How Dune was inspired by the Oregon coast, at the stunning Oregon Dunes, and inspired the creation of How Do Duné?
To those who have visited the central Oregon coast, the sweeping sand dunes of the planet Arrakis, home to the spice melange and giant worms, may ring a familiar tune.
While the world imagined in classic sci-fi novel Dune may be entirely foreign, Pacific Northwest author Frank Herbert first imagined it on a visit to the Oregon Dunes, just outside of Florence.
Dune, originally released in 1965, is now a major film, with upcoming movie adaptations due out on Oct. 22 in theaters across the United States and on HBOMax. The new film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, has an all-star cast that includes Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Rebecca Furguson, and Jason Momoa. While the new film was shot in Europe and the Middle East, Herbert, who was born and raised in Tacoma, was originally inspired by the Pacific coastline's sweeping dunescapes.
According to Dreamer of Dune, a biography written by Herbert's son, Brian Herbert, in 1957, he was burgeoning author, living with his family in Portland following nefarious career as spokesman for failed U.S. Senate candidate Phil Hitchcock. Frank Herbert had already written a highly anticipated novel, The Dragon in the Sea, but his other novels failed to attract an audience and the Herbert family struggled to make ends meet.
Hitchcock told Herbert in 2005 of an exciting ecological project on the central Oregon coast, where government researchers were experimenting with European beach grass in the Oregon Dunes, a 40-mile stretch of oceanfront dunes between Florence and Coos Bay, in an attempt to stabilize the shifting sands.
The dunes were notoriously unstable, shifting and moving in the strong winds that blew in off the Pacific Ocean, putting new communities on the way. According to a 1904 article in The Oregonian, the beach grass, which was first introduced on the Oregon coast in the 1880s, had been used to kill the sand demon up the Pacific coast and along the Columbia River.
Herbert wrote a story about his experiences at the dunes called They Stopped the Moving Sands, but it never made it into the public domain. Instead, the author began a years-long research and writing process that culminated in his landmark sci-fi novel, utilizing science fiction as sonic medium to present his views on ecology, religion, charismatic leaders, and our overreliance on scarce natural resources.
In "Dune" the scarce natural resources are water (a rarity on the desert planet) and spice melange, a natural substance that prolongs life and limits its users' prescience. When war breaks out in the desert over the coveted spice, which has also become necessary for space travel, its easy to read between the lines.
In 1977, Herbert told an Oregon Journal reporter that science fiction writers tend to take a long-term view, following the publication of the third book in his Dune series, Children of Dune. Were imagining future histories, he added.
Herbert was an early environmentalist and a staunch opponent of fossil fuels. According to Dreamer of Dune, he was also deeply connected to the Pacific Northwest landscape, spending his childhood exploring the Olympic Peninsulas forests and paddling around Puget Sound.
That life experience, coupled with his extensive study of desert cultures and his time in politics, laid the foundation for Dune. While the book didn't receive much publicity when it first appeared in 1965, it quickly became one of the most popular science fiction novels ever, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards for science-fiction and fantasy writing and selling millions of copies around the world. It was also used for a 1984 film, directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLachlan, which was withdrawn due to poor reviews.
In the interim, the Oregon Dunes, which gave that first spark of inspiration, were also evolving.
The Oregon Dunes, along with the Sea Lion Caves north of Florence, were designated national seashores in 1958, when the sands were settled. The effort failed, but the dunes were declared a national recreation area in 1972, following efforts from Rep. John Dellenback, the Oregon Republican for whom he is now credited with naming.
The Oregon Dunes has since become a playground for off-highway vehicles, like ATVs, dune buggies and dirt bikes, with plenty of room to explore. Some sections are also available for hikers, such as the Dellenback Dunes, the popular Oregon Dun Day Use Area, and other spots, all managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
In recent years, efforts have been made to reduce invasive beachgrass and restore the sand dunes to their original state, most notably the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative, which is composed of local governments and tribes, federal agencies, politicians, and environmentalists and formed in 2016, 30 years after Frank Herberts death.
The collaborative contends that the complex ecosystem in the dunes requires free-blowing sands to function, and that wildlife is threatened by the effects of invasive beach grass. In what would be a decade-long endeavor, their goal is to protect and restore the dunes.
Bill Blackwell, a representative of the Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative, told the Siuslaw News in 2018. For the dunes to exist, the sand must move, he said. If youre out there, you can tell that it will look different from one day to the next. With the vegetation stabilizing things, the sand cant move, which stabilizes the dunes and simplifies processes, he adds.
The ongoing state of the Oregon Dunes is mirrored with haunting similarities in Dune, in which Arrakis undergoes several transformations throughout Herberts six-book series. Readers can learn more about the fate of that planet, but the future of our dunes is yet to be determined.
Those who want to get a real feel of Dune can find it in any of the many day-use areas in the Oregon Dunes. You wont find spices or sandworms, nor virtuous armies led by a Messianic figurehead, but you will find an inspiring landscape unlike any in the Pacific Northwest.
The Oregon Dunes Day Use Area is located on US Route 101, about 10 miles south of the Siuslaw River Bridge in Florence; visitors must pay a $5 parking fee per vehicle or display 'Northwest Forest Pass'.
Visitors must pay a $5 parking fee per vehicle or display s/he has viewed. The John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead is located on U.S. Route 101, about 6.5 miles south of Winchester Bay.
--Jamie Hale; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-294-4077; @HaleJameB; --HaleJim; oregon.de; 503.94.4077