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5 Great Parenting Lessons From ‘Dune’

Is 'Dune' the greatest book about parenting ever?

There are a lot of great books on parenting. Hell, Fatherly even wrote one, which you should totally snag right here. But what all those great books about parenting will oddly lack is giant sandworms emerging from the surface, daring you to ride them. It’s unclear if sandworms were edited out of other parenting books, or if this was merely an oversight on the part of several authors, but luckily, in 1965, Frank Herbert decided to write the greatest parenting book of all time and made sure those sandworms — better known as Shai-Hulud — got into the pages of a book called Dune.

Sure, Dune has been marketed as a science fiction novel, and if you’ve watched the movie on HBO Max, you probably think it’s some kind of Lord of the Rings deal in space. But it’s not. Dune is an excellent science fiction masterpiece, but that was just a smokescreen to deliver a few kernels of parenting wisdom. Don’t think Dune was published to give you so low-key parenting advice? Consider this: The first edition of Dune was published by Chilton Books. Now, if you had a dad that worked on your car, then you know that Chilton Books was a longtime publisher of automotive repair manuals. Yes, and they also published Dune. Just when you thought Dune couldn’t get more dadcore, then you realize it was published by the same people who wanted to help dads fix their pick-up trucks on a tight budget.

Anyway, now that you’re convinced Dune is, in fact, a parenting book, here are the five best pieces of parental wisdom from the novel.

You gotta get real with your kids

On page 68 of the book, Duke Leto wrestles with whether or not he should tell 15-year-old Paul everything that is going on. Leto decides he can’t really lie to his son. Here’s the passage:

The truth could be worse than he imagines, but even dangerous facts are valuable if you’ve been trained to deal with them. And there’s one place where nothing has been spared for my son — dealing with dangerous facts.

Teach your kids how to spot trouble

On the very next page, page 69 of the novel, Duke Leto talks to Paul about how he totally knows that he’s walking into a trap on the planet Arrakis. It’s not about avoiding traps. It’s about figuring out where the traps are to begin with.

“Paul!” The Duke frowned at his son. “Knowing where the trap is — that’s the first step in evading it.

Our kids will be disappointed when we make mistakes

Throughout the book, various insights from Princess Irulan — including thoughts about her father — make the philosophy and depth of Dune much different to read than to watch. In the new film, you’ll notice the pseudo-narration from Irulan is absent, while the character herself will probably show up in the sequel. Regardless, several of her epigraphs slay in the book, including this one all about when children are aware of their parent’s foibles.

There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man — with human flesh.

When Fatherly talked to Oscar Isaac about playing Duke Leto Dune he echoed this sentiment saying, “What’s more interesting to me is how a father struggles to do the right thing.”

Teach your kids the true definition of a home

The action of the novel Dune begins as a family is about to leave their home; the planet Caladan, and permanently relocate to the planet Arrakis. In this way, Dune begins as a big family adventure. But how do we teach our kids to let go of places and embrace the idea that home is where true love lives? On page 308, Paul remembers the words of one of his teachers, Thufir Hawat, who says:

Parting with people is a sadness. A place is just a place.

Parents: Stop worrying!

Perhaps the greatest — and most famous — parenting lesson in Dune is not one Paul gets from his father, or one of his father figures, but instead, from his mother, the Lady Jessica. As a member of the Bene Gesserit, Lady Jessica knows how to use “the litany against fear” to calm herself. She teaches it to her son Paul, and it 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.”

Obviously, it’s okay for kids to be scared. I would never recommend that a five-year-old recite the Bene Gesserit litany. Let kids have their feelings! But, you know who this litany is really for? Parents. As Nora Ephron wrote in her essay “Parenting In Three Stages,” the one defining truth of all parents is that “the worrying never stops.” But, what the Bene Gesserit litany does for parents is obvious: You must not constantly worry about your kid. It really is the mind-killer and all that worry will kill you if you let it. It doesn’t always work, but the next time you’re stressed about your kid, maybe try repeating this litany to yourself. You may find yourself a happier and healthier parent!

You can watch Dune: Part One on HBO Max right now, or you can snag a copy of the book and get super zen. (Both are good too!)

Face your fear! Read Dune!