The Spice Melange, commonly referred to simply as 'the spice', was a naturally produced awareness spectrum narcotic that formed a fundamental block of commerce and technological development in the known universe for millennia. It also played an important role in travel and cultural development as it is vital for space travel by enabling navigators to safely guide space ships through warp space.
Since its discovery, several thousand years prior to the ascent of House Atreides, it was produced exclusively on the planet Arrakis. This was because the conditions on Arrakis by which melange was created were unique to that planet. However, some 1500 years after the death of the God-Emperor Leto II, the Bene Tleilax had managed to successfully replicate it.
The spice originated on the planet Arrakis, where it was produced deep beneath the sands. It was created in a process whereby the fungal excretions of sandtrout would mix with water to form a pre-spice mass. This mass would then be brought to the surface of the desert through an explosion of pressure, and under the intense heat and air of Arrakis, melange would form. When the worms died, sandtrout would be released into the sand, and the cycle of creation would repeat.
By the time House Atreides arrived on Arrakis melange had become the single resource that was capable of creating or destroying the empire. Consequently, Arrakis had gone from being a distant, poor, and unimportant desert world to a greatly prized fief, and management of the spice mining operations were considered a prestigious but difficult task. Spice collection was hindered both by the aggressive and territorial sandworms, and by the guerrilla tactics employed by the Fremen, who resented the presence of off-worlders (especially Imperial agents) who harvested the spice for themselves.
During the time of the God-Emperor Leto Atreides II, spice production lessened significantly due to terraforming efforts on Arrakis, and also due to Leto II's desire to control who within his empire could consume spice, and how much was consumed. However, by this time significant stockpiles of spice had been collected and hidden by Leto II. These later prove valuable for a variety of reasons.
Spice is the basis for many of the things found in Fremen daily life - it can be processed to create things such as spice paper, spice fibre or chemical explosives. It could also be refined to create spice essence or spice gas. Its actual appearance is only alluded to a handful of times throughout the saga:
In Dune Messiah it is stated that Guild Navigator Edric "swam in a container of orange gas ... His tank's vents emitted a pale orange cloud rich with the smell of the geriatric spice, melange.", and in God Emperor of Dune Moneo notes, "Great bins of melange lay all around in a gigantic room cut from native rock and illuminated by glowglobes of an ancient design with arabesques of metal scrollwork upon them. The spice had glowed radiant blue in the dim silver light. And the smell - bitter cinnamon, unmistakable." Throughout the chronicles it is said that melange possesses the odor of cinnamon.
In Dune, Lady Jessica notes that her first taste of spice "tasted like cinnamon."  Dr. Yueh adds that the flavour is "never twice the same .. It's like life - it presents a different face each time you take it. Some hold that the spice produces a learned-flavour reaction. The body, learning a thing is good for it, interprets the flavour as pleasurable -; slightly euphoric. And, like life, never to be truly synthesized,"
During the days of the Corrino Empire, the spice was the rarest and most valuable commodity in the known universe. It was said that it was so valuable that one briefcase full of spice would be enough to purchase an entire planet.
Great Houses of the Imperium were often considered rich and influential if their ruling members could afford to consume melange regularly, or, worse still, stockpile it. However, stockpiling melange was generally considered to be a very risky and dangerous endeavour, since the Emperor, the Bene Gesserit, the Bene Tleilax, the Spacing Guild, and rival Great Houses could potentially regard such stockpiles as a threat to their position within the Imperium, as well as a threat to their supply.
Effects on those who consume melange are outlined below:
- Mind altering: it could awaken dormant parts of the human mind and encourage expanded sensory perceptions. In some humans (notably the Bene Gesserit, Guild Navigators, and some members of the Atreides bloodline), heavy doses led to powerful abilities that include prescience;
- Health benefits: taken regularly it increased life expectancy and fortified over all health levels (in many cases life expectancy was tripled);
- Addictiveness: the spice had narcotic properties, thus increasing demand and creating a large and hungry market for it. An individual's addiction to the spice would worsen the more they consumed it.
- Physical effects: sustained use of the spice led to human eyes being discolored so that the entire eye would be stained blue - so called Eyes of Ibad. Extensive exposure to the spice created a huge physical dependency that could radically alter the entire body (see Guild navigators).
Groups critically dependent on the Spice
Alternatives to Spice Melange
Due to the monopoly of the spice, finding a viable alternative gradually became the focus of certain groups - most notably the Tleilaxu. Control of the spice during the Corrino Empire was later eclipsed in scope by the God-Emperor Leto Atreides II. This led to protracted attempts to synthesize the spice, which eventually yielded positive results for the Bene Tleilax, some 1500 years after Leto II's death. As a result, the Tleilaxu became spice merchants and funded many of their endeavours through sales revenue.
Guild Navigators, and their spice-warped abilities, serve the function normally performed by a navigational computer. But during The Butlerian Jihad, all "thinking machines" were hunted down and destroyed, with a commandment against their ever being used again, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind". Hence, interstellar travel relies on spice.
Behind the Scenes
In Children of Dune one of the ‘quotes’ before a chapter is an extract from a dictionary. It begins:
melange (me’-lange also ma,lanj) n-s, origin uncertain (thought to derive from ancient Terran Franzh)
Indeed, “mélange” is a French word meaning “mix” (as in “un mélange d'épices” meaning “a mix of spices / spice mix”). This raises the possibility some of the French language is still known in the Dune universe (wether as a known dead language or an active one spoken by very few people), and the prefix “Terran” may indicate that there are or were different dialects or patois of off-world French. Interestingly “Franzh” is the Breton word for “French”. This may be due to a later merging of French and Breton, or perhaps the mongrel nature of Galach incorporated Breton into it. Another possibility is that by the time of Children of Dune history has been distorted to the point where people no longer realise that there are multiple regional languages in France (as also is the case with many people today).
- The Water of Life
- The Kwisatz Haderach
- Spice trance
- Reverend Mothers
- Guild Navigator
- Spice hoard
- Spice blows
- Pre-spice mass
- Amal Ex
- Ultraspice Ex
- This article is based largely on the Wikipedia article on Melange (fictional drug).