Why was the book Dune by Frank Herbert so successful?
Most people would probably say world-building. Herbert created a compelling futuristic world of suspensor lamps, stillsuits and blue-eyed spice-drugged Fremen, and in it he placed the unassuming Paul Atreides, the character every one of us, male or female, identifies with. But let’s dig a deeper, let’s “get into the weeds” as one of my professors used to say. I’m talking adjectives here. And yes, Herbert was a master.
“The woman was a witch shadow—hair like matted spiderwebs, hooded ‘round darkness of features, eyes like glittering jewels.”
I LOVE THIS SENTENCE!
She’s more than evil, she’s powerful. Or is she? Witches, even in the future, only have the power we give them. So, who gave her power? Ut oh, it turns out his mother did. She mated with his father on command. But it gets worse. His mother disobeyed the witch.
This phrase feeds on the first. Spiderwebs hide in corners and under chairs. Nearly transparent, they are easy to miss. These words aren’t about her hairstyle. Herbert is telling us that her web, and his mother’s disobedience, has caught something—and his name is Paul Atreides.
I confess. I stole this phrase. Yup. I used it to describe the eyes of a dragon. It screams EVIL.
Herbert’s wonderful adjectives aren’t limited to his prose. Consider some of the titles of his books:
I like this one because it plays on the well known “Kingmakers.” I guess things are different in the future. They don’t just make kings, they make gods.
I’ve got read this book. What the devil is a “Whipping” star?
My husband is an Alabama boy. He grew up on the gulf coast. His senior year, he and three others went stag to homecoming. On the way home they drove down to the beach to park and watch the sun come up. Not yet legal, they nonetheless were well supplied with beer. They popped a few open, loosened their ties, kicked off their shoes . . .
Waves, coming in the open car windows, woke them up. Nope, the car didn’t make it out alive.
Often my adjectives are like the story you just read—painfully predictable. A great book—or a great poem—helps me splash my readers in the face with borrowed gems. I am also learning to link my adjectives as Herbert did with “witch”, “shadow”, and “spider-web”, to create a picture within a picture. We not only know what the woman looks like, we know she is of the dark, moves in the dark, and more dark is coming.
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