In fact, could someone explain to me what this passage is saying?

"Don't you want to hear what the Reverend Mother can tell you about the Kwisatz Haderach?" Jessica asked.

"She said those who tried for it died."

"But I can help you with a few hints at why they failed," the Reverend Mother said.

She talks of hints , Paul thought. She doesn't really know anything . And he said: "Hint then."

"And be damned to me?" She smiled wryly, a crisscross of wrinkles in the old face. "Very well: 'That which submits rules.' "

He felt astonishment: she was talking about such elementary things as tension within meaning. Did she think his mother had taught him nothing at all?

"That's a hint?" he asked.

"We're not here to bandy words or quibble over their meaning," the old woman said. "The willow submits to the wind and prospers until one day it is many willows - a wall against the wind. This is the willow's purpose."

  • 2
    I think I'm going to have to re-read Dune. I sure don't remember this exchange in the version I read, well, quite a while ago. But it is in the current (ebook) version. Either I forgot a lot, or there's been some major editing done in the last mmphmmph years.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 13:40
  • She more or less means FU.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 20:23

3 Answers 3


OK, I just re-read this passage. It's a subtle point, but the Reverend Mother is completing Paul's unspoken-but-implied insult. Translated into modern American English usage, Paul's essentially thinking "*uck this old bitch, she doesn't know jack!". When the rev says, "And be Damned to me?", she's more-or-less saying "This old bitch knows more than you do, boy." Or if you want to be polite about it, what Paul really wanted to say was, "Hint then, and be damned to you!" meaning, "If all you are going to do is hint, then [add insulting verb of your choice] you!" The Rev. Mother, by saying "And be Damned to me?", was telling Paul that she knew how he was feeling - angry at the way his mother was being treated, fear and anger from the pain test, and fear/awe/curiousity at the Rev M. herself. Just who is this strange person who can waltz in, order the Duke's Consort around and inflict pain and threaten death to the Duke's Heir? (Thanks, Organic Marble!)

It's a subtle use of formal English, not really "cite-able", but it's found in older literature. Dune was written 50 years ago, so some of the language usage might seem odd to the current generation of readers. Not better or worse, just different.

  • Thank you! That makes a lot of sense. I'm in the process of translating the book into another language, however, so I need to be a bit more precise. I don't really get the thought behind the sentence in a grammatical sense. What is the sense "damned" is being used in here? Is she being sarcastic or is the verb being used in some strange, outdated meaning?
    – kariemil
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 20:13
  • 2
    The Rev. Mother thinks that Paul wanted to say, "Hint then, and be damned to you!" meaning, "If all you are going to do is hint, then [add insulting verb of your choice] you!" Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 21:16
  • @kariemil If you want to know about the origins of English expressions and the particulars of the way English grammar works, you can try the English Language and Usage Stack Exchange - english.stackexchange.com. However, grammar logic changes over time, and I don't think fully identifying with past grammar is necessary for a good translation. Understanding the meaning is usually sufficient.
    – Misha R
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 8:17

At this point in the novel, Paul has two issues - first, he is the son and heir of a Duke; second, he is a young man.

Dukes are not your average guy off the street, they are very near to the top of any system of nobility. People with that kind of power and wealth (because where there is one, the other generally follows) are not shirking violets. Even the best of them are proud, confident, even arrogant.

Young men, despite their inexperience and naivete, often carry their own forms of arrogance as an absolute conviction in their own immortality and knowledge.

Paul, in his arrogance, does not believe that the Reverend Mother has anything useful to say. His reply "Hint then" is mostly a challenge to her to prove him wrong.

The Reverend Mother is very familiar with the shortcomings of both nobles and young men. She recognizes the arrogance behind his challenge and calls him on it. Her question is both a cautious and diplomatic rebuke, and a counter challenge. She knows the value of what she is about to say and is challenging him to recognize its wisdom and to make use of it, when the time comes.

The possibility that Paul may be the Kwisatz Haderach is too important to engage him in a confrontational manner. He isn't likely to listen to her now, but if she handles him correctly, what she says will be like a seed planted in the fall that will sprout and grow in the spring.

The hint itself is actually a common theme in human art and literature, going back as far as the New Testament of the Bible, where Jesus said that last shall be first. It appears contradictory on the surface - and perhaps from a pure-logic point of view it is contradictory - but it comes from the purely emotional side of human nature that is often contradictory.

For example, pick 100 people at random from a nursing home, and try to guess who will live the longest. Sometimes, healthier people will die younger for reasons that have nothing to do with health or wellness - many people die within 2 years of their spouse for example.

If you have seen What Dreams May Come, the character played by Robin Williams and his wife try to deal with the death of their children.

The husband accepts it and moves on, but his wife does not and eventually kills herself. When the husband finds his wife in the afterlife, she is mired in a hellish place from which she cannot escape because she lacks the will to recognize that she is only there by her own choice. It is only when the husband decides he would rather be in hell with her than be anywhere else that she is able to escape.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:

Dumbledore hides the stone in the Mirror of Erised so that only someone who wishes to find it but not use it can retrieve it.

So the Reverend Mother is saying something along the lines that the first step in the path to becoming the Kwisatz Haderach is to accept that you are not him and may never be him.

This is similar to what happens in The Matrix with Neo. The Oracle tells him that he is not The One, allowing him to just be himself, without the pressure of living up to everyone's expectations, and thus growing into The One without realizing that it was happening.

  • 4
    Nice explanation of the overall passage, but doesn't even attempt to answer the question here.
    – hobbs
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 4:43
  • @hobbs How about now? Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 20:23

The tension within the meaning of the statement, "That which submits, rules." is obvious. The paradox is exemplified by the willow metaphor. That which bends may become strong. In human terms, I am tempted to think of the metaphor as a justification for compromise, but that is not really what Herbert is saying. Instead, we should think of the ruler, who must serve her people or be overthrown. Also, of the athlete, who must make his body submit to his will in order to grow stronger. Letting go of pride allows us to overcome shame. The humility required for true submission requires a level of self-control that is frightening. And in the context of Dune, being the Kwisatz Haderach means submitting to the damning finality of fate.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.