The brilliant book that inspired Dune author Frank Herbert

That science-fiction extravaganza Dune allegorizes contemporary themes of imperialism, economic addiction to oil, and religious war is obvious. But it turns out that Frank Herbert's masterpiece owes much to one book in particular: Lesley Blanch's brilliant, half-forgotten Sabres of Paradise, about the warlords of the Caucasus, where Europe and Asia meet.

Anyone who has obsessed over the mythology of Dune will immediately recognize the language Herbert borrowed from Blanch’s work. Chakobsa, a Caucasian hunting language, becomes the language of a galactic diaspora in Herbert’s universe. Kanly, from a word for blood feud among the Islamic tribes of the Caucasus, signifies a vendetta between Dune’s great spacefaring dynasties. Kindjal, the personal weapon of the region’s Islamic warriors, becomes a knife favored by Herbert’s techno-aristocrats. As Blanch writes, “No Caucasian man was properly dressed without his kindjal.”

Herbert is ecumenical with his borrowing, lifting terminology and rituals from both sides of this obscure Central Asian conflict. When Paul Atreides, Dune’s youthful protagonist, is adopted by a desert tribe whose rituals and feuds bear a marked resemblance to the warrior culture of the Islamic Caucasus, he lives at the exotically named Sietch Tabr. Sietch and tabr are both words for camp borrowed from the Cossacks, the Czarist warrior caste who would become the great Christian antagonists of Shamyl’s Islamic holy warriors.

Herbert also lifted two of Dune’s most memorable lines directly from Blanch. While describing the Caucasians’ fondness for swordplay, Blanch writes, “To kill with the point lacked artistry.” In Dune, this becomes “[k]illing with the tip lacks artistry,” advice given to a young Paul Atreides by a loquacious weapons instructor. A Caucasian proverb recorded by Blanch transforms into a common desert aphorism. “Polish comes from the city, wisdom from the hills,” an apt saying for a mountain people, becomes “Polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert” in Dune.

It's not just words, either. The whole book -- a literary distillation of history, not rigorous scholarship -- is suffused with the weird atmosphere of Arrakis. It's free of charge on Amazon Kindle Prime right now, so Dune fans have no excuses!

Eduard Khil, of Trololo fame, died five years ago

It seems like yesterday, but Trololo — the internet-fueled renaissance of a perfectly demented Soviet echo of midcentury western light-entertainment bullshit — is almost a decade old. And the savant behind it, Eduard Khil, died this day five years ago, after too-briefly enjoying his sudden international fame. Google made an animated doodle in his honor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaCz_SFrTaU

I can't decide what was the last gasp of the web's aughts-era wonder: Trololo or Rammstein feat. Cookie Monster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZeciX-3wfs

Lost Heroes and Miniature Histories of L.A.

This week on HOME: Stories From L.A., a member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network:

"The best historians in L.A. are storytellers. They're gangsters in east L.A., they're ex-cons, they're guys who worked in their garage their whole life, they're guys who've worked at one business for forty years, people who've lived on one street for forty years... "

“All Night Menu” started with a question: What is a well-known photograph of William Faulkner not telling us about his time in Hollywood? Since then writer Sam Sweet has spent four years prowling LA for its most closely-held stories. The result is a lovingly-produced, meticulously-researched and gorgeously-written three volumes of the city’s secret history.

This is the third episode of Season 5. You can catch up on the whole series at the iTunes Store. While you're there, please take a second to leave the show a rating and review. And you can subscribe right here:  

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