The Dune Chronicles are highly acclaimed science fiction fantasy books set roughly 20,000 years in humanity’s future. In the series, people have colonized space and struggle with intense rivalry and power struggles. This is a complex and well-developed world contained in 24 books, but is the series suitable for children to read?
Dune books aren’t suitable for children, but they’d be appropriate for young adult readers. These books are complex and present adult themes. Readers can expect descriptions of violence. Sexual content is minimal — mostly implied. However, the writing style can be challenging.
In this article, I’ll cover the reasons people do and don’t like the Dune books so that you can get a better idea of whether your child is ready to read them. Keep reading to find out more.
The Dune Chronicles is a 24-book series. The story spans over 34,000 years and involves many different phases of civilization.
This series isn’t a good fit for children. Many people describe the storyline as heavy.
The names of many characters are rooted in Arabic. The pronunciations may be unfamiliar, and they may get frustrated trying to remember who’s who.
Many people find the Dune books confusing. The story is told from each character’s point of view — which changes without conventional breaks or signals for the reader — and each person’s inner thoughts are written in great detail following their spoken words.
The story also progresses at a slow pace. It’s not the action-packed adventure that many audiences expect from typical science fiction works.
These books fit a mature audience. Readers who do enjoy these books find them very satisfying because they have a variety of settings, characters, conflicts, and ideas for readers to dig into.
This tale focuses on many rich and thought-provoking themes. If you’re trying to decide if your child is ready for Dune, here’s a list of stronger adult material in the books.
This series involves a lot of war. There are technological advantages in warfare. For example, the book contains personal shields that block fast-moving objects like bullets. So, the people use knives and swords in battle, leaving some characters injured or worse.
The fight scenes are described in detail, but the on-page descriptions of blood and gore are generally minimal.
Politics is a prominent theme in these books. The book Dune begins during an age of feudalism. Many royal families balance the power of the Emperors who’ve ruled for millennia. We also meet many other powerful groups, such as the all-female Bene Gesserit.
Each powerful faction works to manipulate the order of civilization in the direction they want. Power struggles are a focus in this story.
Many characters or races work hard to develop their mental and physical abilities.
All the different factions of this intergalactic society are almost entirely dependent on a mind-enhancing drug called melange or “spice” (which occurs naturally only in the deserts of the planet Arrakis, the setting of Dune).
Spice allows them to hone their minds and achieve nearly-magical abilities. This substance is addictive over time.
Like violence, sex is implied; it’s never explicitly described. There are some examples of homosexuality, and the women act as child-bearers for the human species in an ancient practice of selective breeding. While nothing is overt, the mature themes are present.
Many people adore the Dune books for the following reasons:
This story is, on its surface, an exploration of the hero’s journey. But in reality, Herbert wrote it as a fictional depiction of the world’s need for oil and the impacts of this insatiable hunger on the world’s ecosystem.
In his article, William A. Senior writes, “Herbert foresees many of the issues that face us most insistently today: production and price of oil, environmental threats… and the staggering cost in lives, money, and material.”
On the surface, all of the books, and especially the original six volumes, make a great adventure.
Readers often find that they love the books more each time they re-read them because they’re such rich reading. The books do an excellent job of blending political intrigue and the world of science fiction.
There’s also the environmental element mentioned above and even themes of philosophy and religion. One reviewer on Goodreads calls it a “novel of the highest order.”
Herbert’s world-building is incredibly rich. Herbert has a natural flow in his writing style that makes the books easy to read despite the Arabic roots of many of the words.
Another Goodreads’ reviewer asserts that the Dune universe – and the man who created it – takes “’world-building’ to a whole new level.”
Negative reviews of the Dune Chronicles often revolve around many of the same problems.
For some readers, the gender roles in the Dune books boil down to the idea that men are innately driven to make war while women are innately scheming and manipulative — even when the women fill powerful roles.
Many prominent women in the books are relegated to one of two roles: concubines or wives. And their sole purpose often seems to be bringing new children into the world. This leaves the female characters seeming very one-dimensional, especially compared to the books’ male characters.
Many of the names and words used in the books are taken directly from the Middle Eastern or Oriental language or culture. (Unfortunately, many of the words don’t match up with their English counterparts.) Yet, there’s no acknowledgment of the cultural roots in the book.
This severely offends some readers, as you can see in this review, which is very critical of the “brazen appropriation and bastardisation” of the Middle East.
While many fans of the books love Herbert’s writing style, many others critique the writing as boring, very confusing, wooden, and just plain awful. Some readers have a hard time following the plot, especially in dialogue-heavy scenes.
The difficult names and sheer number of characters also makes it hard for some readers to remember who is who and how they relate to the overall plot of the story.
The Dune saga definitely isn’t a children’s story, but young adults just beginning to understand their values and worldview would benefit from reading the series. It’s also a fantastic read for more mature audiences who care about their self-development and broadening their worldview.
Younger readers who explore the Dune universe will find it a challenging but very thought-provoking work.
They’ll work through:
- The concept of nature-versus-nurture
- Coming of age
- Evil and horrors
- Guided or selective procreation
- The oppression of imperialism
- The delicate balance of healthy ecosystems
Be prepared for many questions with the intrepid reader who successfully completes this classic.