Princess Irulan Corrino was the eldest daughter of the 81st Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, and Anirul, a Bene Gesserit of Hidden Rank. She was also the wife, in title only, of Emperor Paul Atreides, and an important historian who chronicled the events of Paul's rise to the Imperial throne through a series of written works.
Irulan's name is an anagram of her mother Anirul's name. The first two letters of the mother's name are moved to the end of the daughter's. This may be significant since she was the firstborn and first of Shaddam's daughters to be trained as a Bene Gesserit.
As the eldest of five daughters to Shaddam, Irulan was raised under auspicious circumstances in the Imperial Court, and received an excellent education through the Bene Gesserit. Like her younger sisters Chalice, Wensicia, Josifa, and Rugi, Irulan was conditioned to be a lady of refinement and elegance.
From an early age, Irulan's father Shaddam IV expected her to become Empress after his death, or at the very least to wed a political ally and retain House Corrino's hegemony over the Imperium. The Bene Gesserit also saw potential in the girl, and gave her sufficient training so that they could exploit her at some point in the future, were she to find herself in a position of power.
However, despite the expectations of others, Irulan remained only an average Bene Gesserit adept, and retained a strong sense of personal identity and ambition: qualities that caused tension between herself and her equally strong-minded father. Lady Jessica mused that Irulan was too proud to progress very far with her Bene Gesserit training, and that the Sisterhood never pressed the point because Irulan's primary use would be as Shaddam's daughter, even with Bene Gesserit abilities.
The Plot against House Atreides
Irulan was gradually drawn into the events on Arrakis as her father orchestrated his plot to destroy Duke Leto Atreides I and House Atreides, with the aid of House Harkonnen. As Leto's power and influence grew in the Landsraad, there was wide speculation that Irulan could be married to his son, Paul to symbolize Shaddam's selection of House Atreides to peacefully assume the Imperial throne after his death; but the Emperor's jealousy of the "Red Duke" Leto instead led him to orchestrate a plot to destroy him.
Irulan wrote everything important in her private diary:
- "My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. He led me down the Hall of Portraits to the ego-likeness of the Duke Leto Atreides. I marked the strong resemblance between them — my father and this man in the portrait--both with thin, elegant faces and sharp features dominated by cold eyes. 'Princess-daughter, my father said, I would that you'd been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman.' My father was 71 years old at the time and looking no older than the man in the portrait, and I was only 14 years old, but yet I remember deducing in that instant that my father secretly wished the Duke had been his son, and disliked the political necessities that made them enemies.” — In My Father's House by the Princess Irulan
To get House Harkonnen to assist with this scheme, the Emperor offered to potentially give Irulan in marriage to the Harkonnen heir apparent, the na-Baron Feyd-Rautha Rabban Harkonnen, along with the riches of the Arrakis fief. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen favored this arrangement, as he believed such a union and plan would greatly assist in the establishment of a Harkonnen Empire. Irulan was so ensnared, and would oppose being used as such a pawn.
The plot against the Atreides was executed: lured to Arrakis on the pretense of taking over the valuable melange operation there, the Atreides were soon attacked by Harkonnen forces (secretly supplemented by the seemingly unstoppable Imperial Sardaukar). Leto was killed, but Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica fled into the desert and were presumed dead. A crisis on Arrakis began when the mysterious Muad'Dib emerged as an effective leader of the native Fremen tribes against the rule of the Harkonnens. He was, of course, a very-much-alive Paul Atreides.
Downfall of the Corrinos
When the mysterious Muad'Dib emerged as an effective leader of the Fremen after House Atreides was deposed from Arrakeen rule, Irulan became entangled further with the Bene Gesserit, who sought to use her as a spy against her father. Later, when Paul Atreides succeeded in conquering the Imperial strongholds on Arrakis, Irulan was with her father in Arrakeen. She subsequently witnessed Paul's defeat of the Harkonnen na-Baron in an kanly act that effectively destroyed House Harkonnen. Then, Irulan was made to marry the Fremen leader - much to the concern of Paul's consort, Chani - in order for Paul to legitimise his rule and take away the Golden Lion Throne from Shaddam IV. Being unaware of Paul's devotion to Chani, Irulan agreed to the union, believing she would be the one to produce the Imperial heir apparent, and thus retain House Corrino's power over the Known Universe.
