What 'Dune' Art Says About Life on Earth

Studio 360
Illustration from “Dune World,” Analog Science Fact / Science Fiction (December 1963)

In August of 1963, American illustrator John Schoenherr received a call from a science fiction magazine editor asking the artist to read what became Frank Herbert’s Dune.

“Dune was one of those rare novels that inspired visions, great characters, and action, alien creatures never imagined, a planet whose starkness was particularly appealing to me,” Schoenherr later wrote in an unpublished essay (shared with SciFri by Schoenherr's son, Ian.)

Schoenherr assumed the role of go-to illustrator for all-things-Dune, transforming Herbert’s prose into convincing images that first ran in Analog magazine, where a serialized version of the story debuted. He also created cover art for the novel, as well as other Dune-related works. (Click on the upper right corner of the image above to enlarge the slideshow.)

Herbert himself purportedly said that Schoenherr was “the only man who had ever visited Dune.” The artist's vivid illustrations beguiled readers, too—including prolific science writer Carl Zimmer.

As part of the series “Aha Moment,” WYNC's Studio 360 spoke with Zimmer, who recounted how, when he was 10, his family moved to rural New Jersey where he met Schoenherr’s son. The two became friends, and Zimmer went over to Ian's house, where the walls were lined with Schoenherr's paintings of the Dune world. (Hear the interview below.)

Produced for Studio 360 by Julia L H

The careful detail in Schoenherr’s extraterrestrial environments influenced Zimmer’s perspective of life on Earth. “I started to realize that, actually, living things on Earth are aliens in a way,” says Zimmer, whose fascination with bizarre biology persists today. “If you really get to know a snapping turtle, or an earthworm, or a tick, or a bird really well, it becomes a very strange thing.”

Learn more about Science Friday's Book Club discussion of Dune here.

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