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The Santaroga Barrier: 12/11/20
The Santaroga Barrier is my favorite Frank Herbert novel. I originally read it in 1988, a few weeks before I read Dune (1965). When I started the road narrative spectrum project, I knew I wanted to re-read the novel for the project.
In thirty-two years I've forgotten a lot, although the basic gist stuck with me. A man goes after his girl friend when she unexpectedly leaves college. She's a native of a mysterious and insular town that in modern parlance would be called "off grid."
Reading it now as an adult and a college education, I see that from the very first paragraph, Herbert has peppered his book with psychology/philosophy terms to give a deeper meaning to his novel. Put another way, he's giving an informed reader a short hand or not so secret handshake to know what's going on before the protagonist does.
Take for instance the protagonist, a psychology professor from Berkeley. He's named Gilbert Dasein or "bright pledge being there." Meaning, he's duty bound to finish what he starts because he's just that kind of mensch. He's going to figure out what makes Santaroga tick and win back his ex-girlfriend's affections no matter what. He's going into this trip knowing that the two previous men sent by the university died.
The heart and soul of Santaroga is the Jaspers Cheese Co-op. That's the second big clue. It's a reference to Karl Jaspers. Santaroga is infected with something that will bring along the sort of collective human experience Jaspers wrote about. As it's a cheese co-op, the controlling factor is in the cheese. The second season Ben 10 episode, "Camp Fear" is also a good summary of what's at play in Santaroga.
The other aspect of Santaroga is how difficult it is to find. In this regard, it's like Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink (2015). Except, Fink has made it clear through long running story arcs that Night Vale isn't in our dimension, although it sometimes interacts with it. Santaroga is cut off by an organic thing and by the people who purposefully made the effect stronger through science. The town that now mistrusts the outside scientific world was enslaved by it's own scientific explorations.
Also ironically, while Night Vale is in an imaginary place, it is actually more easily mapped onto the real world than Santaroga. Herbert who was from Oregon, had some passing knowledge of California but conflated two different locations. In the opening chapter, Gilbert Dasein is described as turning off from the Avenue of the Giants. That puts him half way between Berkeley and Humboldt. Later, though, various passersby are told they are 25 miles away from Porterville and that US 395 is 40 miles away. That location is as far away from Berkley as the first, but in the opposite direction!
All of these pieces of the Santaroga Barrier add up to a spot on the road narrative spectrum. Gilbert who quickly hooks up with his ex-girlfriend, Jenny Sorge or the "fair phantom of caring". The two travel together for the majority of the novel, and as her presence in Santaroga was Gilbert's inspiration for the trip, the two count as a traveling couple (33). Santaroga's location (regardless where exactly) is a rural one (33). The route they take is the maze (CC), in that it's full of blind alleys and danger. Throughout the novel Gil manages to barely escape death, although various residents aren't as lucky. Gil only finally escapes the maze when he fully accepts the Jaspers. To summarize, The Santaroga Barrier is about a couple traveling through a rural location via the maze (3333CC).
One last thought— is my own personal headcanon, is that Jaspers is the spice of Dune. What if Dune, set in the far future, is the end result of Jaspers escaping the bounds of Santaroga. What if the barrier is as much as a containment field for the Jaspers as it is for the people?