Thoughts on symbolism and the novel Dune

I’ve been reading Joseph Campbell’s Primitive Mythology, The Masks of God off and on for the better part of four months now. And I’m only 70 pages or so into it. It’s a dense work. I find myself stopping every few pages, caught in thought of what was said. I started this book with the idea of seeing what ideas I could harvest from it and apply towards the design of RPGs. The reason being is that I saw many parallels between the sort of cultural anthropology Campbell does and the sorts of cultural exploration that RPGs promote.

In the first twenty pages it became abundantly clear that I was right. Despite the fact that Campbell couldn’t had said anything about RPGs (particularly since this work was first published in 1959, a good fifteen years before Dungeons and Dragons was published) the track he takes with his subject headed straight into the reasons why myths persist, what makes good myths, and why we keep using them to tell new stories. With all of that presented to me, it became impossibly easy to see that RPGs are the modern equivalent to sitting around campfires and telling stories to one another.

RPGs are to myth making as Digital Cameras are to the work of Mattew Brady. Both are fundamentally the same but are at opposite ends of their respective history and produces such different results that can only be derived from the advancement of knowledge and technology.

That should have been that. My thesis was given good backing. I could move on and do other research. But I kept reading. Slowly, as I explained before.

This book is like some sort of thought battery. Every time I’m feeling like I can’t get myself to move mentally, all I have to do is read a page or two and the world opens up in new ways.

Today’s reading left me thinking about the novel, Dune. I have always known that it is heavily steeped in the symbolism of religion. It is a practical how-to guide to manipulating your way to power using such symbolism. At least, that’s the thing I thought the reader was supposed to walk away with. But I think that was only a mid-level sort of reading and not the full depth insight I thought it might have been.

There are things about water and mother and the unapproachability of the all-maker-mother that I think I need to consider more. In particular, how Paul (a male) is able to usurp that position with his ascension and acceptance of the god-head and messiah of the Fremen people. Who are, unsurprisingly, caught up in an entire myth-cycle of mother/water symbols. This can be contrasted with the non-ascension of his sister and her possession and eventual destruction in the later books. Indeed, it almost seems to scream now that I think of it, that there is a parallel compare/contrast going on between how the two characters seem to handle the power of the mother myth.

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