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Original Dune
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This article is based largely on the Wikipedia article on the Dune novel.
Spoiler warning! Plot and/or ending details follow.

"To the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of 'real materials'- to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration."
Frank Herbert

Dune is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965. A winner of the Hugo Award and Nebula Award for outstanding science fiction, Dune is popularly considered one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, and is frequently cited as the best-selling science fiction novel in history. Dune spawned five sequels written by Herbert, and inspired a film adaptation by David Lynch, two miniseries made by the United States-based Sci-Fi Channel, computer games, as well as a series of prequels, interquels, and sequels co-written by Brian Herbert, the author's son, and Kevin J. Anderson.

Dune is set far in the future, amidst a sprawling feudal intergalactic empire, where planetary fiefdoms are controlled by Noble Houses that owe allegiance to the Imperial House Corrino. The novel tells the story of young Paul Atreides, heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides I and scion of House Atreides, as he and his family relocate to the planet Arrakis, the universe's only source of the spice melange. In a story that explores the complex interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, the fate of Paul, his family, his new planet and its native inhabitants, as well as the Padishah Emperor, the powerful Spacing Guild, and the secretive female order of the Bene Gesserit, are all drawn together into a confrontation that will change the course of humanity.

The novel was originally serialised in the magazine, Analog, from 1963 to 1965 as two shorter works: Dune World and The Prophet of Dune.


Political backdrop of Dune[]

Thousands of years in the future, the human race has scattered throughout the galaxy, populating multiple planets ruled by aristocratic Houses who themselves answer to the galaxy's Imperial family House Corrino. Key is the control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the valuable spice melange, which gives those who ingest it extended life and prescient awareness. Melange is crucial as it enables space travel, which in turn is monopolized by the Spacing Guild; its Navigators use the spice to safely plot a course for the Guild ships via prescience using "foldspace" technology, which allows instantaneous travel to anywhere in the galaxy.

Ten thousand years before the beginning of the story, the human race had purged all machines that had replicated many of the functions of the human mind. This event, known as the Butlerian Jihad, resulted in the destruction of all the robots, computers, “thinking machines,” and - significantly - the prescient computer navigator. Subsequently, it was necessary to replace spaceship computers with the spice-addicted Guild Navigators to allow ships to travel safely through space. The functions of the logical computers were replaced by the Mentats, humans who, through intensive training, learned to enter a heightened mental state in which they could perform complex logical computations.

The spice is also crucial to the powerful matriarchal order called the Bene Gesserit. The secretive Bene Gesserit, often referred to as "witches", possess mental and physical powers developed through a combination of thousands of generations of genetic selection and years of physical and mental conditioning. When a Bene Gesserit acolyte becomes a full Reverend Mother by undergoing a massive overdose of specific narcotics (called "The Agony"), she gains access to her "ancestral memories" — the complete life experiences of all her female ancestors back to the point of conception. Only women have been able to survive the transformation. However, the Bene Gesserit have a secret, centuries-old breeding program to create a prescient superhuman — and male equivalent of a Reverend Mother — called the Kwisatz Haderach, who would not only be able to survive The Agony, but whose “organic mental powers would bridge space and time”.

The planet Arrakis itself is completely covered in a desert ecosystem, hostile to most organic life. It is also sparsely settled by a human population of native Fremen tribes. Tribal leaders are selected by defeating the former leader in combat. The Fremen also have complex rituals and systems focusing on the value and conservation of water on their arid planet. They conserve the water distilled from their dead, consider spitting an honorable greeting, and value tears as the greatest gift one can give to the dead. Their culture also revolves around the spice, which is created as part of the life cycle of the giant sandworms who dominate the deserts. Bene Gesserit missionary efforts have implanted a belief in a male Messiah who will one day come and transform Arrakis into a world more hospitable to humans.


Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV has come to fear House Atreides, partly due to the growing popularity of Duke Leto Atreides I and also because the talent of Leto's fighting force is beginning to rival the effectiveness of the Emperor's own dreaded Imperial Sardaukar guard. Shaddam decides that House Atreides must be destroyed, but cannot risk an attack on a single House, which would, by necessity, unite the other Houses against him. The Emperor instead uses the centuries-old feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen to disguise his assault, enlisting the brilliant and power-hungry Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in his plan to trap and eliminate the Atreides. Shaddam forces Leto to accept the lucrative fief of the desert planet Arrakis, the only known source of the spice melange, previously controlled by the Harkonnens. Enter into this conflict the Bene Gesserit. Their ancient breeding program, now only one generation from completion, has suddenly become horribly jeopardized: They had planned to breed an Atreides daughter with a Harkonnen son to unite the two bloodlines and produce their long-awaited superbeing, the Kwisatz Haderach. However fate would decide otherwise and instead of bearing a daughter, the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica (the Duke’s Concubine) fulfilled her beloved Duke's wishes for a son and bore Paul.

Shortly after arriving on Arrakis, the Atreides are unable to withstand a devastating Harkonnen attack, supported by Imperial Sardaukar disguised as Harkonnen. Betrayed by Dr. Yueh, Duke Leto dies in a failed attempt to assassinate Baron Harkonnen; Paul and Jessica escape into the deep desert, their exit from the city guaranteed by Yueh himself. They manage to join a band of Fremen, ferocious fighters who ride the giant sandworms of Arrakis. Paul and his mother quickly learn the ways of the Fremen, while teaching them the Bene Gesserit method of fighting. Paul leads armies of Fremen in a guerilla campaign, nearly halting spice mining on Arrakis. 

