Archive | June 24, 2019

There’s a Light Over at the Frank Herbert Place

The Eagles’ song “Hotel California” (henceforth HC) was released in 1976. Three years earlier, Frank Herbert (of Dune fame) published, in his anthology The Book of Frank Herbert, a short story titled “Gambling Device” (henceforth GD). I’ve never seen anyone suggest that the story had an influence on the song, but it seems to me to be a possibility:

In GD, Hal and Ruth Remsen are driving along a highway through the California desert at twilight; the “heavy floral scent of [Ruth’s] corsage wafted up to him.”

In HC, the narrator is driving along “a dark desert highway” (presumably likewise in California, given the song’s title) with the “warm smell of colitas / rising up through the air.”

In GD, the Remsens are lost, and when they come across a hotel by the side of the road, where “the setting sun … gleamed like fire on the windows and their metal frames,” they decide to stop. Later they find that a “silvery glow shimmered” from the hotel’s ceilings.

In HC, the narrator “had to stop for the night,” when “up ahead in the distance” he “saw a shimmering light” – the Hotel California.

In GD, Ruth says she doesn’t “like the looks of that place … It looks like a prison.” But Hal reassures her: “It’s just the way the sunset’s lighting it …. It makes those windows look like big red eyes. … We’d better take this while we can.” An apparent member of the hotel staff leads them down a “hall [that] seemed to stretch out endlessly.”

In HC, the narrator ponders: “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.” An apparent member of the hotel staff “showed me the way … down the corridor.”

In GD, the Remsens soon find that they are indeed prisoners, and that the entire hotel is actually an alien device designed to prohibit gambling. “You are now residents of the Desert Rest Hotel,” the device itself informs them. “You may decide to leave … but you have no choice of where you will go, in what manner or when,” since this would constitute gambling: “Free choice beyond the immediate decision is a gamble.” A fellow guest elaborates: “You’ll want to know if there’s hope of escape. … Perhaps. Some just disappear. But maybe that’s another … way.”

In HC, the other guests explain that they “are all just prisoners here / of our own device.” The night manager elaborates: “We are programmed to receive; / you can check out any time you like / but you can never leave.”

Are these parallels close enough to make it certain that “Hotel California” was influenced by “Gambling Device”? No. And in other respects the two narratives diverge in their plots and concerns.

But Dune was massively popular in the 1970s, and the 1973 anthology in question featured a cover designed to appeal to readers of Dune (see above); so it’s certainly a possibility.

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