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The Oral History, together with the Official History, provided the totality of information about the reign of the Atreides before the discovery of the Imperial Library on Rakis. Yet for a source of such importance, few non-historians could define what the Oral History is, or where one would go who wished to consult it.

There is no single source called the "Oral History"; on the contrary, the term is used to designate a variety of materials, some of which, despite the name, were never transmitted through oral tradition. The professional historian, when referring to the "Oral History," uses the jargon of his calling for the multi-volume work Studies in Atreidean History (SAH),[1] which the Institute of Galacto-Fremen Culture began to publish in 13850, and which now extends into the thousands of volumes (the 17th edition of the index, the most recent, runs to 33 volumes alone).

Studies in Atreidean History[]

Studies in Atreidean History (SAH) is an immense conglomeration of documents, plays, ballads, nursery rhymes, wall slogans, cartoons — everything from the most literate and enduring of works to the most ephemeral — having in common only that they in some way provide information on the reigns of Paul, Alia, and Leto II. Much of the material was preserved by word of mouth until the middle of the 139th century, when its collection began. Other works, such as the plays of Harq al-Harba and other Atreidean dramatists, were in print almost from their conception. But the primary emphasis of SAH has always been the information from the separate oral tradition which, because of its independence, could serve as a confirmation of or check on the official records.


Several examples of material from the Oral History will clarify its nature. In 10330, Rauvlee Ludgwit published a collection of children's verses from Arrakeen and the surrounding villages. The volume included counting rhymes, nursery rhymes, mnemonics, verses for jumping rope and other games, and similar items. Ludgwit's compilation was one of the first works to be reprinted in the SAH (Sätra Shonjiir, trans., Ludgwit's Arrakeen Child Lore, SAH 37).

"Paul, Paul, came through the wall"[]

Item 941 in the collection is a rhyme transcribed in 10324, yet one that obviously refers to Paul's use of atomics to breach the Shield Wall near Arrakeen, allowing his defeat of the Imperial forces. Sätra Shonjiir's translation preserves the rhythm and rhyme scheme of the original:

Paul, Paul, came through the wall,

Adam Shaddam had a fall;

All his hawets, all his men,

Couldn't lift him up again.

The word in the in the third line, hawets, makes no sense in its context, since it means "fish," a creature known on Arrakis only after the importation of predator to guard the qanats. Nor do fish play any part whatsoever in the incident upon which the rhyme is based. Ludgwit operated on the principle of oral transmission that meaningless words are replaced by meaningful words, often at the expense of the overall sense of the passage, and he argued that the original word in line three had been hawats, meaning "Mentats," from the name of Thufir Hawat, the Mentat of Duke Leto I, who accepted service with House Corrino after the death of the Duke. The poem shows that Hawat was associated in the popular mind with loyalty to the Imperial House and therefore was regarded as more or less of a traitor to the Atreides. But the recent finds on Rakis have made that long-held conclusion very doubtful.

"Lewin at the Wall"[]

A longer example from SAH challenges the official version of an empire during Leto's reign sunk into a glacial placidity, with its capital at Arrakeen the foremost model of well-satisfied burghers and craftsmen. Hardly a chapter of the Official History does not extol the contentment of the ordinary man or woman through that long stretch of time. There is a historian's rule of thumb that one finds the truth where the Official and Oral Histories agree, but the Oral History constantly contradicts the official version of "The Garden of Arrakeen."

One of many works to project a different image of the capital during Leto's reign is the ballad "Lewin at the Wall," taken down from a troubadour on the out-of-the-way planet of Stormstile in 13934 The troubadour gave the title of the song a: "News from Arrakeen." The figure in the first of these titles is historical: Iir Zhiil Lewin, (11835?-11891?), a carpenter originally from Libermann who eventually settled in Arrakeen. He is cited in the Municipal Court Rolls of that city as being arrested for licensing violations in 11890, and his case was publicized as an example of governmental vigilance in protecting the consumer from sharp dealers. According to the final disposition of the charge, Lewin died in prison awaiting trial. The ballad[2] gives a different story:

As Lewin cut his apple through,

He found a worm inside.