Jessica becomes a Reverend Mother, taking the Waters of Life, poison derived from the sandworms, while pregnant with her Duke’s second child. Her daughter Alia experiences all that her mother does from the poison, gaining wisdom even prior to her birth. Living on the spice diet of the Fremen, Paul's prescience increases dramatically, enabling him to foresee future events and gaining him a religious respect from the Fremen, who regard him as their prophesied Messiah. As Paul grows in influence, he begins to plot revenge against the Harkonnen rule of the planet under his new Fremen name, Muad'Dib.

Disturbed by his lack of complete prescience Paul decides to take the Water of Life, an act that could kill him. After three weeks in a near-death state, Paul emerges as the Kwisatz Haderach, with the power to see both the past, the present and the future clearly. Looking into space, he sees that the Emperor and the Harkonnens have amassed a huge armada to invade the planet and regain control. Paul also discovers the way to control spice production on Arrakis. Alia is captured by Sardaukar and brought to the planet's capital Arrakeen by the Emperor himself. At that moment, under cover of a gigantic sandstorm, Paul and his army of Fremen attack the city. Alia kills the Baron with a poisoned needle during the confusion. Paul quickly overcomes the city's defenses and confronts the Emperor, threatening to destroy the spice and thereby effectively end space travel and cripple both the Imperial power and Bene Gesserit in one shot. Realizing that Paul is capable of doing all he has threatened, the Emperor is forced to abdicate and to promise his daughter in marriage to Paul. Paul ascends the throne, his control of Arrakis and the spice establishing a new kind of power over the Empire which will change the face of the known universe.

Detailed Plot Summary[]

The central figure of the book is Paul, son and heir presumptive to Duke Leto Atreides, head of the House Atreides, and Leto's concubine, Jessica, a Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit perform many functions in the Empire, as Truthsayers (human lie detectors), negotiators, advisors, and teachers, but all these functions serve one deeper purpose: for at least ten thousand years, they have been selectively breeding humans trying to improve humanity.

The goal of their breeding program is the Kwisatz Haderach, a human being who will be aware of both maternal and paternal ancestral memories, and have prescient abilities greater than those of the Guild's navigators. The Bene Gesserit are close, they believe, to the fruition of their plan, and Paul Atreides is at the heart of it. Jessica, his mother, disobeyed Bene Gesserit orders out of attachment to Leto Atreides, and gave birth to a boy, Paul. Her express orders had been to produce a girl, whom the Bene Gesserit would have mated with a Harkonnen, and they hoped from this union they would produce the Kwisatz Haderach. Ultimately, the change in plan causes Paul Atreides to exhibit unexpected resources, and possibilities that were unforeseen by the Bene Gesserit plan.

With House Atreides becoming increasingly more powerful within the Landsraad, the Padishah Emperor concocts a plan to rid the Impreium of the great house under the guise of a Harkonnen attack. The emperor awards House Atreides with the stewardship of Arrakis, a desert planet and the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe, spice melange. Whilst Leto is aware that the Emperor is out to betray him, he sees Arrakis as a way to prove himself within the Landsraad and grow in power by turning around Arrakis — a feat that had not been acomplished by the Harkonnens in eight decades.

The move to Arrakis is difficult for the Atreides, and they find that the equipment left by the Harkonnens has been deliberately sabotaged in order to increase their chances of failing. Navigating the complex relationships on Arrakis too proves difficult, and it is often unknown where alliances lie. It quickly becomes clear to Jessica and the other members of the Atreides house that there are several stakeholders at play on Arrakis, among them, the powerful Spacing Guild whom have been taking bribes from the Fremen to keep Arrakis clear of sattelites.

The Harkonnen attack is more diabolical, more powerful, and comes more quickly than the Atreides expect, however The Harkonnens manage to gain a spy in the Atreides inner household, and in doing so achieve something unique in Imperial history: they break the "imperial conditioning" of a Suk doctor, which had been universally believed to make a person incapable of consciously causing physical harm. The Harkonnens bend the Atreides doctor – Yueh – to their will by promising to release his wife from prolonged torture.

When the Harkonnens attack, Yueh lowers the defensive house shields and uses sedative drugs to disable Leto, Paul, and Jessica, leaving the Atreides leaderless and disorganized under the Harkonnen and Sardaukar military onslaught. The Atreides army is crushed, with only a few remnants managing to escape.

Paul and Jessica are sent into the desert to die. Because of the use of truthsayers in the Empire, the Baron Harkonnen needs to be able to say truthfully that he was not (directly) responsible for their deaths. However, this plan is foiled by arrangements made by Yueh (he hates the Baron and wishes to at least save Paul and Jessica) and Paul and Jessica manage to kill their captors and escape into the desert, leaving the Harkonnens to believe that they died in a huge desert storm called a coriolis storm.

Yueh, eager for a shot at killing the Baron he so deeply despises and knowing he won't have the chance, plants a fake tooth in the Duke Leto's mouth. When bitten, the tooth emits a poison that will be fatal to both Leto, and hopefully, the Baron Harkonnen. When Yueh hands over Leto, Baron Harkonnen kills Yueh. Leto, still paralyzed, but conscious, attempts to kill the Baron by breaking the gas capsule, but misjudges his moment, and is only successful in killing the Baron's adviser and Mentat, Piter de Vries.

