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Part of the series on
Frank Herbert's
Dune novels


Dune Messiah
Children of Dune
God Emperor of Dune
Heretics of Dune
Chapterhouse Dune

Major groups
and organizations

House Corrino
House Atreides
House Harkonnen
Bene Gesserit
Bene Tleilax
Spacing Guild

Important places

Giedi Prime
Salusa Secundus

Major characters

Paul Atreides
Jessica Atreides
Shaddam IV Corrino
Irulan Corrino
Vladimir Harkonnen
Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
Alia Atreides
Leto II Atreides
Ghanima Atreides
Farad'n Corrino

This article is about the novel Dune; for other meanings see Dune (disambiguation).

Dune is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965. A winner of the Hugo Award and Nebula Award for outstanding science fiction, Dune is popularly considered one of the great science fiction novels of all time, and is frequently cited as the best-selling science fiction novel in history[1]. Dune spawned five sequels written by Herbert, and inspired a film adaptation by David Lynch, a mini-series made by the Sci Fi Channel (United States), games, and a series of prequels co-written by Brian Herbert, the author's son, and Kevin J. Anderson.

Dune is set far in the future amidst a sprawling feudal galactic empire where planetary fiefdoms are controlled by noble Houses that owe allegiance to the Imperial House Corrino. The novel tells the story of young Paul Atreides, heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and scion of House Atreides, as he and his family relocate to the planet Arrakis, the universe's only source of the spice melange. In a story that explores the complex interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, the fate of Paul, his family, his new planet and its native inhabitants, as well as the Padishah Emperor, the powerful Spacing Guild, and the secretive female order of the Bene Gesserit, are all drawn together into a confrontation that will change the course of humanity.

The novel was originally serialised in the magazine Analog from 1963 to 1965 as two shorter works, Dune World and The Prophet of Dune. Herbert's dedicatory remarks were, "to the people whose labors go beyond ideas into the realm of 'real materials'- to the dry-land ecologists, wherever they may be, in whatever time they work, this effort at prediction is dedicated in humility and admiration."


The timeframe of Dune is between the years 10,191 and 10,193 A.G. The term "A.G." refers to the foundation of the Spacing Guild, the event from which the current calendar of the Imperium is reckoned. For many decades, there was no specific indicator as to what the timeframe was according to the Gregorian calendar system of Earth. An appendix to the 2006 novel Hunters of Dune, however, established that the Guild was founded, and the calendar restarted, circa 13,000 A.D. This would indicate that Dune takes place close to the beginning of the 231st Century A.D. By then, "Old Earth" has not been inhabited for more than ten millennia, and much of its history has been forgotten, while some historical and religious traditions remain.

The main conflict driving the narrative events of Dune is a political struggle among three noble houses: the Imperial House Corrino, and two of the Great Houses: Atreides and Harkonnen.

The Corrino Emperor Shaddam IV has come to see the Atreides as a threat to his throne, due to Duke Leto Atreides' charisma and popularity among the noble houses of the Imperium represented in the Landsraad assembly; and because the Duke and his talented lieutenants Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck and Mentat-assassin Thufir Hawat have successfully trained a fighting force equal in ability to the dreaded Imperial Sardaukar, although considerably smaller in number.

The Emperor decides that House Atreides must be destroyed, but he cannot risk uniting the various Houses against himself by an overt attack on any single House. Instead, Shaddam uses a centuries-old feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen as cover for his assault, enlisting the brilliant and power-hungry Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in a chance to eliminate his greatest rivals.

Supplanting the Harkonnens, the Atreides are granted stewardship of the forbidding desert planet Arrakis, also known as "Dune," the only source of the nearly priceless spice melange that increases life expectancy threefold. The Spice is also crucial to the functioning of the powerful Spacing Guild, which maintains a monopoly on interstellar travel, and the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a secretive all-female order of deadly fighters and dangerous intellects, that has been conducting a centuries-long breeding program intended to produce a male human, the Kwisatz Haderach, who will have the abilities of prescience and access to all his ancestral memories. Complicating the political intrigue is the fact that both Paul Atreides, the Duke's son, and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, the Baron's heir, are essential parts of the Bene Gesserit's breeding program - the Bene Gesserit had planned to marry an Atreides daughter to a Harkonnen son to unite the bloodlines but were prevented in this by Lady Jessica, who defied the Sisterhood and conceived for her Duke a son instead of a daughter.

