How ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert (1965) made use of Aristotle’s first four elements; plot, character, thought (theme), diction (expression of meaning).
The plot of this book is complex, covering several decades, and weaves sociopolitical, religious, technological and ecological strands together in a way that feels familiar and feasible 55 years after it was written. Whilst all these elements carry equal weight in the plot, I felt that ecology, namely the extreme constraints with respect to water and the way the planet’s inhabitants adapted to it, was the overriding ‘theme’, colouring every aspect of the tale.
The character development was done in various ways. Each chapter is preceded by an excerpt from a biographical account written by one of the minor characters. These provide a historian’s view of the protagonist, Paul Atreides, and sets context, again without the reader really noticing they are building this knowledge.
The development of the Paul Atreides character is largely achieved through the eyes of the other characters, particularly his mother, the Lady Jessica. There is far less development of the other characters, but I think the author found a good balance here; enough to make them tangible in the reader’s mind, and to demonstrate the importance of loyalties to both people and ideology, without slowing the pace of the plot.
I found Dune to be one of those rare stories where the style of writing and the plot are immediately so immersive that unknown words are understood just from context almost without the reader noticing.
I find myself still thinking about this story weeks after finishing it. After analysing it through this particular ‘lens’, I think it is exceptionally, subtly clever.