In the deep desert, under the pressure of extreme circumstances and the increased doses of Spice that he has been ingesting simply by living on Arrakis, some of Paul's powers come into fruition, and his ability to see possible futures explodes into awareness. He sees many things, a way out of his situation, and the restoration of the Atreides, if only he can make contact with the native Fremen and survive.

After a dangerous crossing of the desert, Paul and Jessica manage to meet up with a troop of Fremen. Paul and Jessica prove their worth by disarming Fremen in unarmed combat, aided by Bene Gesserit prana-bindu training – the "Weirding Way" – and the Fremen leader Stilgar gladly accepts them into his troop because he would like to add that skill to the Fremen people. Paul also meets a young woman, Chani, daughter of Liet Kynes, whom he has long seen in his dreams. During this scuffle, Paul disarms a proud Fremen, Jamis, who takes offence at this "presumptuous" youth, and challenges Paul to a fight to the death. Superficially, this contest between a grown man and an untried fifteen-year-old boy would seem grossly unfair. But Paul had been trained by masters of the sword, and although at first unwilling to kill, he triumphs easily, making his name in the tribe, and also succeeding to the position of head of the household of the dead man. At the same time, Paul and Jessica are introduced to the deadly harshness of the Fremen lifestyle, as the Fremen ritually and literally render Jamis down to his water because it is so precious to them. Stilgar gives Paul the name Usul – meaning "the strong base of a pillar" – as his private name within the troop; Paul gives himself the name "Paul Muad'dib" as his public Fremen name.

When they return to the troop's hidden cave dwelling, known as a sietch, they discover the Fremen Reverend Mother is near death, and with the fortuitous arrival of Jessica, a Bene Gesserit, they make Jessica their Sayyadina. The Fremen have been so influenced by the Bene Gesserit that they attempt to emulate many of their actions with some success including the creation of Reverend Mothers. Jessica, not realizing the consequences of what the Fremen are about to do, accepts to cement her place in the tribe. Halfway through the process she realizes she has made a mistake, that she is involved in a similar process to how the Bene Gesserit make their own Reverend Mothers who can see genetic memories, and realizes that the baby in her womb, fathered by Leto before his death, will also go through the process. This has truly unfortunate consequences, because it is a Bene Gesserit teaching that any such baby will not have the strength to withstand the memories of its ancestors.

Years pass. Paul Muad'dib learns to be a Fremen, and becomes something of a religious leader among the Fremen. Chani becomes his lover (but not his wife, as will become significant later) and bears him a son, whom he calls Leto. He and his mother train the Fremen of Sietch Tabr and other Fremen who seek out Paul in his religious guise, in the Weirding Way, the Bene Gesserit's prana-bindu fighting techniques. Under his leadership his "Fedaykin" experience victory after victory against the Harkonnens, and Paul's prestige and aura among the Fremen grow.

In order to be truly accepted by the Fremen he must become a sandrider. The Fremen have a great secret: they have learned to control the giant sandworms native to Arrakis. Through the use of "maker hooks", they have learned to climb aboard the worms and take control of their course, enabling them to quickly move around the desert. This has given the Fremen better mobility than any of the series of occupying armies of Arrakis, as air power cannot be projected in the face of common coriolis storms. Obviously riding a giant sandworm is not the safest of tasks, but Paul attempts it and succeeds, becoming a full member of the sietch.

The same day, a band of smugglers sought melange too deep in the desert, and the Fremen of Sietch Tabr spring a trap. In the middle of the battle Paul recognises his weapons teacher, Gurney Halleck, and calls on him and his men to surrender. Gurney is overjoyed and overwhelmed in equal measure. He surrenders his men, and joins Paul's service. Among Gurney's men, however, are some Imperial spies who attempt to kill Muad'dib. They are unsuccessful, and they are captured by the Fedaykin. Paul gives secret orders for the spies to be allowed to escape, so that they would reveal that Paul Atreides still lives on Arrakis. Taking advantage of recruiting Gurney Halleck, Paul uses the moment to solve his leadership problem. Since he has become a wormrider many of his followers have expected Muad'dib to challenge Stilgar, his greatest friend among the Fremen, in order to take control of Sietch Tabr. But Paul breaks tradition and in doing so forces Stilgar to do the same, managing to sidestep this issue by proclaiming himself the ruling Duke of Arrakis, and thus taking power without killing his friend.

They return to Sietch Tabr. Gurney is shocked to discover Jessica is still alive, because he believes she was the one who betrayed the Atreides and that Paul does not know. Gurney is about to kill her when Paul walks in, manages to stop him, and explains that Yueh was the traitor. Gurney is almost broken by his nearly fatal and tragic error, but Jessica forgives him and he is bound even further into Atreides and Jessica's service.

Paul's power among the Fremen grows, but he is still frustrated. He is not all he could be: he cannot control his journeys into the future, and much of it is still blank to him. So he takes a truly risky step and consumes a tiny amount of a concentrated form of melange called spice essence, and so attempts to perform the male equivalent of the Reverend Mother ceremony. Previously to this no man has survived this experience, and it seems he fails also, because he sinks into a coma.