He killed it with his heavy shoe,

And spoke then in his pride:

"The worm has eat the apple's core,

Beneath the skin lies curled,

Just so, many a man lies sore,

From the worm within the world."

So he took his brush and tar and awl,

And walked outside a way,

To find a space upon a wall,

On that to have his say.

And he painted up the wall that night,

To tell the world his tale,

And showed the town in morning light,

That one was not for sale.

The temple priests, they hunted him,

And set on him a price;

But the hope they had was none or slim,

Until they offered spice.

Then Al-Badwi, the butcher's son,

Said, "Bring a dozen hands,

And go down by the cattle run,

And take him as he stands."

They came then in the dark of moon,

When shadow covered all,

And heard there Lewin sing his tune,

As he painted on the wall.

O, the Fremen guards were fast and all,

But Lewin faster yet,

And the first that come up to the wall,

The tar was what he met.

The second swore upon his word

To kill him with his hand.

But Lewin pulled the Fremen sword.

Poured his water in the sand.

The third cat Lewin at the knee,

A cut that brought turn down;

But with his awl full readily,

Lewin turned him found.

When Lewin lay upon the ground,

They tied his hands up fast.

And he called, "O friends, O friends around,

"This day will be my last"

Now Lewin we will see no more,

The walls, they scrubbed them clean;

But a worm stilt hides inside the core

Of the town of Arrakeen.

Whatever may be the historicity of the ballad, it should be noted that the folk do not, as a rule, make heroes of "sharp dealers."

The Little Book of Riddles[]

Many of the materials from the Oral History show a biting satire and a keen appreciation of political reality. In The Little Book of Riddles, probably published anonymously on Giedi Prime, Riddle 88 is this:

"What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs in the afternoon, and slithers in the evening?"

And the answer is:

"Nothing that I know of."

The contents of the Little Book are generations older than its first publication, about 13499 (SAH 534, trans. Hwen Urtorn).

"How Muad'Dib Got His Name"[]

These examples can do little more than suggest the riches that the Oral History contains. Its value is measureless in more than one way for it provides not only an independent source of historical information, but also reveals the mind of the folk, sharing with us their understanding of their culture, and displaying' their hopes and fears. These last insights are exemplified in "How Muad'Dib Got His Name" (a Fremen folktale[3] that weaves together wholly imaginary incidents from the wool of fact: Paul Atreides' adaptation to the desert and Fremen ways and how the invention of the thumper is attracted to the figure of Paul), his coming to terms, with his supernormal powers (as expressed in the magic of the djinn), and above all his conquest of himself. In the long run, it matters little which side Thufir Hawat was on; what is more important is the way that people structured and ordered the flux of their daily lives and made sense of the swirl of great events. In this and other folktales, in ballads, in even the humblest games, we have that record.


  1. See: Lors Karden, Truth and Fancy in the Oral History (Yorba: Rose), for an introduction to the series Studies in Atreidean History.
  2. Zheraulaz Kiit, ed., "Ballads from the Border Stars," Studies in Atreidean History 263 (Paseo: Institute of Galacto-Fremen Culture), pp. 156-7
  3. "How Muad'Dib Got His Name" is from Ibrahim al-Yazizhi, Fremen Folktales from Onn, SAH 313.

See also[]

Further references[]

  • Lors Karden, Truth and Fancy in the Oral History (Yorba: Rose)
  • Zheraulaz Kiit, ed., "Ballads from the Border Stars," Studies in Atreidean History 263 (Paseo: Institute of Galacto-Fremen Culture), pp. 156-7
  • Ibrahim al-Yazizhi, Fremen Folktales from Onn, SAH 313.