The change in control of Arrakis creates another pretext for conflict between the Harkonnens and Atreides and removes Duke Leto from his power base on the home world of Caladan. While they anticipate a trap, the Atreides are unable to withstand a devastating Harkonnen attack, supported by Imperial Sardaukar dressed as Harkonnen troops and aided by a traitor within House Atreides itself. Duke Leto is assassinated, but Paul and Jessica escape into the deep desert. With Jessica's Bene Gesserit abilities and Paul's developing skills, they join a band of native Fremen, ferocious fighters who worship and ride the giant sandworms that dominate the desert planet. Paul emerges as the Kwisatz Haderach, and Jessica's knowledge of the secret religious myths of the Fremen planted by the Bene Gesserit Missionaria Protectiva enable Paul to become Muad'Dib, a religious and political leader (Mahdi) who unites millions of the Fremen together into an unstoppable military force.

Paul seizes control of Arrakis and the spice, avenging his family in a personal confrontation with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen before the Imperial throne, forcing Shaddam to abdicate and making Paul the first Emperor in the dynasty of House Atreides.


main article: Dune universe

At the time of the novel, advanced computers have long been forbidden due to an event known as the Butlerian Jihad, and the ensuing commandment of the Orange Catholic Bible: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of Man's mind." In lieu of computer assistance, human skills have been developed to an astonishing degree:

  • Mentats through intensive training learn to enter a heightened mental state in which they can perform complex logical computations. Most of the best Mentats, and all of the popular "twisted Mentats," are trained/grown by the Bene Tleilax, although Paul Atreides is not, having been trained by the Master of Assassins, Thufir Hawat as well as his own mother the Lady Jessica Atreides.
  • The Spacing Guild holds a monopoly on interstellar transport. Its navigators use the spice/drug melange to gain limited prescient abilities, enabling them to safely "fold space" — guiding Guild Heighliner ships safely to their destination by using a Holtzman engine, which allows instantaneous travel to anywhere in the galaxy.
  • The Bene Gesserit is a secretive female society, often referred to as "witches," with mental and physical powers developed through thousands of generations of controlled gene lines and many years of physical and mental conditioning called prana-bindu training. When a Bene Gesserit acolyte becomes a full Reverend Mother, by undergoing the "Spice Agony" she gains her "ancestral memories" — the complete life experience of an infinite line of female ancestors (she cannot recall the memories of her male ancestors, and is terrified by the psychic space within her that the masculine memories inhabit).

On the fringes of the Galaxy are the geneticist Tleilaxu, who create shape shifters, reincarnated gholas, and Mentats, and Ix, a planet whose history is lost in the mists of time and whose society is dominated by technology. The CHOAM corporation is the major underpinning of the Imperial economy, with shares and directorships determining each House's income and financial leverage.

The universe's entire power structure, including the financial and military power of the Imperium and the Great Houses, the Guild's control of interstellar travel, and the Bene Gesserit's special powers, are all subject to the availability of melange, a sociopolitical condition known as hydraulic despotism (dependency on a commodity with one source).

A prominent feature of the setting is the use and misuse of language and linguistics. (See Language and Linguistics in Frank Herbert's Dune.)


The consequences of the actions of superhero|superheroes, and humanity's responses, form an overarching theme in the Dune series. In an interview with Frank Herbert published in Omni Magazine in July 1980, the author said:

"Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero... Heroes are painful, superheroes are a catastrophe. The mistakes of superheroes involve too many of us in disaster." [2]


"I had this theory that superheroes were disastrous for humans, that even if you postulated an infallible hero, the things this hero set in motion fell eventually into the hands of fallible mortals. What better way to destroy a civilization, society or a race than to set people into the wild oscillations which follow their turning over their critical judgment and decision-making faculties to a superhero?"

The emphasis on ecological and religious ideas and the use of many cultural themes made the novel a provocative departure from previous science fiction.

Political themes in the Dune series include human beings' susceptibility to mass manipulation by political propaganda, religious dogma (e.g., The Missionaria Protectiva), and sexual temptation, and the importance of self-awareness and self-mastery in resisting these types of control, as well as the study of power and control.

Historical parallels to Dune

From a historical perspective, many have noted similarities between the events of Dune, in which a foreign-born son of an old colonial order unites disparate and warring tribes of religious desert nomads to win freedom from a decaying Imperial power, and the Arab Revolt of early 20th century Middle Eastern history, in which the British liaison officer T.E. Lawrence mobilized Arab fighters to break the power of the Ottoman Turks in the Arabian peninsula. While there are many striking parallels, one of the most trivial and bizarre may be that in the film adaptations Dune (1984) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), both characters representing the old Imperial order (Emperor Shaddam IV and the Turkish Bey, respectively), are played by the actor Jose Ferrer. In his interview with OMNI, Herbert explicitly identified CHOAM with OPEC, equating the spice melange to oil (it should be noted that OPEC did not become notable as a political power until after the publication of the first novel). Parallels can also be drawn to the European/Asian spice trade of early modern Europe and later eras, in particular between the Spacing Guild and the Dutch East India Company.