Paul neglects to tell anyone what he is doing; many people think he is dead, although others, primarily the Fedaykin, believe he is in a religious trance. His mother, Jessica, does all she can to wake him but fails, so out of desperation she calls Chani from the deep desert to help. Chani, through her more personal knowledge of Paul's dreams and desires, realises what a mad thing Paul has done, and uses spice essence converted by Jessica using her powers as a Reverend Mother to bring him out of his trance. For Paul no time has passed, and he glories in his new memories and powers — he tells his mother and Chani immediately that the Emperor himself is currently orbiting the planet with many Sardaukar, ready to attack. He has proven the Bene Gesserit wrong: he is the Kwisatz Haderach, appearing one generation ahead of the prediction. He declares that it is now time to destroy the Harkonnens.

Fremen attacks on the Harkonnens had already managed to almost entirely stop the flow of the spice from Arrakis. This forced the Emperor to act, and he comes to Arrakis with all his Sardaukar, and also levies of all the other noble houses, to annihilate the Fremen if necessary in order to get the spice flowing again.

By now the Emperor is aware of who Muad'dib is. In advance of his arrival, he sends a large Sardaukar force into the deep desert for information. Attacking a sietch, they manage to kill Paul's son, and capture Alia – Paul's sister – but are driven off by Fremen children, old people and women.

After the Emperor himself has landed, Paul launches the final attack. Using the House Atriedes' family atomics (nuclear weapons) that his men managed to retrieve after the Harkonnen attack, he blows a hole in the Shield Wall (a mountain/rock wall) that protects the capital of Dune, Arrakeen, from the surrounding desert and its fierce storms. By using the weapons this way, he narrowly avoids contravening the universal ban against using atomics on people, which would have required the other noble houses to retaliate with "planetary annihilation". The Fremen attack under cover of a huge desert storm, riding sandworms from the desert through the hole in the Shield Wall. The great static force of the sandstorm then shorts out all of the Sarduakar's defensive shields. The Sardaukar are unable to withstand the full force of the Fremen, caught as they are in total surprise, and the Emperor is forced to surrender. The combined forces of the Landsraad still loom in orbit around the planet, but Paul threatens to destroy the Spice if any of them try to land, and they back off. In the surprise of Muad'dib's attack, Alia manages to escape, and in the process kills Baron Harkonnen, by now revealed to be hers and Paul's grandfather, having illegitimately sired Jessica.

Realizing that Muad'dib is not some mad Fremen religious leader changes the situation dramatically for the Emperor. Feyd-Rautha, the Baron's nephew, an acclaimed gladiator, challenges Paul to single combat; claiming rights of kanly as had been declared by Paul's father Leto. Kanly is a formal feud or vendetta under the rules of the Great Convention carried on according to the strictest limitations. Paul agrees even knowing that it is possible he will die, but after a difficult fight during which Feyd-Rautha attempts treachery in the form of a poisoned knife and needle, Paul eventually triumphs.

Paul refuses to take any more nonsense. He forces the Emperor from the throne by the simple expedience of taking power from the real rulers of the Empire – the Spacing Guild – who control space travel. He again threatens to destroy the spice if they do not ship all the troops home. The Spacing Guild have no choice – their limited powers of prophecy show Paul is capable of it – and they send everyone home. The Emperor abdicates and retires to Salusa Secundus. Paul marries the Emperor's eldest daughter, Irulan (in name only; Chani remains his close companion and mother of his heirs, as Jessica did for Leto), and assumes control of the Empire. Irulan later writes extensively on the subject of Muad'Dib, having nothing of him but knowledge of his lifestyle and patterns of thought.

Paul promises the Fremen that he will turn Arrakis into a garden planet, while permitting that the deserts remain so that the sandworms (and consequently the melange) will survive; and all seems well in the real life of Paul Atreides.


At the time of the novel, advanced computers have long been forbidden due to an event known as the Butlerian Jihad, and the ensuing commandment of the Orange Catholic Bible: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind," with the penalty of being sentenced to death. In lieu of computer assistance, human skills have been developed to an astonishing degree:

  • Mentats through intensive training learn to enter a heightened mental state in which they can perform complex logical computations. Most of the best Mentats, and all of the popular "twisted Mentats," are trained/grown by the Bene Tleilax, although Paul Atreides is not, having been trained by the Master of Assassins, Thufir Hawat as well as his own mother the Lady Jessica Atreides. Mentats are also used in lesser extent by the Bene Gesserit.
  • The Spacing Guild holds a monopoly on interstellar transport. Its navigators use the spice/drug melange to gain limited prescient abilities, enabling them to safely use the "fold space" technology — guiding Guild Heighliner ships safely to their destination by using a Holtzman engine, which allows instantaneous travel to anywhere in the galaxy.
  • The Bene Gesserit is a secretive female society, often referred to as "witches," with mental and physical powers developed through thousands of generations of controlled gene lines and many years of physical and mental conditioning called prana-bindu training. When a Bene Gesserit acolyte becomes a full Reverend Mother, by undergoing the Agony she gains her "ancestral memories" — the complete life experience of an infinite line of female ancestors (she cannot recall the memories of her male ancestors, and is terrified by the psychic space within her that the masculine memories inhabit). The Agony is caused by taking the bile of a dying sandworm, a poison that they must metabolically render benign within their bodies, or else they would fail the trial, and die from its lethal toxicity.

