Dune Encyclopedia

The Dune Encyclopedia is a reference text compiled and edited by Dr. Willis E. McNelly in 1984. A total of 43 people contributed articles to the work.

The book was based on the first 4 books of the original Dune saga by Frank Herbert, namely Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune. At the time it was written, The Dune Encyclopedia was promoted as the "official" Dune chronology. Dr. McNelly was a personal friend of Frank Herbert, who wrote the foreword for the Encyclopedia.

Despite the Encyclopedia being the official reference text for the Dune universe, some of the information contained therein was contradicted by Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune.

Rumors existed that Herbert himself contributed to the Encyclopedia. However, if this were true, he wrote under a pseudonym, as his name only appears on the foreword.

The Encyclopedia also presents itself as an in-universe document. It was published in 15540 AG and its editor was Hadi Benotto, suggesting an ancestry that was originally be a combination of Germanic and Arabian. Since she mentions in the acknowledgements that she has a husband in the acknowledgements, it follows that in that case it is a woman's name. Even so, in the Arabic of today, Hadi (هادي) is a name used only for men, and it means "leader," or "guide." One could suppose that perhaps in the future it will come to be cross-pollinated by the German feminine name Heidi, so that it can be used for either gender; or even that Hadi Benotto is a gay man married to another man.

The Encyclopedia provides a timeline both based on the Dune chronology by Herbert, original dates of original events, as well as real history, seen from the Dunish perspective of the Imperium; the history of Terra is seen as the history of an "Imperial Seat", started by Alexander the Great and carried over by Rome, Madrid, London until the "interfeudal war" of WW II when it is transferred to Washington.


The Encyclopedia was printed in the US only once as paperback in 1 June, 1984 by Berkley Books, an imprint of Putnam (the publisher of all of Frank Herbert's Dune novels). The Dune Encyclopedia was also released in hardcover by Putnam Adult a month later, 13 July 1984. Another paperback edition, with a different cover picture, was printed in the UK and published by Corgi Books (a division of Transworld Publishing), also in 1984.

In 1999, Dr. McNelly stated that he had proposed to Frank Herbert that they collaborate on a Dune prequel novel, expanding upon the Butlerian Jihad story presented in The Dune Encyclopedia. He noted, "FH and I had discussed writing it together and he agreed with my general plot outline, completed first chapter, and so on but his untimely death prevented us from continuing." <ref>Alt.Fan.Dune Post: [[1]]</ref>

After Herbert died in 1986, his estate took over all licensing and copyright on Dune material. The Dune Encyclopedia has been out of print for over 15 years, and is highly sought after by fans.

Foreword by Frank Herbert

"Here is a rich background (and foreground) for the Dune Chronicles, including scholarly bypaths and amusing sidelights. Some of the contributions are sure to arouse controversy, based as they are on questionable sources. Others round out long speculation. Specialists have had their field day here with problems geological, biological, astronomical, and mystical, with pronunciations, major biographies, histories and accounts of little-known figures. The range of topics is catholic: cf. from games for amusement to games of life and death (Cheops or Pyramid Chess to "The Assassins' Handbook").

"The history of the Financial Synod which spawned CHOAM gets its first airing in these pages. In fact, many secrets hidden in the Dune Chronicles are answered here. How did Irulan first gain and then arouse the displeasure of Ghanima? Who was Jehanne Butler and why does the Butlerian Jihad carry her name? What are the hidden origins of the Spacing Guild? Where did spice-trance navigational techniques develop? What was Leto II's private opinion of Holy Sister Quintinius Violet Chenoeh? Does Cheops have something in common with the three-body problem?

"I must confess that I found it fascinating to re-enter here some of the sources on which the Chronicles are built. As the first "Dune fan", I give this encyclopedia my delighted approval, although I hold my own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold."

