Where did Herbert's interest in psychology come from? As a student in the 1930s, he studied some of Carl Jung's work on the collective unconsciousness and dabbled in experiments into extra-sensory perception, following the work of Joseph Banks Rhine. But in 1949, aged almost 30 years and struggling to make a career as a reporter, he moved to Santa Rosa, near San Francisco, USA. There he met psychologists Ralph and Irene Slattery who would have a huge impact on him. Irene had been a student of Jung's at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, and let Herbert pore over her notes from those classes. She'd also seen Adolf Hitler speak in the 1930s and described him as “terribly dangerous…because of the way his people followed him…without questioning him, without thinking for themselves”.
Under the Slatterys' influence, Herbert wove psychology into the science-fiction stories he was trying to sell. At the time, other science-fiction writers were exploring similar ground: Isaac Asimov's I, Robot (1950) framed previously published short stories as the recollections of “robopsychologist” Dr Susan Calvin, showing how examples of strange behaviour in robots could all be traced back to the robots' motivations—or the three rules with which they were programmed. Herbert used psychology to make his stories more credible and compelling. Irene Slattery explained to him that “when you see what motivates people, you will begin to see them walking around with their intestines hanging out”. He came to believe, too, that “the best writing…touched the unconscious”. Editors seemed to agree, and began to buy his work.
In Herbert's first published science-fiction story, Looking for Someone (1952), the world turns out to be the creation of a hypnotist. His first novel, The Dragon in the Sea (1955), is about a psychologist sent undercover to investigate issues on a nuclear submarine during a future atomic war. Although he exposes a traitor, our hero concludes that the crew's problems are really down to the sea water outside the sub, which is chemically almost identical to amniotic fluid: “The breakdowns are a rejection of birth by men who have unconsciously retreated into the world of prebirth.”
Psychological insight is also used to make Dune more compelling. According to Frank Herbert's son, Brian Herbert, the author used subliminal colour-coding: yellow “was employed to indicate danger. Thus, when the reader reads yellow, he knows viscerally that danger is imminent. He may not be conscious of the realization, but it is a tugging force that keeps him turning the pages.” The Slatterys' influence is clearly visible, too. Paul learns to speak with “the Voice”, which allows him to exert his will over others—just as Irene had seen with Hitler. Jung's belief in a collective unconsciousness produced by genetic memory can be seen in the genetically transferred memories of the Reverend Mother and her order. How people move is also important; when analysing patients, the Slatterys were interested in “mannerisms, which came to be called ‘body language’”. In Dune, hand movements are often as revealing as the words characters say or that we hear them think.
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