is a very sympathetic character in GEOD and, to a lesser degree, CoD.
...Though she was ninety nine years of age, Time had been good to her...
The timeline of Irulan's life comes from the Encyclopedia: based on the dates, I assume Irulan is 44 years older than Leto II, so when Leto is 9 she is 53. The Dune Encylopedia says Irulan died when she was 83, but I made her 99, in reference to Sarah in the Bible.
...If you truly cared for me, Lord Leto, killing me would have been far less cruel than this bloodless exile...
...Leto continued to be forthright: "To protect your historical legacy."
In the Encylopedia it says Irulan left Arrakis to live on Wallach and die there; I can't imagine Irulan ever leaving Leto's household voluntarily, so instead I have Leto order her there into exile, which devastates her. I also suggest that in order to create the saintlike reputation Irulan develops after Leto II is gone (according to the Encyclopedia), Leto sends her away so that she is not tainted by association with Leto's increasingly tyrannical rule.
...Had they killed me, I would have died praising your name with my very last breath...
This is the first hint of how Irulan's devotion to Leto has become something akin to worship, which is something we know from GEOD that Leto personally detests but is not afraid of manipulating to his advantage.
He Foresaw himself as Irulan was seeing him: a full-grown man, about nine centimeters taller than his father but slenderer, encrusted from head to toe with sandtrout...
What Leto II looks like 40 years into his transformation was inspired by The Creature from the Black Lagoon: I imagine him being a full-grown man, covered from head to toe with worm scales. The bulk of the worm-form is beginning to grow on his back, but his face remains normal.
Irulan looked at him with curiosity. "So is there a unique Leto II… in there?"
Irulan wonders whether there is a unique Leto II individual persona. Children of Dune suggests there is not, that both he and Ghani's personalities were all but obliterated while they were growing up. Instead of almost falling to Abomination, instead Leto relied on a pharaoh-type person to build the persona of Leto. If so, it's very disturbing, but I like Irulan am more of an optimist, and assume that there was a unique Leto II individual, even if twisted by experience with Other Memories and prescience.
How I longed to be there, be Harah, nourishing you with my body the way only a mother can feed her children."
I think this is a very accurate depiction of how Irulan would feel about the newborn Leto and Ghanima. Typically, Leto responds with a brutal wisecrack. I also think it's true that Irulan did not fear Leto and Ghanima, oddly because she was deliberately ignorant of who they were really. It exasperated Ghanima when Irulan treated her like a child, but that loving naivette also touched Ghanima deeply - she prays that she won't have to kill Irulan as she plots to kill Farad'n!
...I loved and cherished you both, and even though all the others feared you, I never did...
One thing I think is clear is that Irulan does not fear Leto and Ghanima, either because she does not fully understand what they are and what they're capable of, or her blind love for them (a reflection of her deep desire that she could have been their mother) keeps her from using her intellect to understand.
"That wry sardonic tone is very much you, Leto. Your father, despite being a young man himself, was a much more measured, cautious personality."
As Irulan notes, Paul is generally a much more reserved and serious person in Dune, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, while Leto is more playful, disrespectful, and chaotic in CoD and GEOD. "I need more freedom!" indeed.
"I ask more for my father than myself," Leto answered. "What made you our Ruth?"
I'm not sure Leto II wouldn't already know why Irulan was so devoted to the Atreides, but it's important to realize that despite all his powers of perception, he is not a mind-reader, so I can imagine that he (and the Paul within) would be curious as to why she was so devoted.
...And when he was gone—I felt grief, worse than anything I had ever experienced, and I knew, I knew, even though I wasn't your mother, I would do anything to protect you and Ghani, because you are our only hope, our only chance for survival, even salvation!
As said earlier, I used the non-canonical scene from the miniseries Children of Dune, Paul's final conversation with Irulan, as the trigger. Afterwards, while Irulan is lying on her side in that Godfather-esque montage, I imagine she's overwhelmed by what Paul has revealed to her, and in this moment of crisis undergoes an explosive conversion to the Atreides, kind of like Saul on the road to Tarsus. And once again, Leto hates being treated as a god!
Leto grinned. "I want my children to surprise me."
As readers of GEOD know, Leto loves surprises, hence the repeated reference.
...Sometimes, these authors would do so, not just because it was the compassionate and generous thing to do, but because they would be assured that the endings of their stories would not be spoiled, thus reducing the audience for their works.
The reference to the children's author who tells dying children what the outcome of the story is, I'm sure you suspect, to none other than J. K. Rowling; I read online a story of her doing this, and I must admit I'm not sure it's entirely true, but the logic is exactly what Leto would do.
...Leto allowed his father-persona to speak truly for itself: "Because I was selfish and afraid, Irulan...
I do think what I make Paul Atreides say to Irulan is close to the truth, with an added dose of humanity. The sequel books that take place between Dune and Children of Dune flesh this out, sometimes too much so IMO (see below).
The Golden Path is not a path to a particular future, it's a path away from any chosen future. Only by walking the path that is not preset, only through an unplanned evolutionary future, can humanity's indefinite survival be assured."
When you think about what the Golden Path actually was...
(massive spoilers for GEOD)
...it's so obvious in retrospect: Leto is trying to neutralize his powers of prescience by breeding someone who cannot be seen through prescience. In addition, he deliberately does not interfere in plans to resist his powers, hence his allowing the Ixians to develop no-rooms, substitutes for navigators, and Tleilaxu-produced spice.