List of contributors

  • Joan Bouchelle — J.B.
  • Edgar L. Chapman — E.C.
  • Judith A. Clark — J.A.C.
  • Michael Clayton - M.C.
  • Grace W. Eckley — G.W.E.
  • Greta Eisner — G.E.
  • Peter Facione — P.F.
  • J. L. Germain — J.L.G.
  • J. H. Gervais — J.H.G.
  • Stephen Goldman — S.G.
  • Lee Granell — L.G.
  • Jane Hipolito — I.H.
  • William Hornaday — W.H.
  • Wesley D. Ives — W.D.I.
  • Edward M. Jennings — E.J.
  • Alan Kaye — A.K.
  • Dorothy Kilter — D.K.
  • Gillian Kitrick — G.K.
  • Linda R. Levy. — L.R.L.
  • Gregory Lichtenberg — G.L.
  • Victoria Lustbader — V.L.
  • Michael W. McClintock — M.M.
  • Willis McNelly — W.M.
  • Douglas J. McReynolds — D.M.
  • Walter E. Meyers — W.E.M.
  • Frederic H. Miller — F.M.
  • Myron Orleans — M.O.
  • Charles A. Povlovich — C.A.P.
  • John Quijada — J.Q.
  • Julia Reed — J.R.M.
  • R. Reginald — R.R.
  • Thomas E. Roberts — T.R.
  • John A. Ryan — J.R.
  • Roger Schlobin — R.S.
  • Maureen A. Shifflett — M.S.
  • Ray C. Shiflett — R.C.S.
  • Joyce Tally - J.T.
  • Stephen Tobias — S.T.
  • Michael Tolley — M.T.
  • Robert Trowbridge — R.T.
  • John A. Turner — J.A.T.
  • Christine Watson — C.W.
  • Carl B. Yoke — C.Y.

Future and Canonicity

McNelly repeatedly tried to reprint The Dune Encyclopedia following Frank Herbert's death in 1986, in 2000 he explained his reasons on the Dune Usenet group;

I am not repeat NOT interested in any financial gain from reprinting the DE. I would like to see it in print again because I am proud of the work done by my many contributors to the volume as well as of the vast amount of material it adds to the Arrakeen saga.<ref name="afd">Dr. McNelly's Usenet posts on reprint negotiation, e.g. [2], [3].</ref>

Despite his persistence the Herbert estate refused to allow it. McNelly warned fans against taking matters into their own hands and releasing the Encyclopedia online for free and hinted at his frustration in the face of HLP lawyers;

I cannot, ethically, legally, or morally or even practically permit anyone to use anything from the DE unless prior permission is granted by the FH estate. And that is as likely as finding open water on Arrakis. And I strongly - VERY strongly - suggest that you do not risk the wrath of FH's attorneys in using any of this material in a way not permitted by the current copyright laws. Frankly, I know of no one in the a.f.d. [alt.fan.dune Usenet Group] group who has the money to defend him/her self against a lawsuit. I know whereof I speak. <ref name="afd"/>

The reason for the estate's refusal to re-print the Encyclopedia may be that many of the ideas in The Dune Encyclopedia go directly against the later two prequel trilogies, and sequel duology written after Frank Herbert's death by Brian Herbert (Frank Herbert's son) and Kevin J. Anderson, which they state complete the original series. Brian Herbert and Anderson have also stated that when writing these books, they drew on Frank Herbert's own notes, left behind after his death. In response to questions over why the new post-Frank Herbert Dune novels conflicted with The Dune Encyclopedia, the book was declared non-canon on the official Dune website in a letter credited to McNelly, Brian Herbert, and Anderson:

"THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA reflects an alternate "DUNE universe" which did not necessarily represent the "canon" created by Frank Herbert. Frank Herbert's son, Brian Herbert, writing with Kevin J. Anderson, IS continuing to establish the canon of the DUNE universe. This is being done with the full approval of the owner of the DUNE copyright, the Herbert Limited Partnership.
"While Frank Herbert himself considered THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA interesting and entertaining, he did not refer to Dr. McNelly's derivative work while writing any of his DUNE novels. Likewise, in writing their DUNE novels (beginning with DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES), Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have exclusively used, and will continue to use, Frank Herbert's original notes as well as their own imaginations, and not THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA.
"We hope that the millions of DUNE fans will continue to enjoy all of the works written in Frank Herbert's marvelous universe."

A letter written by
Dr. Willis McNelly,
Brian Herbert, and
Kevin J. Anderson
<ref>Why do the new prequels sometimes contradict the history set forth in THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA compiled by Dr. Willis E. McNelly? [[4]]</ref>

The wording of the letter raised some eyebrows - the wording does not reference that the Encyclopedia is and always was a fallible in-universe document that openly mis-represents known history and adds historical embellishments. It also seems oddly out of step with McNelly's previous statements - prompting speculation that he was not involved in the drafting of the letter.

Dr. Willis E. McNelly died on April 7, 2003. The Encyclopedia remains out of print. According to his son, Patrick, the rights to the Dune Encyclopedia currently lie with McNelly's widow.


The Dune Encyclopedia was also used as the sourcebook for the Dune computer games, developed by Westwood Studios. It was here that Westwood got the name "House Ordos", which first appeared in Dune II, although the crest used is actually that of House Wallach recoloured. The Dune Encyclopedia displays Ordos's crest as being bones making an 'x' with ivy entwined around one corner, rather than a snake coiled around a book.



External links