Another parallel story can be found in Basil Dearden's film Khartoum (1965), with Charlton Heston as General Gordon. The baroque, stylish and brocaded uniforms are very reminiscent of the Caladan ducal-court uniforms used in the first Dune movie. The British Empire sends out Gordon to administer Sudan and its capital Khartoum on behalf of Egypt, aware that this is virtually a suicide mission. Like Leto Atreides, General Gordon, a legendary and formidable warrior of the Empire, goes willingly to his demise. The historical basis of this film lies in the story of the Sudanese supposed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad, an Islamic messianic figure that rose to power in the late 19th century. Paul Atreides is referred to as Mahdi at one point in the novel and in later novels, particularly Dune Messiah. The Mahdi's jihadist army prevails over the technologically superior British army in Sudan, just as the inspired Fremen defeat the Harkonnens' forces and imperial troops.

Another connection exists between the name of house Atreides and the name of the legendary Greek house of Atreus, whose members figure prominently in many Greek tragedies.

None of these parallels can be pushed too far. In particular, none of them has rebels dethroning the emperor, or any parallel to the Bene Gesserit and its program or to the ecological aspects of the Dune story.

Detailed synopsis

The central figure of the book is Paul Atreides, son and heir presumptive to Duke Leto Atreides, head of the House Atreides, and Leto's concubine, Jessica, a Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit perform many functions in the Empire, as Truthsayers (human lie detectors), negotiators, advisors, and teachers, but all these functions serve one deeper purpose: for at least ten thousand years, they have been selectively breeding humans trying to improve humanity. The goal of their breeding program is the Kwisatz Haderach, a human being who will be aware of both female and male ancestral memories, and have the prescient abilities of the Guild's navigators. The Bene Gesserit are close, they believe, to the fruition of their plan, and Paul Atreides is at the heart of it. Jessica, his mother, disobeyed Bene Gesserit orders out of love for Leto Atreides, and gave birth to a boy, Paul. Her express orders had been to produce a girl, whom the Bene Gesserit would have mated with a Harkonnen, and they hoped from this union they would produce the Kwisatz Haderach. Ultimately, the change in plan causes Paul Atreides to exhibit unexpected resources, and possibilities that were unforeseen by the Bene Gesserit plan.

The Harkonnen attack is more diabolical, more powerful, and comes more quickly than the Atreides expect. The Harkonnens manage to gain a spy in the Atreides inner household, and in doing so achieve something unique in Imperial history: they break the "imperial conditioning" of a Suk doctor, which had been universally believed to make a person incapable of consciously causing physical harm. The Harkonnens bend the Atreides doctor – Yueh – to their will by promising to release his wife from prolonged torture.

When the Harkonnens attack, Yueh lowers the defensive house shields and uses sedative drugs to disable Leto, Paul, and Jessica, leaving the Atreides leaderless and disorganized under the Harkonnen and Sardaukar military onslaught. The Atreides army is crushed, with only a few remnants managing to escape.

Paul and Jessica are sent into the desert to die. Because of the use of truthsayers in the Empire, the Baron Harkonnen needs to be able to say truthfully that he was not (directly) responsible for their deaths. However, this plan misfires and Paul and Jessica manage to kill their captors and escape into the desert, leaving the Harkonnens to believe that they died in a huge desert storm called a coriolis storm.

Meanwhile, Yueh, realizing that it is likely that the Harkonnens have been playing him for a dupe, and that his wife is probably dead already, plants a poison gas capsule, disguised as a tooth, in Leto's mouth, and informs Leto about it. When Yueh hands over Leto, Baron Harkonnen kills Yueh. Leto, still paralyzed, but conscious, attempts to kill the Baron by breaking the gas capsule, but misjudges his moment, and is only successful in killing the Baron's adviser and mentat, Piter de Vries.

In the deep desert, under the pressure of extreme circumstances and the increased doses of Spice that he has been ingesting simply by living on Arrakis, some of Paul's powers come into fruition, and his ability to see possible futures explodes into awareness. He sees many things, a way out of his situation, and the restoration of the Atreides, if only he can make contact with the Fremen and survive.