It's amusing in retrospect to go back and reread GEOD and see how many different ways Herbert has of hinting at it without saying it outright. Knowing this, it's easy to backfill the explanation of why Paul did what he did, and what Leto did what he did.
...She was silent for awhile. Then suddenly tears came to Irulan's eyes. "I'm so sorry, Leto!"
...Irulan worked up the courage to ask: "And may I ask who would have been your mate in such a scenario?"
Of course, after learning the deepest secrets of the grand design of human destiny, Irulan's immediate response is concern for Leto personally, which represents her continued devotion to Leto and the Atreides. It's here that I indulge in a little AU speculation and shipdom: imagine if Ghanima had taken the wormskin, what then? Obviously, Leto II would know be the seed of the breeding program to produce the Golden Path. Who would his partner be? The Winds of Dune list some of the possibilities, but I was amazed they didn't list the most obvious one: Leto II and Irulan! True there's an age difference, but in a sci-fi world, and with Bene Gesserit biotechniques, not impossible. Also, Irulan has several sisters, but I can't imagine Leto ever being with Wensicia, lol!
...Do not fall prey to the Everettian Heresy!
Everett is a reference to Hugh Everett and the theory of many worlds, the idea that every possible universe exists in some alternate quantum reality. Whether Leto can perceive such alternate realities is debatable, but I imagine that they represent a terrible temptation, so he is very cross if anyone asks him the question: what-if? Hence calling it a heresy.
...and would have done everything in her power to possess me, so that she could strangle you, before we ever consummated the marriage. Or perhaps even while doing so!
The perverse side of Leto is fully evident here, as he torments Irulan with visions of him and her bonded and producing children, visions that are both extremely disturbing and extremely seductive to Irulan. And of course, the various personas within Leto would have had very different reactions to the idea. It's a side of Leto I'm glad Herbert did not elaborate too much of in GEOD. In a way, Leto is not only the hero of that book, he is also the villain.
"I, I… know you don't think of yourself as God, but you're god enough. Be good to your people… and be good to yourself... Please, just try to love—Leto!"
Irulan's last words were difficult to create, although I knew the sense I wanted to create with them: I imagine she would still want Leto to find love, even if she knows it's impossible. I was mindful I had to avoid having her touch Leto's face, as only Hwi Noree in GEOD ever does so.
...Irulan had died less than a hundredth of a millisecond after Leto Foresaw the time and place of her death thirteen years ago
Leto's awareness that Irulan died at exactly the same time and manner as he saw many years ago is a critical point, as it shows his prescient powers and why he's trying so hard to negate them.
...Take her to the deathstill in Sietch Tabur, by yourself, let no one know of your coming or going. Irulan's water and ashes are to be taken up in a 'thopter and spread across the surface of Arrakis. She will be made a part of Dune forever...
What to do with Irulan's water was an interesting question. Rather than keep it in his Citadel, which would ultimately be ransacked and defiled after he died, I imagine he would rather make sure that Irulan became a part of Arrakis forever, so he has her water scattered over the planet.
"Enough of this," Leto said to himself. It was time to let Time resume itself.
As the recording machines turn back on, Leto has already put Irulan past, and as the title of the story suggests, Leto is once again trapped like a hamster forever running 'along the endless wheel of time'. It takes a while, but he is finally freed at the end of GEOD.
A final note: as you may have heard, originally Brian Herbert was planning to write a Dune novel set during Leto II's rule. Instead that project was cancelled, and they're going to write other novels (about the origins of the Bene Gesserit I believe). I was very disappointed by this, but after writing this story I think I understand why they might have done it. Leto's driving motivation is to ensure that the universe evolves so that humanity escapes the trap of prescience. It's probably no coincidence that GEOD takes place in the very last moments of his rule: for 3500 years before that, the story would be a continuous repetition of his servants wondering what the Golden Path was, his enemies trying to defeat him and failing, and potential descendants failing to escape his powers or fulfil the Golden Path. GEOD is a story about what kind of surprise can happen to someone who is unable to be surprised. Everyone interacting with him wants to know why he's doing what he's doing, but he never explains himself until the very end. Of course, when he does so it's obvious.
The problem with writing a Leto II story is that there are no surprises: Leto always knows in advance what's going to happen and ensures that he wins. This demonstrates the dangers of prescience, but unfortunately also makes for poor drama. Any pre-GEOID story would end up repeating much of what was said in GEOD, or would have to prematurely spill the beans, as this fanfic does.
(Massive spoilers for GEOD)
As an aside, contrary to what Leto says at the beginning of GEOD, I'm pretty sure he knew exactly when and how he was going to die: as soon as he saw that he could not see Siona's future, that was enough, and he deliberately allowed the conspiracy to kill him. It's one of things you need to keep in mind when reading GEOD: you can never be sure when Leto's telling the truth!
It's a shame, as I would love to have seen more stories involving Leto II, but because of the inherent problem involved with a character who knows the future, perhaps it's for the best. Still, it would have been great to see a movie/TV show of God Emperor of Dune, although very difficult to create.
Okay, hope you all enjoyed this short little story involving Leto II and Irulan. I wanted to see Irulan rewarded for her lifetime of love, devotion and faithfulness to the Atreides, and I wanted to show the human side of Leto, and hopefully I succeeded. Hope you continue to find new Dune stories to enjoy!
- November 10, 2012