On the fringes of the Galaxy are the geneticist Tleilaxu, who create shape shifters, reincarnated gholas, and Mentats, and Ix, a planet whose history is lost in the mists of time and whose society is dominated by technology. The CHOAM corporation is the major underpinning of the Imperial economy, with shares and directorships determining each House's income and financial leverage.

The universe's entire power structure, including the financial and military power of the Imperium and the Great Houses, the Guild's control of interstellar travel, and the Bene Gesserit's special powers, are all subject to the availability of Melange. The control of Melange by a single group is a sociopolitical condition known as hydraulic despotism (utilizing control of a commodity with a single source to hold power over others).

A prominent feature of the setting is the use of evolved languages and linguistic traits, just as J.R.R. Tolkien developed ancient languages and linguistic traits in The Lord of the Rings.


The consequences of the actions of superheroes, and humanity's responses, form an overarching theme in the Dune series. In an interview with Frank Herbert published in Omni Magazine in July 1980, the author said:

"Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero... Heroes are painful, superheroes are a catastrophe. The mistakes of superheroes involve too many of us in disaster." [3]


"I had this theory that superheroes were disastrous for humans, that even if you postulated an infallible hero, the things this hero set in motion fell eventually into the hands of fallible mortals. What better way to destroy a civilization, society or a race than to set people into the wild oscillations which follow their turning over their critical judgment and decision-making faculties to a superhero?"

The emphasis on ecological and religious ideas and the use of many cultural themes made the novel a provocative departure from previous science fiction.

Political themes in the Dune series include human beings' susceptibility to mass manipulation by political propaganda, religious dogma (e.g., The Missionaria Protectiva), and sexual temptation, and the importance of self-awareness and self-mastery in resisting these types of control, as well as the study of power and control.


The characters are listed by primary allegiances. In some cases these allegiances change or reveal themselves to be different in the course of the novels.

House Atreides[]

House Harkonnen[]

House Corrino[]


  • Stilgar, Fremen Naib (chieftain); Stilgar is a skilled politician, but is also a "creature" of Muad'Dib in that he all but worships the young prophet.
  • Chani, Paul's beloved Fremen concubine; a devoted companion and caring mother.
  • Liet Kynes, the son of the "gone native" half-Fremen Imperial Planetologist Pardot Kynes on Arrakis and his Fremen wife Frieth; Liet is the father of Chani, and a revered figure among the Fremen.
  • Jamis, a member of Stilgar's tribe.
  • Pardot Kynes, the father of Liet who appears in a hallucination.
Spoilers end here.

Planets and locations[]

  • Arrakis
    • Arrakeen
    • Sietch Tabr
    • Great Flat
    • Imperial Basin
    • Cave of Riches
    • Harg Pass
    • Mount Idaho
    • Minor Erg
    • Tuck’s Sietch
    • Tuono Basin
    • Hagga Basin
    • Red Chasm
    • Sihaya Ridge
  • Caladan
  • Giedi Prime
  • Salusa Secundus
  • Bela Tegeuse
  • Chusuk
  • Ecaz
  • Grumman
  • Hagal
  • Poritrin
  • Richese
  • Tleilax
  • Tupile
  • Wallach IX


  • Corrino Empire
  • Bene Gesserit
  • C.H.O.A.M.
  • Spacing Guild
  • Commission of Ecumenical Translators



The Houses[]

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science[]

A From a historical perspective, many have noted similarities between the events of Dune, in which a foreign-born son of an old colonial order unites disparate and warring tribes of religious desert nomads to win freedom from a decaying Imperial power, and the Arab Revolt of early 20th century Middle Eastern history, in which the British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence mobilized Arab fighters to break the power of the Ottoman Turks in the Arabian peninsula. While there are many striking parallels, one of the most trivial and bizarre may be that in the film adaptations Dune (1984) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), both characters representing the old Imperial order (Emperor Shaddam IV and the Turkish Bey, respectively), are played by the actor José Ferrer. In his interview with OMNI, Herbert explicitly identified CHOAM with OPEC, equating the spice melange to oil (it should be noted that OPEC did not become notable as a political power until after the publication of the first novel). Parallels can also be drawn to the European/Asian spice trade of early modern Europe and later eras, in particular between the Spacing Guild and the Dutch East India Company.

Another parallel story can be found in Basil Dearden's film Khartoum (1965), with Charlton Heston as General Gordon. The baroque, stylish and brocaded uniforms are very reminiscent of the Caladan ducal-court uniforms used in the first Dune movie. The British Empire sends out Gordon to administer Sudan and its capital Khartoum on behalf of Egypt, aware that this is virtually a suicide mission. Like Leto Atreides, General Gordon, a legendary and formidable warrior of the Empire, goes willingly to his demise. The historical basis of this film lies in the story of the Sudanese supposed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad, an Islamic messianic figure that rose to power in the late 19th century. Paul Atreides is referred to as "Mahdi" at one point in the novel and in later novels, particularly Dune Messiah. The Mahdi's jihadist army prevails over the technologically superior British army in Sudan, just as the inspired Fremen defeat the Harkonnen forces and imperial troops.

Another connection exists between the name of house Atreides and the name of the legendary Greek house of Atreus, whose members figure prominently in many Greek tragedies.

