ATREIDES, LETO II:
GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE
© Dr. Willis E. McNelly
Older than the fabled Noah, more godlike than any previous messiah, be it Maometh, his father Paul Muad'Dib, or even Jehanne Butler, Leto II has proved more mercurial, more difficult of understanding, even in the centuries since his timely/untimely death than any other figure in the entire history of humanity on hundreds of star systems or thousands of planets. He is a myth enshrouded in legend, and it may be that he himself created both myth and legend. It may be, in fact, that we will never know the truth about this erratic genius, this predator of the galaxy, this wormlike, wormy god…the epithets could be multiplied exponentially and we will never come near the final truth.
What then are the facts of his life? Born to Paul Muad'Dib, the first Atreides emperor, and his consort, Chani Liet-Kynes, he overthrew the tyrannical rule of the Abomination, Alia Atreides, his aunt, took on the sandworm skin in a move that fundamental religionists have always hailed as the Incarnation, and ruled as God Emperor for over 3,500 years. He died in a fall from a bridge, although the Church of the Divided God claims that the stunted sandworms that still may be found in one small spare desert on Rakis are embodiments of Him-they use the capital letter-and that He will return as the fully grown, terrifying, majestic Shai-Hulud, Old Father Eternity, to restore Arrakis, His home world, and the Fremen, His faithful disciples, to greatness.
We know of course, of the anarchy that followed his death, the Starvation and the Scattering that eventuated in our present civilization. But we do not know Him. The Rakis Finds, of course, have been immensely helpful in our quest for knowledge of his era. We had long since studied and restudied the invaluable, priceless Stolen Journals, but they pale to virtual insignificance beside the richness of the materials in the Dar-es-Balat diggings. So voluminous are they that several decades will elapse before even their cataloging is completed, to say nothing of their analysis.
Of the God Emperor, several things are certain. His voluminous dictatel recordings are largely self-serving and completely lacking in objectivity. Consider his famous statement, one he reiterated again and again, before any audience: "Only fools prefer the past!" Yet has there been any person-if one may refer to Leto as a person-in the thousands of years of recorded history who was so totally dominated by the past as Leto himself9 Did not his conversation continually concern the knowledge he had derived from his thousands of ancestral voices? Did he not refer, again and again, to legendary, perhaps mythic Terran figures such as Chaucer or Alexander? Have we forgotten the wisdom-for such it was, no matter our final assessment of Leto- contained in The Stolen Journals: "if you know all of your ancestors, you were a personal witness to the events which created the myths and religions of our past. Recognizing this, you must think of me as a mythmaker."
What then did Leto mythologize? First of all, himself. He created more legends concerning his immutability, his omniscience, his omnipotence, indeed, his eternal nature, than anything else. Yet, in reality, it was the brute physical strength of the biologic adaptation of the sandworm that he had become that was the original source of his imperial power. He capitalized on that strength-and how many legends he created of his inhuman abilities! -to cement his position as emperor and to terrify entire populations. From that moment on, religious awe and blind superstition, combined with the longevity of the sandworm he was becoming, made his rule inevitable.
An early Duncan Idaho, the consummate Atreidean supporter, rebelled against Leto's increasing authoritarianism and questioned Leto's abuse of that same loyalty. Idaho-11099 initiated the last, sad Sardaukar campaign against the emperor, a move that resulted in Idaho's death, the final destruction of the Imperial Legions, and the founding of the Fish Speakers. Historians, perhaps some of those incinerated by Leto on the pyre of their own works, have remarked on the almost tragic irony involved in this abortive campaign. To be sure, the very notion of any Duncan Idaho leading the hated Saudarkar in an ill-fated, yea, grandiose, campaign battle against an Atreides is the stuff of which a latter-day Harq al-Harba could have made great tragedy. Yet we cannot simply dismiss that Idaho's action as a mere mental aberration and classify it in the same breath as the infamous Dr. Wellington Yueh's treason. Rather we should consider what colossal emotions were required to enable Idaho to overcome his ingrained, almost genetically inculcated, loyalty to any Atreides. And yet just as some revisionist historians have been able to explain even Yueh's triumph over his pyretic conscience by adducing the incalculable passion of his love for his beloved Wanna, so we should now examine Leto's treason-not Duncan-13724's-to the Atreidean way, his treason to his grandfather Leto I, the Red Duke, to his father Paul Muad'Dib, and to himself.
Leto, then, was false to himself and to the ancient Atreides line and its sense of truth, honor, and devotion. It is imperative to remember that he was but an adolescent when he assumed both the throne and the sandworm skin. He never had the opportunity to grow up, to mature. He had never enjoyed a normal life. He was forced to overcome temptation, test after test. Struggles for his very life were for him simple rites of pas- sage even before he was a teenager. And as an early teen, he exhibited all of the outlandish, ridiculous activity we have associated with both adolescence and adolescents for centuries. In fact, one psychologist, Professor Istrafan Koye of the University of Ix, has maintained quite cogently in his monumental The Last of the God Emperors (subtitled There But For the Grace of God Goes God, 3 vol., Salusa Secundus: Karshak) that the key to Leto's character is quite simply that he was an adolescent for the entirety of his 3,500-year reign and that if one wants to understand "His Annelidity" (the phrase is Koye's) one must approach him as one might approach any other juvenile delinquent, with birch rod firmly in hand. How else can we understand Leto's repeated temper tantrums over the fact that his Duncans might disagree with him on even trivial matters or that his majordomos might dare to suggest that "His Ouroborosity" might occasionally have feet (or is the proper word "segments"?) of clay.
Who but a classic "brat kid" could be so unaware of the discrepancy in his own life between appearance and reality, between shadow and substance? We know, for example, from his last dictatel messages recorded shortly before his demise, that he had developed a mad-some would call it "adolescent"-passion for the "incomparable" Hwi Noree. While he admitted that sexual union with her was impossible because his wormself had subsumed his human genitalia many centuries earlier, he nonetheless mooned over her like a teenage boy in heat. To be sure he had his ancestral memories of rampant sexuality to sustain him, he said again and again and again and again, until an Idaho or a Moneo, even a blindly adoring Nayla, might not wonder if he were protesting a bit too much. In fact Koye cogently argued that if memory of sexuality could sustain Leto, why did he not apply the same principle to food and refuse to eat. Surely if memories of ancestral licentiousness could satisfy his sexual need, so also memories of gluttonous banquets stretching back in time for thirty or more centuries should satisfy his physical self.
Koye also was the first to articulate the incredible contradictions between Leto's famed Golden Path and the breeding program he had taken over from the Bene Gesserit. The two seem at opposite ends of the scale: you cannot plan to breed humanity into some higher type and at the same time give humanity the essential freedom which is supposedly at the heart of the Golden Path. Koye even argued, with some accuracy, that the Bene Gessefit were far more successful with their ages-long breeding program than Leto was with his. The Sisterhood, we now recognize, had twice nearly produced the Kwisatz Haderach: according to all indications Jehanne Butler's aborted baby, Sarah Butler, would have produced the Kwisatz Haderach, but, tragically, her death delayed his arrival until Paul Atreides, Leto's father, was born.
How then can we explain the eccentricities, the foibles, the genuine accomplishments of the famous/infamous God Emperor? Because he was worm, he no longer seems human. Because he was human, we tend to forget he was worm. However, we must never forget that he was also, in the grand mythic sense of a long-abused word, King. He ruled over his desert kingdom for nearly four millennia, attempting to birth a civilization, a people and a culture that did not need to fear itself.
One persistent myth, perhaps dozens of centuries old, from legendary Terra, may help explain him. It is the myth of the Fisher King who ruled over a Waste Land, a land so desolate that crops did not grow, humans did not reproduce, and despair was endemic. Wounded in the genitals, the Fisher King's kingdom was sterile, with both ruler and subjects awaiting a Redeemer, a pure Knight who would heal the King and return fertility to the land.
Leto Atreides II was that Fisher King. His Arrakeen desert made any historic or mythic Waste Land seem fertile by comparison. Yet his vision of Arrakis was inevitably limited, perhaps because of his youth, perhaps because of incarnate nature, perhaps because of his very perversity, perhaps because of his essential lack of humanity as evidenced by his lack of genital activity. If his vision for his home planet was limited, so was it also for the Imperium. Because he fancied himself as the Redeemer of his planet and the Imperium, he attempted to become the Knight of particular purity who would heal himself.
He failed in one sense.
He triumphed in another.
He was the once and future King. His vision for his planet and his kingdom failed because, as Leto himself was more than once forced to admit, he was not God in any ultimate sense.
Yet he succeeded because he died, and Redeemers must die for their people. When he died, his limited vision of the Golden Path also died. Thus after the Starvation and the Scattering, we are now free-free from Leto, free from the Golden Path, and free from the threat of ourselves.
Who knows what waits beyond the stars?