Study Guide for Dune

1. Citations

Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1965.

Frank Herbert's Dune: Special Edition Director's Cut*. John Harrison, dir. USA: New Amsterdam Entertainment Inc. (prod.) / The Sci Fi Channel (distribution), 2000. David Kappes, Prod. John Harrison, script. From the novel by Frank Herbert. 295 min. (from The Internet Movie Database:

* "The 'law' was formulated by a 20 th c. male student of Miami U, Oxford, named, like many males of his generation, Todd." -Rich Erlich

2. Cast

Major Characters Actor
Paul Atreides Alec Newman
Lady Jessica (Paul's Mother) Saskia Reeves
Duke Leto Atreides (Paul's Father) William Hurt
Alia Atreides (Paul's Sister) Laura Burton
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Head of House Harkonnen, rival of House Atreides) Ian McNiece
Shaddam Corrino IV (The Padishah Emperor)
Giancarlo Giannini
Princess Irulan Corrino (Reverend Mother, the Emperor's Truthsayer) Julie Cox
Gaius Helen Mohaim
Zuzana Geislerová
Gurney Halleck (Atreides' weapons master) P.H. Moriarty
Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Heir to House Harkonnen, the Baron's nephew) Matt Keeslar
Glossu Rabban (another of the Baron's nephews, called "The Beast") László I. Kish
Stilgar (Naib of Sietch Tabr) Uwe Ochsenknecht
Chani (Paul's lover [daughter of Liet; see below]) Barbora Kodetová
Dr. Parot Kynes / Liet (the planetologist) Karel Dobry

Other Characters

House Atreides: Duncan Idaho, Thufir Hawat (Mentat)??, Dr. Wellington Yueh??

House Harkonnen: Piter Devries (Mentat)

The Empire/House Corrino: Count Hasimir Fenring (Mentat)??, Farrah (the seductress), various Bene Gesserits, Spacing Guild Agents, and legions of Sarduakar.

The Fremen: Otheym (one of the Fedeykin), Jamis, Shadout Mapes, Mother

Ramallo, The Boy (who beheads Rabban).

3. Backstory

Some twenty-four thousand years have passed since the 21 st Century. In that time humanity has been scattered throughout the galaxy. Earth, its population decimated by an asteroid collision long ago, has been abandoned and set aside as a nature preserve by the already established colonies of in the solar system. Away from Earth, human civilization and technology advanced. The offspring of the human mind--thinking machines, vast AI sentient constructs, and conscious robots--assumed control over their makers. The rule of the machines ended with the violent and chaotic Butlerian Jihad. After which, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind" became standard religious doctrine for most of the galaxy. What develops in the aftermath is "a feudal trade culture which turns its back on most of science" (Herbert 22). To replace the super machines of the past, the human species itself advanced. Three societies arose and flourished from the ashes of the Butlerian Jihad: the human-computer Mentats, renowned for their fast-thinking logic and computational skills; the matriarchal religious sisterhood called the Bene Gesserit, who seek to create a genetic super being through rigorously controlled breeding programs, and the mutated Spacing Guild which holds a tyrannical monopoly on interstellar travel. The power of these groups stems from the habitual use, in increasing greater quantities respectively, of the mind enhancing drug Melange: the Spice. The gears of civilization are oiled with Spice, and Spice can be found on one world alone: Arrakis -- The Desert Planet -- Dune.

4. Plot

From (the miniseries follows fairly faithfully)

On the political level Dune is the tale of a political conflict between three noble houses--the House Atreides, the House Harkonnen and the House Corrino. The Corrino Emperor has come to see the Atreides as a threat to his throne. This is for two reasons. Firstly, Duke Leto Atreides is very popular among the noble houses of the Imperium, and has become something of an unofficial leader. Secondly, the House Atreides is in a position where it could potentially undermine the fundamental source of Corrino power: The Corrinos' power base is their military strength, their specially trained army--the " Sardaukar "--who per soldier are five to ten times better fighters than the military forces of the other noble houses. However, Duke Leto Atreides has created a military force, which has been trained to a standard equivalent of the Sardaukar, and though comparatively small in number they are potentially capable of training many others to the same standard. The Corrinos have not ruled the Imperium for so long by ignoring such potential threats to their power base.

The Emperor therefore decides that he must destroy House Atreides, and so he decides on a subtle plan. For centuries the House Harkonnen have been ancestral enemies of the Atreides, and so he uses the Harkonnen in his attempt to bring the Atreides down. Naturally the Baron Harkonnen, happily agrees to this because of his hatred for the Atreides, and because it would put the Emperor in his debt.