These parallels can be pushed too far. In particular, none of them has rebels dethroning the emperor, any parallel to the Bene Gesserit and its program, or to the ecological aspects of the Dune story.

Dune was written shortly after LSD appeared in America as a recreational drug. The psychedelic experience of LSD can be directly related to the altered states of consciousness that the spice Melange can induce.


Environmentalism and ecology[]

Dune has been called the "first planetary ecology novel on a grand scale."[1] After the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962, science fiction writers began treating the subject of ecological change and its consequences. Dune responded in 1965 with its complex descriptions of Arrakis life, from giant sandworms (for whom water is deadly) to smaller, mouse-like life forms adapted to live with limited water. The inhabitants of the planet, the Fremen, must compromise with the ecosystem in which they live, sacrificing some of their desire for a water-laden planet to preserve the sandworms which are so important to their culture. Dune was followed in its creation of complex and unique ecologies by other science fiction books such as A Door into Ocean (1986) and Red Mars (1992).[1] Environmentalists have pointed out that Dune's popularity as a novel depicting a planet as a complex—almost living—thing, in combination with the first images of earth from space being published in the same time period, strongly influenced environmental movements such as the establishment of the international Earth Day.[2]

Declining empires[]

Lorenzo DiTommaso compared Dune's portrayal of the downfall of a galactic empire to Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which argues that Christianity led to the fall of Ancient Rome. In "History and Historical Effect in Frank Herbert's Dune" (1992), Lorenzo DiTommaso outlines similarities between the two works by highlighting the excesses of the Emperor on his home planet of Kaitain and of the Baron Harkonnen in his palace. The Emperor loses his effectiveness as a ruler from excess of ceremony and pomp. The hairdressers and attendants he brings with him to Arrakis are even referred to as "parasites." The Baron Harkonnen is similarly corrupt, materially and sexually decadent. Gibbon's Decline and Fall blames the fall of Rome on the rise of Christianity. Gibbon claimed that this exotic import from a conquered province weakened the soldiers of Rome and left it open to attack. Similarly, the Emperor's Sardaukar fighters are little match for the Fremen of Dune because of the Sardaukar's overconfidence and the Fremen's capacity for self-sacrifice. The Fremen put the community before themselves in every instance, while the world outside wallows in luxury at the expense of others.[3]

Arabic and Islamic references[]

Many words, titles and names (e.g. the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, Hawat, Bashar, Harq-al-Ada) in the Dune universe as well as a large number of words in the language of the Fremen people are derived or taken directly from Arabic (e.g. erg, the Arabic word for 'dune', is used frequently throughout the novel). To begin with, Paul's name (Muad'Dib) means in Arabic 'the teacher or maker of politeness or literature'. The Fremen language is also embedded with Islamic terms such as, jihad, Mahdi, Shaitan, and the personal bodyguard of Paul Muad'Dib Fedaykin is a transliteration of the Arabic Feda'yin.[4] As a foreigner who adopts the ways of a desert-dwelling people and then leads them in a military capacity, Paul Atreides' character bears some similarities to the historical T. E. Lawrence.[5]

Gender issues[]

Kathy Gower criticizes Dune in the book Mother Was Not a Person, arguing that, although the book has been praised for its portrayal of people in a mystical world, the prominence of its female characters is significantly lower than that of the males. In her view, women in Dune culture are largely left to domestic duties, and the exclusively female Bene Gesserit religious cult resembles age-old notions of witchcraft. Women in this religion are feared and hated by the men. They also never use their power to aid themselves, only the men around them, and their greatest desire is to bring a man into their religion.[6] Science-fiction author and literary critic Samuel R. Delany has expressed offense that the book's only portrayal of a homosexual character, the vile pervert Baron Harkonnen, is negative.[7]

On the other hand, Jessica's son's approach to power consistently requires his upbringing under the female-oriented Bene Gesserit, who operate as a long-dominating shadow government behind all of the great houses and their marriages or divisions. A central theme of the book is the connection, in Jessica's son, of this female aspect with his male aspect. In a Bene Gesserit test early in the book, it is implied that men are generally "inhuman" in that they irrationally place desire over self-interest and reason. This applies Herbert's philosophy that humans are not created equal, while equal justice and equal opportunity are higher ideals than mental, physical, or moral equality.[8] Margery Hourihan even calls the main character's mother, Jessica, "by far the most interesting character in the novel"[9] and pointing out that while her son approaches a power which makes him almost alien to the reader, she remains human. Throughout the novel, she struggles to maintain power in a male-dominated society, and manages to help her son at key moments in his realization of power.[9]


"I am showing you the superhero syndrome and your own participation in it."
―Frank Herbert[10]

Throughout Paul's rise to superhuman status, he follows a plotline common to many stories describing the birth of a hero. He has unfortunate circumstances forced onto him. After a long period of hardship and exile, he confronts and defeats the source of evil in his tale.[11][12] As such, Dune is representative of a general trend beginning in 1960s American science fiction in that it features a character who attains godlike status through scientific means.[13] Eventually, Paul Atreides gains a level of omniscience which allows him to take over the planet and the galaxy, and causing the Fremen of Arrakis to worship him like a god. Author Frank Herbert said in 1979, "The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better [to] rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes."[14] He wrote in 1985, "Dune was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader's name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question."[15]

Juan A. Prieto-Pablos says Herbert achieves a new typology with Paul's superpowers, differentiating the heroes of Dune from earlier heroes such as Superman, van Vogt's Gilbert Gosseyn and Henry Kuttner's telepaths. Unlike previous superheroes who acquire their powers suddenly and accidentally, Paul's are the result of "painful and slow personal progress." And unlike other superheroes of the 1960s—who are the exception among ordinary people in their respective worlds—Herbert's characters grow their powers through "the application of mystical philosophies and techniques." For Herbert, the ordinary person can develop incredible fighting skills (Fremen, Ginaz swordsmen and Sardaukar) or mental abilities (Bene Gesserit, Mentats, Spacing Guild Navigators).[16]


Early in his newspaper career, Herbert was introduced to Zen by two Jungian psychologists.[17] Throughout the Dune series and particularly in Dune, Herbert employs concepts and forms borrowed from Zen Buddhism.[18] The Fremen are Zensunni adherents, and many of Herbert's epigraphs are Zen-spirited.[19] In "Dune Genesis" he wrote:

What especially pleases me is to see the interwoven themes, the fuguelike relationships of images that exactly replay the way Dune took shape. As in an Escher lithograph, I involved myself with recurrent themes that turn into paradox. The central paradox concerns the human vision of time. What about Paul's gift of prescience-the Presbyterian fixation? For the Delphic Oracle to perform, it must tangle itself in a web of predestination. Yet predestination negates surprises and, in fact, sets up a mathematically enclosed universe whose limits are always inconsistent, always encountering the unprovable. It's like a koan, a Zen mind breaker. It's like the Cretan Epimenides saying, "All Cretans are liars."[8]

Cultural impact[]

Dune has been widely influential, inspiring other novels, music, films (including Star Wars), television, games, comic books and t-shirts.[20][21] The novel was parodied in 1984's National Lampoon's Doon by Ellis Weiner,[22] and helped inspire The Dune Encyclopedia (1984) by Willis E. McNelly.[23]

German electronic music pioneer Klaus Schulze released a 1979 LP titled Dune featuring motifs and lyrics inspired by the novel. Heavy metal band Iron Maiden wrote the song "To Tame a Land" based on the Dune story. It appears as the closing track to their 1983 album Piece of Mind. The original working title of the song was Dune, however the band was denied permission to use it, with Frank Herbert's agents stating "Frank Herbert doesn't like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially bands like Iron Maiden.".[24] The same song was later covered in 2009 by American progressive metal band Dream Theater, released only on a 3-disc special edition of their album Black Clouds & Silver Linings. Dune inspired the German happy hardcore band Dune, who have released several albums with space travel-themed songs. The influential progressive hardcore band Shai Hulud took their name from "Dune". "Traveller in Time", from the 1991 Blind Guardian album Tales from the Twilight World, is based mostly on Paul Atreides' visions of future and past.[25][26] The song "Near Fantastica", from the Matthew Good album Avalanche, makes reference to "Litany against fear", repeating "can't feel fear, fear's the mind killer" through a section of the song.[27] In the Fatboy Slim song "Weapon of Choice", the line "If you walk without rhythm/You won't attract the worm..." refers to the science fiction novel Dune. Dune also inspired the 1999 album The 2nd Moon by the German death metal band Golem, which is a concept album about the series.[28] Dune has influenced Thirty Seconds to Mars on their self-titled debut album.[29] The Youngblood Brass Band's song "Is an Elegy" on Center:Level:Roar references "Muad'Dib", "Arrakis" and other elements from the novel.[30] Canadian musician Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has cited Dune as her favourite novel. Her debut album Geidi Primes and many of the songs on the album are references to the Dune universe.

The online game Lost Souls includes Dune-derived elements, including sandworms and melange — addiction to which can produce psychic talents.[31] Armageddon (MUD) is an online roleplaying game which draws significant influence from the Dune Chronicles.[32]

Allusions/references from other works[]

After its release, Dune has influenced many other SF works.

  • In the Japanese anime Last Exile, the theme of nations waging war with a supposedly neutral arbiter strikes a similar parallel to the Dune series. Also, the Claudia fluid and high value of water can also said to be inspired by Dune. More interestingly is the Guild in the series, which bears a similarity (in name and some characteristics) to the Spacing Guild of Dune.
  • In the science fiction MMORPG Anarchy Online, a hypercorporation called Omni-Tek was granted control of a seemingly useless desert planet called Rubi-Ka. However, Rubi-Ka is the only known source of notum - an extremely valuable mineral. This situation is very similar to that in the Dune novels. There are also Krys knives and giant sandworms in the game.
  • The song "To Tame a Land" by the heavy metal band Iron Maiden from the album Piece of Mind is based on the novel. Originally, it was going to be called Dune. According to the band's fansite, Frank Herbert's agent relayed his refusal stating that "Frank Herbert doesn't like rock groups. Especially hard rock and especially groups like Iron Maiden."
  • Various work by heavy metal band Fear Factory contain titles and themes related to Dune, including the song Hunter-Killer on Demanufacture album and the remix album Fear is The Mind Killer.
  • Comedian Dane Cook references Dune being like Nestlé Nesquik on his cd Harmful If Swallowed on the track Hopped Up On the Q.
  • The metal band Shai Hulud drew their name from the Fremen word for the sandworms.
  • The planet Tatooine in the Film series Star Wars is a planet completely covered by desert, and one of the species on the planet, the Tusken Raiders, share some traits with the Fremen (wearing moisture-retaining clothing and masks, living a semi-primitive existence in the desert)
  • The cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants has an episode referencing Dune where SpongeBob and Sandy track down a ravenous "Alaskan Bull Worm" that is massive in size and length. Near the end of the episode, the two characters ride on the worm's back and at one point, Sandy even mentions finding a "Worm-sign" (Which turns out to be a palm-sized picket sign with the word "worm" written on it).
  • The song 'Traveler In Time' by the power metal band Blind Guardian from the album Tales from the Twilight World starts with the lyrics 'The Morning Sun of Dune'.
  • In the video game Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, one of the optional missions takes place on a desert-like world with giant worms — much like the planet Dune.
  • On an episode of Futurama, Al Gore claims to have ridden the "Moon Worm."
  • In the 519th episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Crow says "we have worm-sign" when a scene with a desert appears on screen. And then later, in the same episode, says "Arrakis, Dune, Desert Planet" the exact words used in the novel.
  • The heavy metal band Star One released a song on their album Space Metal called "Sandrider".
  • The song "Painamplifier" by Swedish synthpop band Covenant from the U.S. version of the album Dreams of a Cryotank references the 1984 Dune movie and includes 2 samples from the movie.
  • The Warhammer 40,000 universe has been heavily inspired by Dune, including references and influences that include:
    • A weapon called a Lasgun
    • A guild of psychic, mutated navigators known as the "Navis Nobilite"
    • A religious prohibition on robotics and artificial intelligence
    • A galaxy-spanning empire known as "The Imperium", ruled over by a psychic, immortal monarch with the title of "God Emperor" that protects mankind as a whole
    • An all-female army zealously devoted to said God Emperor
  • Dune is also thought to be an example of the "Hero's Journey" (or "Monomyth") as described by Joseph Campbell.
  • Canadian musician Grimes released album called Geidi Primes  which contains songs with Dune references, such as "Caladan", "Sardaukar Levenbrech", "Feyd Rautha Dark Heart" and "Shadout Mapes".
  • The British goa-trance project Juno Reactor used several samples from the 1984 Dune movie in the song Rotorblade.
  • The track 'Weapon of Choice' by the artist Fatboy Slim features the lyrics "Walk without rhythm,
    it won't attrack the worm" seemingly referencing the sand worms of Dune.

Awards and nominations[]

  • Nebula award for best novel in 1965
  • Hugo award for best novel 1966 in literature. Joint first place with ...And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[]


  • The original novel, Dune, was rejected by twenty publishers; it has since become the bestselling science fiction novel of all time, selling more than twelve million copies, including millions more of the five sequels.


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  3. Lorenzo, DiTommaso (November 1992). Template:Citation/make link. Template:Citation/make link. #58, Volume 19, Part 3. DePauw.edu. pp. 311–325. http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/58/ditom58art.htm. Retrieved July 21, 2009.
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  5. "To name one recent example, the political imbroglio involving T. E. Lawrence had profound messianic overtones. If Lawrence had been killed at a crucial point in the struggle, Herbert notes, he might well have become a new "avatar" for the Arabs. The Lawrence analogy suggested to Herbert the possibility for manipulation of the messianic impulses within a culture by outsiders with ulterior purposes. He also realized that ecology could become the focus of just such a messianic episode, here and now, in our own culture. 'It might become the new banner for a deadly crusade--an excuse for a witch hunt or worse.'
    Herbert pulled all these strands together in an early version of Dune. It was a story about a hero very like Lawrence of Arabia, an outsider who went native and used religious fervor to fuel his own ambitions--in this case, to transform the ecology of the planet." pg 41, O'Reilly 1981 ibid.
  6. Andersen, Margret. "Science Fiction and Women." Mother Was Not a Person. Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1974. pp. 98-99 ISBN 0-919618-00-6
  7. Delany, Samuel R. Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & the Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, published by University Press of New England, 1999. p. 90 ISBN 0-8195-6369-2
  8. 8.0 8.1 Herbert, Frank (July 1980). Template:Citation/make link. Template:Citation/make link. FrankHerbert.org. http://www.frankherbert.org/news/genesis.html. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Hourihan, Margery. Deconstructing the Hero: Literary Theory and Children's Literature. New York: Routledge, 1997. pp. 174-175 ISBN 0-415-14419-1
  10. Herbert liner notes quoted in Touponce pg 24
  11. Tilley, E. Allen. "The Modes of Fiction: A Plot Morphology." College English. (Feb 1978) 39.6 pp. 692-706.
  12. Hume, Kathryn. "Romance: A Perdurable Pattern." College English. (Oct 1974) 36.2 pp. 129-146.
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  18. WM: Well, I caught those Zen elements from time to time, I thought ... in Dune, and in fact, the whole Zensunni school line thought was an aspect of that ...
    FH: You know, don't you, that one element of the construction of this book ...it's all the way through there…that I wrote certain parts of it in haiku and other poetical forms, and then expanded them to prose to create a pace.[2]
  19. "They also introduced Herbert to Zen, the teachings of which had a profound influence on his life and work. The Dune series is full of Zen paradoxes that are intended to disrupt our Western logical habits of mind." pg 10, Touponce 1988
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