"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct," opens Frank Herbert’s 1965 science-fiction epic Dune. Herbert says of the novel’s beginnings, "It began with a concept: to do a long novel about the messianic convulsions which periodically inflict themselves on human societies. I had this idea that superheroes were disastrous for humans." The concept and its subsequent story, which took Herbert eight years to execute, won the Hugo Award, the first Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the minds of millions. In his 2001 book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, chronicler of cinematic science-fiction follies David Hughes writes, "While literary fads have come and gone, Herbert’s legacy endures, placing him as the Tolkien of his genre and architect of the greatest science fiction saga ever written." Kyle MacLachlan, who played Paul Atreides in David Lynch's film adaptation, told OMNI Magazine in 1984, "This kind of story will survive forever."
Writers of all kinds are motivated by the search and pursuit of story. A newspaper reporter from the mid-to-late-1950s until 1969, Herbert employed his newspaper research methods to the anti-superhero idea. He gathered notes on scenes and characters and spent years researching the origins of religions and mythologies. Joseph Campbell, the mythologist with his finger closest to the pulse of the Universe, wrote in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (1986), "The life of mythology derives from the vitality of its symbols as metaphors delivering, not simply the idea, but a sense of actual participation in such a realization of transcendence, infinity, and abundance… Indeed, the first and most essential service of a mythology is this one, of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being." Dune is undeniably infused with the underlying assumptions of a powerful mythology, as are its film adaptations.
After labored but failed attempts by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Haskell Wexler, and Ridley Scott (the latter of whom offered the writing job to no less than Harlan Ellison) to adapt Dune to film, David Lynch signed on to do it in 1981. With The Elephant Man (1980) co-writers Eric Bergren and Christopher De Vore, Lynch started over from page one, ditching previous scripts by Jodorowsky, Rudolph Wurlitzer, and Frank Herbert himself, as well as conceptual art by H.R. Giger (who had designed the many elements of planet Giedi Prime, home of House Harkonnen), Jean Giraud, Dan O’Bannon, and Chris Foss. Originally 200 pages long, Lynch’s script went through five revisions before it was given the green light, which took another full year of rewriting. “There’s a lot of the book that’s isn’t in the film,” Lynch said at the time. “When people read the book, they remember certain things, and those things are definitely in the film. It’s tight, but it’s there.”