Dune – What is the Litany Against Fear (and why should we care)?

dune and the litany against fear
I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer.

Can an old science fiction book from the 60s offer modern man any surfeit from pain? Do we allow fears — both great and small — to rule our lives? Can  we train ourselves to be greater than our anxieties?

I’d say yes, although I’ve yet to achieve this enlightened state myself. But, there’s this: courage is NOT being unafraid. Get that out of your mind now. Courage is about being afraid and going forth anyway. If we can gain mastery of our fears, we can live our lives more aware, more gracefully, and accomplish great things perhaps against great odds. People through history have done it. Wisdom from not so long ago in our literary past can absolutely help us today. And while Dune’s author Frank Herbert might have had a lesson in mind more about planetary politics or the future of humanity than the test of one young human, the Litany he penned resonates now, as it did then, and will continue to touch people newly discovering this great tome of a book. (And yes, there have been several attempts to turn this into film…we’re still waiting for the one to do it right.)

Here is the Litany Against Fear, directly from the (1965) Dune novel, by Frank Herbert:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Is this the kind of thing anyone should care about? Or use? And why would we?

Well, has fear gone away since 1965? I’d even posit we’ve found more things to be afraid of with the ease we now devour world news and calamitous global misery.

In my college years, the Litany was something I’d scrawled on a Post-it and pasted to my mirror.  I made a best friend after those days, in my old town of Flagstaff, AZ, who I learned kept a copy of the Litany on a note in his wallet. I’d ended up more impressed with him than before: you can have a lot of fun with someone, but also find unplumbed depths together in the strangest moments.

When I got married later on, I found someone who may not have kept the Litany on his person, but for whom the book Dune is his favorite science-fiction touchstone of all time. The Spice must flow, after all.  🙂

I might have forgotten the Litany’s usefulness as the years slipped by, but in my current re-read it’s come to my attention again. It was a pleasant shock to have it re-spool into my neurons; now it’s written on a note in my own wallet, like my friend kept his, long ago.

My paperback copy of Dune was re-published in 1971 and is tattered and torn, with a broken spine. I don’t care — it smells like a real book, and it’s a great reading copy, with the early cover artwork. I want to put it in an archival bag, and probably will when my re-read is done. I’ve also got copies of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune that are older than me. At age 50, finding a 53 year-old novel at a garage sale or thrift store is like finding something precious and rare.

Dune keeps me doing regular re-reads over the decades, and I find something new and exciting every time, stuff I scrawl in my journal and try to remember when times get tough. I’m not really a fearful person (I love things like rock climbing and solo backpacking), but stupid small anxieties master me every day. The Litany is a good balm for the soul, a salve to one’s agitation, and simply a soothing chant to memorize for times of emotional turmoil.

Has Dune affected you? Do you think you can learn from the Litany Against Fear?  Add your insights to the comments below. I won’t judge. We’re all in this together.

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Jill Florio

Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)

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