After a dangerous crossing of the desert, Paul and Jessica manage to meet up with a troop of Fremen. Paul and Jessica prove their worth by disarming Fremen in unarmed combat, aided by Bene Gesserit prana-bindu training – the "weirding way" – and the Fremen leader Stilgar gladly accepts them into his troop because he would like to add that skill to the Fremen people. Paul also meets a young woman, Chani, daughter of Liet-Kynes, whom he has long seen in his dreams. During this scuffle, Paul disarms a proud Fremen, Jamis, who takes offence at this "presumptuous" youth, and challenges Paul to a fight to the death. Superficially, this contest between a grown man and an untried fifteen-year-old boy would seem grossly unfair. But Paul had been trained by masters of the sword, and although at first unwilling to kill, he triumphs easily, making his name in the tribe, and also succeeding to the position of head of the household of the dead man. At the same time, Paul and Jessica are introduced to the deadly harshness of the Fremen lifestyle, as the Fremen ritually and literally render Jamis down to his water because it is so precious to them. Stilgar gives Paul the name Usul – meaning "the strong base of a pillar" – as his private name within the troop; Paul gives himself the name "Paul Muad'dib" as his public Fremen name.

When they return to the troop's hidden cave dwelling, known as a sietch, they discover the Fremen Reverend Mother is near death, and with the fortuitous arrival of Jessica, a Bene Gesserit, they make Jessica their Sayaddina. Jessica, not realizing the consequences of what the Fremen are about to do, accepts to cement her place in the tribe. Halfway through the process she realizes she has made a mistake, that she is involved in a similar process to how the Bene Gesserit make their own Reverend Mothers who can see genetic memories, and realizes that the baby in her womb, fathered by Leto before his death, will also go through the process. This has truly unfortunate consequences, because it is a Bene Gesserit teaching that any such baby will not have the strength to withstand the memories of its ancestors. In Dune Messiah it is shown that sooner or later, the consciousness of such a person will be overwhelmed by the personality of an ancestor, creating an "abomination".

Years pass. Paul Muad'dib learns to be a Fremen, and becomes something of a religious leader among the Fremen. Chani becomes his lover (but not his wife, as will become significant later) and bears him a son, whom he calls Leto. He and his mother train the Fremen of Sietch Tabr, and other Fremen who seek out Paul in his religious guise, in the weirding way, the Bene Gesserit's prana-bindu fighting techniques. Under his leadership his "Fedaykin" experience victory after victory against the Harkonnens, and Paul's prestige and aura among the Fremen grow.

In order to be truly accepted by the Fremen he must become a sandrider. The Fremen have a great secret: they have learned to control the giant sandworms native to Arrakis. Through the use of "maker hooks", they have learned to climb aboard the worms and take control of their course, enabling them to quickly move around the desert. This has given the Fremen better mobility than any of the series of occupying armies of Arrakis, as air power cannot be projected in the face of common coriolis storms. Obviously riding a giant sandworm is not the safest of tasks, but Paul attempts it and succeeds, becoming a full member of the sietch.

The same day, a band of smugglers sought melange too deep in the desert, and the Fremen of Sietch Tabr spring a trap. In the middle of the battle Paul recognises his weapons teacher, Gurney Halleck, and calls on him and his men to surrender. Gurney is overjoyed and overwhelmed in equal measure. He surrenders his men, and joins Paul's service. Among Gurney's men, however, are some Imperial spies who attempt to kill Muad'dib. They are unsuccessful, and they are captured by the Fedaykin. Paul gives secret orders for the spies to be allowed to escape, so they reveal that Paul Atreides still lives on Arrakis. Taking advantage of recruiting Gurney Halleck, Paul uses the moment to solve his leadership problem. Since he has become a wormrider many of his followers have expected Muad'dib to challenge Stilgar, his greatest friend among the Fremen, in order to take control of Sietch Tabr. But Paul breaks tradition and in doing so forces Stilgar to do the same, managing to sidestep this issue by proclaiming himself the ruling Duke of Arrakis, and thus taking power without killing his friend.

They return to Sietch Tabr. Gurney is shocked to discover Jessica is still alive, because he believes she was the one who betrayed the Atreides and that Paul does not know. Gurney is about to kill her when Paul walks in, manages to stop him, and explains that Yueh was the traitor. Gurney is almost broken by his nearly fatal and tragic error, but Jessica forgives him and he is bound even further into Atreides and Jessica's service.

