Walking through the dunes. Credit Warner Bros.

As you might know by now, sci-fi author Frank Herbert’s grandson, Byron Merritt, lives in Marina. Now, does he live in Marina because of the famous Marina dunes? This intriguing question was posed by my newsroom colleague Christopher Neely, and before I got an answer from Mr. Merritt, I did some research.

It was 1957 when Herbert encountered the dunes that inspired the book that inspired the movie (check out the brand-new adaptation in theaters near you). 

As an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Herbert was sent to Florence, Oregon where, at the north end of the Oregon Dunes, he was trying to use grasses to stabilize them. He found them massive and unpredictable, able to “swallow whole cities,” as he wrote in a letter. The fascination with the dunes combined with Herbert’s love of T.E. Lawrence, the British hero of the Arab Revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire, supposedly is the foundation of the series.

But there’s more. Dune, especially its first volume, remains a quintessential coming-of-age story important to whole generations, a story of a boy, a messiah, who is born to confront and then change a world that is not acceptable as it is. Herbert wasn’t insensitive to more recent history either, barely 40 when he was writing, researching and revising the book. 

He first published a three-part serial Dune World in late 1963 and early 1964. In 1958, the U.S. invaded Lebanon to protect the country from international Communism, as prescribed by the Eisenhower Doctrine accepted the year prior. That event marks the beginning of the modern American military involvement in the Middle East.

Additionally, between 1958 when Dune was conceived and 1956 when it was published in a full form, the U.S invaded Panama, Haiti, Congo, Cuba, Laos, Ecuador, Brazil, Indonesia, Dominican Republic and continued military operations in Vietnam.

This historical context is hard to ignore and the powerful critique of imperialism that beams from the book has been embraced by the new adaptation directed by Denis Villeneuve, and starring Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson. At least that’s what the part one suggests, since the movie is split, and after 2.5 hours we are still just halfway through the book. It will be at least a year before we will be able to continue the journey into the land of Fremen.

A special suit-and-tie premiere of the movie took place at Century Marina last Friday, Oct. 22. The well dressed crowd was checked in by Byron Merritt himself. There was clapping, cheering and popcorn munching. The air smelled properly (popcorn again), and we all were mesmerized how big the screen and the sound were. It felt like we were sitting in the dunes with Chalamet and Ferguson waiting for a sandworm to show up, keeping our lips sealed to protect ourselves from omnipresent sand. 

But the dunes of Marina are not the reason why Merritt lives in Monterey County, it turns out. 

“My wife and I chose Marina because we fell in love with a home and neighborhood,” Merritt explains. Go figure. Merritt was the driving force behind the event that was a great celebration of him, his grandfather and our common cultural heritage.  

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