An Unhappy Marriage
Following the consolidation of Paul's rule over the Imperium, Irulan quickly discovered that she was Paul's wife in title only, and that his beloved Fremen consort, Chani, was his exclusive partner and the sole bearer of his children. Jealousy and resentment drove her to secretly drug Chani with dangerous contraceptives, so that she would not produce his heirs. However, the scheme did not work as intended, and Irulan was left with remorse when Chani died after giving birth to twins named Leto and Ghanima. This act, combined with the apparent death of Paul Atreides after he walked into the desert a blind man, led her to devote herself to House Atreides and her two surviving stepchildren. Alia, who had never liked Irulan, grudgingly admitted that she "reek[ed] of trustworthiness," and allowed her to become Leto and Ghanima's guardian, since her defection destroyed any hope the Bene Gesserit had of manipulating the children.
Through their developmental years, and following the rise of the God-Emperor Leto Atreides II, Irulan spent her remaining years studying and documenting all the events that came to pass since House Atreides took control of Arrakis in 10,191 A.G. She was occasionally flustered by the twins' unusual behavior, given their Other Memory.
Irulan was a prolific author, as evidenced by the fact that many chapters in the novels begin with an epigraph from one of her writings. Below is a partial list:
- "Manual of Muad'Dib"
- "Muad'Dib, Family Commentaries"
- "A Child's History of Muad'Dib"
- "Dictionary of Muad'Dib"
- "Analysis: The Arrakeen Crisis" (written for Bene Gesserit Circulation only)
- "The Humanity of Muad'Dib"
- "History of the Butlerian Jihad"
- "Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib"
- "In My Father's House"
- "Songs of Muad'Dib"
- "Conversations With Muad'Dib"
- "Arrakis Awakening"
- "Private Reflections on Muad'Dib"
- "Paul of Dune"
- "The Wisdom of Muad'Dib"
- "Muad'Dib, The Man" (with preface by Stilgar)
- "Count Fenring: A Profile"
- "Muad'Dib: The Religious Issues"
- "Muad'Dib: The 99 Wonders of the Universe"
- "Collected Legends Of Arrakis"
- "The Life of Muad'Dib"
Behind the Scenes
In the 1984 movie Dune, the role of the Princess Irulan was played by actress Virginia Madsen, who, in keeping with her appearance in the book, provides an opening narration and only appears in person in the opening and closing scenes. Helena Bonham Carter had been cast in the role, but was forced to leave production for scheduling conflicts with A Room With a View (1983).
In the 2000 and 2003 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries Dune and Children of Dune, the character was played by Julie Cox. The character's role was greatly expanded in the first miniseries so that she could serve as a window into House Corrino, and to reduce viewer confusion as to why Paul would marry a total stranger at the end. Irulan also narrated the opening of every episode, while her portrayal in the second miniseries is consistent with her storyline in the novels.
Alejandro Jodorowsky had planned to cast Amanda Lear as Irulan for his failed 1974 Dune adaption.
When Irulan wrote "My father was 71 years old at the time and looking no older than the man in the portrait, and I was only 14 years old", this created a timeline inconsistency regarding her age relative to that of her sister Wensicia. Irulan is said to be the older sister throughout the books.
Wensicia's birth year is given as 10170 AG, but if one cross-references Shaddam's age in the entry (71 years old), this places the event of which Irulan wrote at the year 10189 AG. If Irulan was indeed 14 at that year, this would place her birth year at 10175 AG, making her 5 years younger than Wensicia. This inconsistency may have been the result of Irulan not recalling the event properly at the time of her writing the book, which would explain why the faulty dates are present.
In the 2003 miniseries, the age inconsistency is addressed with the casting of a much older actress to play Wensicia, although the miniseries doesn't address the issue at all.
The Dune Encyclopedia adresses the inconsistency , explaining it by having the extremely vain and highly spice-addicted Irulan making herself younger in her books, a fact which enraged her younger but less attractive sister Wensicia by no end.