Along with Thufir Hawat and Duncan Idaho, Halleck was one of Paul's principal teachers during his early years on Caladan. He was a ruthless, yet noble and romantic warrior of enormous talent. Described as "an ugly lump of a man", he was regarded the most loyal of friends to those he loved, and to those he hated there were few enemies more terrifying. A traditionalist and purist at heart, Gurney Halleck did not indulge in melange addiction or other methods to prolong human life.
Halleck was a talented minstrel who was skilled in the use of the baliset. He would often play music on this instrument to entertain his guests, or to fill the dining halls of House Atreides with music when he was in their service. Moreover, Halleck was also fond of spouting verse from the Orange Catholic Bible, and would frequently find an appropriate verse for almost every situation. At times his quotations were so appropriate that they were nearly prophetic.
Halleck's fighting abilities were second to none. In a fight against Gurney with sword or knife, few opponents lasted more than a few moments, including even battle-hardened Sardaukar. Gurney was also skilled at various other weapons, and astonished Fremen later saw that he could adapt to his environment, as witnessed by the fact that he taught himself to ride sandworms as they did.
However, it was the way in which Halleck managed to fuse the minstrel and warrior that made him so unique. According to Duncan Idaho: "He could be killing you while he was singing and never miss a note."
Gurney Halleck was an ugly lump of a man with brawny arms and long-fingered hands with large thumbs. He had wispy blond hair that trailed over barren spots on his forehead, and a lumpy face with flat features, a too-round nose, a lumpy chin, and blue glass-splinter eyes.
Life with House Atreides
Gurney found service with House Atreides on Caladan during the rule of Leto I, who had rescued him from the Harkonnen slave-pits. Gurney had a deep hatred for the Harkonnens, especially Glossu Rabban, who had murdered his sister, Bheth Halleck. He eventually became Warmaster and a loyal friend to Duke Leto Atreides and his concubine, the Lady Jessica. When Leto and Jessica had a son, Paul, Halleck would serve as one of Paul's instructors in war and hand-to-hand combat.
Lady Jessica, who knew him so well, recalled in him an epigram written on the wall of a Muslim palace in the country of Spain, which once existed on Old Earth. She called him Gurney The Valorous from that Islamic ode:
- "There are four pillars which support the world...the wisdom of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous, and the valor of the brave."
Life on Arrakis
Three years later, like the entire Atreides staff, Halleck accompanied the Duke and his family to Arrakis. Unlike some other Atreides lieutenants, such as Duncan Idaho, Halleck survived the fall of the Atreides on Arrakis. In the years after the attack, he fell in with spice smugglers, eventually becoming a powerful figure, both in their ranks and on Arrakis in general. Approximately two years after the fall of the Duke Leto, Halleck and his smugglers fell for a Fremen trap - a fake hoard of spice - and were almost killed before Paul, who had now become the Fremen leader Muad'Dib, recognized him among the smugglers. Upon returning to Sietch Tabr with Paul, Halleck almost killed the Lady Jessica, because he was under the mistaken impression (as others were) that she was responsible for the betrayal of House Atreides to House Harkonnen.
After the deposition of Shaddam IV and Paul's ascension to the Golden Lion Throne, Paul made Gurney an Earl of Caladan. The title of Earl, during various periods of history, was equivalent to Duke. At other times, it was equivalent to Count. In some countries (such as Scandinavian term "jarl"), it was the equivalent of sovereign prince. Thus, it is possible that Paul was, in effect, giving his only surviving non blood related Atreides friend the same noble rank that he and his father once held, albeit by a different name.
Friend of Jessica
It was said that during this time, when Paul was Emperor, Gurney Halleck became the lover of the Lady Jessica, although the two of them kept their relationship out of the public eye to avoid scandal. It would appear that Halleck spent the remainder of his days assisting the Lady Jessica in ruling Caladan.
Halleck still retained the title of Baron of Giedi Prime, and as well as outlawing slavery on the world, the ecologically improved the entire infrastructure on the planet, with the help of the Caladani people. Included in this massive project was the reseeding of natural flora and fauna, as well as the renaming of places and cities.
Gurney Halleck was more recently explored in the Dune prequels written by Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert's son, and Kevin J. Anderson. In their prequels Halleck's early life, in which he originated on the House Harkonnen world of Giedi Prime, is detailed. In this version, Gurney was born into the slave caste of Giedi Prime along with his sister Bheth. When he once challenged acting slavemaster Glossu Rabban, he was tortured and received his characteristic inkvine scar. After escaping the local militia--who also had killed his sister--he fled the planet and entered the service of House Vernius before entering the service of Duke Leto.
According to The Dune Encyclopedia, however, Gurney was born into a house minor of Chusuk with his brother Kyle and sister Annette, being originally trained a manufacturer of Balisets. When Chusuk was attacked by Harkonnen forces, Gurney and Annette were captured and Gurney was sent to the slave pits, while his sister was dispatched to the Harkonnen troop's pleasure houses. Gurney survived for eleven years and eventually was freed by an Atreides raid on Giedi Prime in which many slaves were freed and brought to Caladan, where Gurney chose to enter the service of his saviour the Duke. Though Gurney rose quickly through the ranks he was not able to rescue his sister. One day, more than twenty years after his imprisonment, he learned from an Atreides agent that a Harkonnen officer had murdered Annette just on her first day at the Harkonnen facility; she had at least been spared a life of brutalization.
Behind the Scenes
Alejandro Jorodowski wanted Hervé Villechaize to portray Gurney Halleck in his unsuccessful attempt to produce a film adaptation of Dune. Villechaize is famous for his role as Tattoo in the American series Fantasy Island.
In David Lynch's film version of Dune, Gurney was portrayed by Patrick Stewart, while in the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, the role was played by P. H. Moriarty. In the 2021 adaptation by Denis Villeneuve, he was portrayed by Josh Brolin.