Paul's power among the Fremen grows, but he is still frustrated. He is not all he could be: he cannot control his journeys into the future, and much of it is still blank to him. So he takes a truly risky step and consumes a tiny amount of a concentrated form of melange called spice essence, and so attempts to perform the male equivalent of the Reverend Mother ceremony. Previously to this no man has survived this experience, and it seems he fails also, because he sinks into a coma.

Paul neglects to tell anyone what he is doing; many people think he is dead, although others, primarily the Fedaykin, believe he is in a religious trance. His mother, Jessica, does all she can to wake him but fails, so out of desperation she calls Chani from the deep desert to help. Chani, through her more personal knowledge of Paul's dreams and desires, realises what a mad thing Paul has done, and uses spice essence converted by Jessica using her powers as a Reverend Mother to bring him out of his trance. For Paul no time has passed, and he glories in his new memories and powers — he tells his mother and Chani immediately that the Emperor himself is currently orbiting the planet with many Sardaukar, ready to attack. He has proven the Bene Gesserit wrong: he is the Kwisatz Haderach, appearing one generation ahead of the prediction. He declares that it is now time to destroy the Harkonnens.

Fremen attacks on the Harkonnens had already managed to almost entirely stop the flow of the spice from Arrakis. This forced the Emperor to act, and he comes to Arrakis with all his Sardaukar, and also levies of all the other noble houses, to annihilate the Fremen if necessary in order to get the spice flowing again.

By now the Emperor is aware of who Muad'dib is. In advance of his arrival, he sends a large Sardaukar force into the deep desert for information. Attacking a sietch, they manage to kill Paul's son, and capture Alia – Paul's sister – but are driven off by Fremen children, old people and women.

After the Emperor himself has landed, Paul launches the final attack. Using the House Atriedes' family atomics (nuclear weapons) that his men managed to retrieve after the Harkonnen attack, he blows a hole in the Shield Wall (a mountain/rock wall) that protects the capital of Dune, Arrakeen, from the surrounding desert and its fierce storms. By using the weapons this way, he narrowly avoids contravening the universal ban against using atomics on people, which would have required the other noble houses to retaliate with "planetary annihilation". The Fremen attack under cover of a huge desert storm, riding sandworms from the desert and through the hole in the Shield Wall. The great static force of the sandstorm then shorts out all of the Sarduakar's defensive shields. The Sardaukar are unable to withstand the full force of the Fremen, caught as they are in total surprise, and the Emperor is forced to surrender. The combined forces of the Landsraad still loom in orbit around the planet, but Paul threatens to destroy the Spice if any of them try to land, and they back off. In the surprise of Muad'dib's attack, Alia manages to escape, and in the process kills Baron Harkonnen.

Realizing that Muad'dib is not some mad Fremen religious leader changes the situation dramatically for the Emperor. Feyd-Rautha, the Baron's nephew, an acclaimed gladiator, challenges Paul to single combat; claiming rights of kanly as had been declared by Paul's father Leto. Kanly is a formal feud or vendetta under the rules of the Great Convention carried on according to the strictest limitations. Paul agrees even knowing that it is possible he will die, but after a difficult fight during which Feyd-Rautha attempts treachery in the form of a poisoned knife and needle, Paul eventually triumphs.

Paul refuses to take any more nonsense. He forces the Emperor from the throne by the simple expedience of taking power from the real rulers of the Empire – the Spacing Guild – who control space travel. He again threatens to destroy the spice if they do not ship all the troops home. The Spacing Guild have no choice – their limited powers of prophecy show Paul is capable of it – and they send everyone home. The Emperor abdicates and retires to Salusa Secundus. Paul marries (in name only) the Emperor's eldest daughter, Irulan, and assumes control of the Empire.

Paul promises the Fremen that he will turn Arrakis into a garden planet, and all seems well in the universe of Paul Atreides.

List of characters

The characters are listed by primary allegiances. In some cases these allegiances change or reveal themselves to be different in the course of the novels.

House Atreides

House Harkonnen

House Corrino

  • Shaddam IV, the Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe
  • Irulan the Emperor's eldest daughter and heir. Also an historian.
  • Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Bene Gesserit schemer, the Emperor's Truthsayer.
  • Count Hasimir Fenring, a eunuch and the Emperor's closest friend and advisor (not a Corrino per se)
  • Farad'n, Shaddam's grandson and potential heir to the throne of House Corrino. A young scholar, and dabbler in various subjects.



  • Nebula award for best novel in 1965
  • Hugo award for best novel 1966. Joint first place with ...And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny