I’ve lived in Washington state my entire life. I’ve never lived anywhere else, although I’ve lived all over the state: Western Washington, Eastern Washington, and pretty much smack-dab in the middle.
I’m proud of my state, and I have a natural affinity for anything local. A few years ago, I learned about a local connection I hadn’t been aware of. Frank Herbert, the author of the acclaimed Dune science fiction series, was from Tacoma. I had never read Dune (at least, not until about a month ago when I read it in preparation for the feature film adaptation that was released in October), which is shocking given my love of science fiction. But when I learned of Herbert’s local connection, I was eager to learn more about him and how living in our wonderful state shaped him as a writer and as a person.
Herbert was born at St. Joseph’s hospital, and attended high school at Lincoln High School — which, coincidentally, is where my mom attended high school. He was adventurous and loved exploring the natural environment. He once swam across the Tacoma Narrows.
The inspiration for the desert planet of Arrakis, the setting of Dune, was sand dunes in nearby Oregon.
As Oregon Public Broadcasting explains: “In the early 20th century, the coastal Oregon city of Florence was under threat of being consumed by the nearby dunes that were being whipped across human structures by the coastal winds. Roads, railroad tracks, even homes were being swallowed up by blowing sand. Starting in the 1920′s, the US Department of Agriculture ran a program to try and stabilize the dunes by planting European Beach Grass. The hope was that its dense roots would hold the sand in place and prevent it from burying nearby cars and homes.”
Hebert planned to write an article about the Department of Agriculture’s efforts, and OPB writes that he was “awestruck by the power of the blowing desert sand.” He wrote in a letter, “These waves can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave in property damage,” which seems to be a clear inspiration for the ever-shifting sands that dominate the landscapes in the novel he would go on to write. The ecological themes are there as well, as a major plot point of the book is the Fremen’s efforts to terraform the planet to make it more hospitable for human life.
Tacoma Public Library has an interesting video that further discusses Herbert’s connection to Tacoma. Check it out here: