Historical Figure- Frank Herbert

By Aaron Hicks

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Born Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr. on October 8, 1920, in Tacoma, Washington.

Member of the Greatest Generation (born c. 1901-1924)

From a young age, he provided food for the family by hunting

Father and mother were alcoholics and had unstable work

Raised in very poor conditions of the Great Depression

Ran away from home at age 18 to live with his aunt and uncle

Served in the US Navy during WWII

Married a fellow writer in college, Beverly Stuart

Never graduated from college, because he only took "interesting" courses instead of those required


  • Read the complete works of Shakespeare, Herman Melville, and Marcel Proust
  • Favorite science fiction authors were Jack Vance, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells
  • Began writing at 14, when he received his first typewriter as a gift
  • Worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist and as a political speechwriter for a senator for 25 years before becoming a short story author and eventually a full-time novelist.
  • Read many psychologists' works, including Freud and Jung
  • Raised Catholic, but later practiced parts of Zen Buddhism


Frank Herbert wrote many of his works as a precaution against human luxury; his dedication in Dune reads "this effort in prediction" instead of 'this tale of fiction.'

"Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty."

This quote shows Herbert's steely determination and hard-working attitude that allowed him to even publish his masterpiece in the first place, but also to cultivate the skills that had led him up to that point.

Ahead of His Time

If Frank Herbert had been born today, he and his works would be much more widely accepted. His love of the outdoors and concern for the environment, disciplined working mentality, his wide interests in sciences, taste for photography and boating, and frugal mindset would make him feel right at home in the current "hipster" community. He may have been less successful, because he would not be a revolutionary new author in his genre, but I still believe his stories would be bestsellers. His very modern ideas on ecology and environmental preservation were decades ahead of their time, while they are very common today.

If I were Frank Herbert and I were alive today, I would definitely be actively working on my self-sufficient, self-contained ecological demonstration project that I began in my house, and be geared towards adapting it to a larger scale, possibly a community. Another goal of mine would be educational reform and public speaking. The only reason I, Frank Herbert, had earned my success, was through steely, teeth-gritting determination and self-discipline. If I were to share my ideas about this to an audience, then I feel like I could benefit their lives. I would also try to make a change in the youth of the world to inspire passion for reading and writing and introspection to lead to a greater understanding of the self.

How the Times Shaped Frank Herbert

Frank was already from a poor family before the Great Depression. He moved around his entire childhood as his alcoholic parents sought work. He never knew luxury, but it didn't matter, because he enjoyed being thrifty and frugal. He learned to be independent, occupied himself with reading and storytelling, and eventually writing.
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Political Cartoon

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In this article by Erik Hanberg, a brief history of Frank Herbert's life in Tacoma and beyond is described from the point of view of a native Tacoman. It describes his fixation on nature and how he connected with the world through the woods and the lakes and rivers of Tacoma, Washington, inspiring many of his ecological themes throughout his novels. However, the article also points out that the heavy pollution in Tacoma -some of the worst in the United States at the time, due to the large smelter outside town- contributed to Herbert's environmental preservation fixations in both his novels and his personal life. A periodic sentence (in bold and italics) is used to describe this, stating "Frank Herbert developed a deep respect for the natural rhythms of nature. The ecology message, so prevalent in much of his writing, is one of his most important legacies." This message was so important to Herbert, who was always living out his wildest ideas, that he started a home sized project for a fully self-sufficient ecosystem that could foster human occupancy. Overall, Frank Herbert's upbringing in Tacoma led to define his identity, and subsequently his works, extensions of his thoughts in narrative form.

Impact of Dune on Today

Dune was written when the Space Race was just heating up, the height of the Civil Rights movement in America was approaching, psychology was rapidly expanding, the future potential of computers was being discovered, and the Cold War was looming over America and the world.

Some prominent themes in Dune include human evolution and advancement; space exploration; ecology; interplay between politics, religion, and power, and psychology and sociology.

Dune reflects the period it was produced in because a rapid advancement in science and technology was leading to whole new visions of the future, and Frank Herbert was one of the first to extrapolate the dangers of rapid advancement and the impact this could have on the environment and society.

would have been less impactul if it had been published more recently, because science fiction is now a more established genre, with classics like Star Wars, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Ender's Game now defining science fiction.

Frank Herbert writes in a very rich, deep style, using lots of vivid descriptors and constantly calling back to earlier phrases and quotes within his own story. He really allows the reader inside the mind of many of his dynamic, real characters, changing the viewpoint constantly and switching to internal dialogue. This internal dialogue is key to understanding the deep psychological twists and turns of the novel's intricate plot and the character motivations. This was his most prominent literary device in the book, and was shown in italics whenever it occurred.

"The hooded head turned at Paul's movement, opening a wedge of face to moonlight. Jessica saw a sharp nose, one glinting eye- dark, so dark the eye, without any white in it- a heavy brown and upturned mustache.

'A likely cub,' the man said. 'If you're fugitives from the Harkonnens, it may be you're welcome among us. What is it, boy?'

The possibilities flashed through Paul's mind: A trick? A fact? Immediate decision was needed" (Herbert, 272).

There are only a few authors I can compare Frank Herbert to, and they only really relate in a few aspects of their writing styles.

  • Isaac Asimov has a similar imagination and vision of the future's possibilities in his Foundation series.
  • Orson Scott Card writes his novels in the Ender saga in the same structure as Herbert, referencing other characters and parts of the universe at the beginning of each chapter.
  • For Frank Herbert's diction and syntax, a good comparison would Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall books.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien is the only author I can think of who also singlehandedly created a vast universe, complete with languages and maps, in his Lord of the Rings series.

Works Cited

  • Dune. N.d. The Folio Society. Tor.com. By Sam Weber. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
  • "Frank Herbert." Frank Herbert. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
  • Frank Herbert. N.d. Post Defiance. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
  • Hanberg, Erik. "Son of Tacoma, Father of Dune." Postdefiance.com. Post Defiance, 16 Jan. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
  • Herbert, Brian. Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. New York: Tor, 2003. Print.
  • Herbert, Frank, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson. The Road to Dune. New York: Tor, 2005. Print.
  • Herbert, Frank. Chapterhouse, Dune. New York: Putnam, 1985. 344. Print.
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune. Philadelphia: Chilton, 1965. Print.
  • Maine, Hugo. Dune - Ride the Sandworm. N.d. DeviantArt.com. Deviant Art, 2005. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
  • "The Official Dune Website." The Official Dune Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.