Despite entertaining fan projects such as listing Jedism on the faith section of the Canadian census I don’t think there are many people who genuinely hold science fiction philosophies at the centre of their lives. However, the short and catchy poems that represent those philosophies have become an interesting point of both fan culture and the lasting world of various fandoms. Both the Jedi and the Sith have short manifestos in Star Wars and even the Sith version is the kind of memorable snippet that fans tend to be able to recite verbatim. Similarly, the Litany Against Fear from the Dune books has become a defining element not just of the series but of the groups that inhabit it. These kinds of short but meticulously crafted poems are effective means of building a world that is rich, believable and inhabitable to fans.
Interestingly, both the Litany Against Fear and the Sith creed share a descending rhythm from an initial statement towards a powerful final statement (for reference I have included both the Sith Code and the Litany Against Fear at the bottom of the post). The poems give not only defined goals but also parameters about how followers reach those goals. Whether that goal is banishing fear in order to have the pristine control of the Bene Gesserit in Dune or using passion to find wild power in the dark side of the force these practices are made believable by their clear structures. The fact that the goals of the philosophies of the Sith and the Bene Gesserit are so disparate but still are well summed up by their brief statements of the belief shows how beneficial these poems can be for streamlining the constructed faiths of a science fiction world.
Rather than forcing long winded expositional debates about various philosophies in order to give the reader an understanding of these constructions the poem is a streamlined way of communicating. That isn’t to say that Star Wars and Dune end their development of created philosophies with the statements of belief but it is strong enough bedrock that much of the world building can then be shifted to conflicts within the plot. The Jedi oppose the Sith throughout Star Wars media but the conflicting goals stated in their respective codes (using peace vs passion to connect with the force). The same is true of the Bene Gesserit in Dune, their ability to manipulate the other powers in the plot comes from their supreme control of their minds and bodies as exemplified in the Litany Against Fear. Whenever new characters belonging to these groups are introduced there is at least a minimum explanation for their motivations and when characters from these groups stray from the stated beliefs it is an interesting point of conflict. Without the reader’s basic understanding on what is involved in a fictional philosophy it is much harder to have major plot elements or character development rest on those philosophies so having the shorthand makes the world accessible.
These statements of belief are a microcosm of more complex philosophies and are the accessible gateways for readers to enter these constructed faiths. But beyond this utilitarian aspect in world building these become a part of real-world fandom. There are numerous examples of people with these poems tattooed on themselves and they are the source of great quotes for Twitter bios or other online quips. Having these poems memorized is often a mark of true fandom, of someone whose interest in a series goes beyond simple enjoyment and into a true fascination with the world that has been created. I also think that for some readers these statements of belief can have meaningful impacts on their lives, becoming a touch stone for difficult moments or an outline of guiding principles for challenging decisions.
Good world building tends to lead to larger fandoms because there is simply more to get engaged with and catchy statements of belief in science fiction supports both goals. The code of the Sith and the Litany Against Fear share common structures that firmly state the goals and strategies of their respective fictional philosophies. These become pivotal parts of world building in both Star Wars and Dune, a way of understanding the motivations of the characters as well as the larger arcs of a rich world. They also form a point of contact for fans in the real world, a way to recognize each other and bond over a shared interested in that constructed world. Small choices like the inclusion of codes of belief can bring depth to a world that turns it into a classic.
The Litany Against Fear from Dune
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.
The Sith Code from Star Wars
Peace is a lie. There is only Passion.
Through Passion I gain Strength.
Through Strength I gain Power.
Through Power I Gain Victory.
Through Victory my chains are Broken.
The Force shall free me.