The plan is a cunning one to trap the Atreides with their own ambition. Realizing that the Atreides are next to impregnable on the home planet Caladan, which they have ruled wisely and well for centuries, and thus have an incredibly loyal populace, the Emperor realizes the Atreides need to be lured away from this safety. The Emperor therefore offers them the stewardship of Arrakis, a desert planet which is incredibly important the imperial economy, because it is the only source of the "Spice", a drug which increases life expectancy threefold, and increases mental abilities. Indeed for the two most important organizations in human space--the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit--spice is required to train their people. The Spacing Guild pilots would be unable to pilot between the stars without spice, and the Bene Gesserit would be unable to access their ancestral memories without it. Obviously then Spice is incredibly valuable, and whoever rules Arrakis, and thus mines the Spice, controls a source of huge power and wealth. Offered this "wonderful" opportunity by the Emperor, the Atreides have little choice but to accept.

The Atreides do this knowing full well it is a trap. They expect to be attacked by the Harkonnen, and probably disguised Sardaukar troops in the near future. But they walk into the trap for two good reasons: 1) If the refuse this trap, they know future plots are inevitable, and with the Emperor's resources they would be very unlikely to escape them all. 2) They see that if they walk into this trap, there is the potential on Arrakis to not only evade the Emperor's trap, but indeed become virtually impregnable. The Atreides understand how the Emperor's Sardaukar are created, that those troops are all recruited from a hell planet (Salusa Secundus) where only the strongest survive the planet and each other, and so the Emperor recruits from a populace that are simply quicker, stronger, fitter, and more dangerous than the people of the civilized worlds of the Empire. On Arrakis, there is an independent people, the Fremen, who live in the deep desert, and have been oppressed for thousands of years by the rulers of Arrakis, and also having to deal with an incredibly hostile planet, they have been bred in much the same way as the Sardaukar. When the Atreides take over Arrakis, they hope to befriend the Fremen, and recruit them into their service, and thus be able to defeat attacks by the Emperor's Sardaukar. And in the longer term their position would be secured by the immense wealth which could be gained from good stewardship of Arrakis.

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 lady. The Bene Gesserit perform many functions in the Empire, as Truthsayers (human lie detectors), negotiators, advisors, teachers, but all these functions serve one deeper purpose: they are breeding humans trying to improve humanity. One specific type they are trying to create is the Kwisatz Haderach, a human being who will be aware of both the female and male ancestral memories, plus the prophetic skills of a guild navigator. 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. What this means is that Paul Atreides has resources one would not expect, and possibilities that were unforeseen by everyone.

The Harkonnen attack is more diabolical, and more powerful than the Atreides imagined. The Harkonnens have managed to gain a spy in the Atreides inner household, and in doing so they achieve something unique in Imperium history: they have broken the 'imperial conditioning' of a Suk doctor, which is believed to make such a person incorruptible. However, the Harkonnens with their gift for cruelty and manipulation have managed to break the Doctor - Yueh - to their will: they many years ago kidnapped Yueh's wife, and used her to manipulate him.

So when the Harkonnen attack, Yueh lowers the defensive shields, and uses sedative drugs to disable Leto, Paul, and Jessica, leaving the Atreides leaderless and disorganized under the Harkonnen and Sardaukar military onslaught, which is far more powerful than the Atreides ever expected. The leaderless Atreides army is crushed, with only a few remnants managing to escape.

Paul and Jessica are sent out 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 Harkonnen to believe that they died in a huge desert 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 lets Yueh join his wife in death. 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 advisor and mentat, Piter.

Book One ends in the deep desert. Under the pressure of his extreme circumstances, and the increased doses of Spice that Paul had been ingesting simply living on Arrakis, some of his powers come to 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 - 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. But during this scuffle Paul disables a proud Fremen, who takes offence at this "presumptious" 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 this boy had been trained by masters of the sword, and he triumphs easily, making his name in the tribe, and also succeeding to the position of head of the household of the killed man. At the same time, Paul and Jessica are introduced to the deadly harshness of the Fremen [ way of life ], as the Fremen ritually render the dead man down to his water because it is so precious to them. Paul is named "Usul" by Stilgar as his private name within the troop, and names himself Paul Muad'dib as his public Fremen name. [ The name "Usul" is not used in the mini-series. ]

When they return to the troops's sietch, they discover the Fremen Sayaddina is near death, and with the fortuitous arrival of Jessica, a Bene Gesserit lady, 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 will also go through the process. This has truly unfortunate consequences, because it is a Bene Gesserit teaching that the baby will not have the strength to withstand her ancestors and sooner or later their consciousness will be overwhelmed by 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. He also meets a young woman, Chani, daughter of Liet, whom he has long seen in his dreams, and she becomes his lover (but not his wife, as will become significant later). 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 Geserit's advanced fighting techniques. Under his leadership his 'Fedaykin' experience victory after victory. His prestige and aura grow daily.

However, 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 Worms, through the use of "maker hooks" they have learned to climb aboard worms, and then take control of their course, which enables them to quickly move around the desert. [Worms are the largest, and perhaps only, native animal on Arrakis (see setion 5.I.B of this study guide). They are responsible for making the Spice, and can only survive on the planet--making it impossible to break Arrakis' monopoly on Spice production.] Obviously this is not the safest of tasks, but Paul finally attempts it and succeeds. He is a sandrider at last.

The same day smugglers seek Spice to deep in the desert and the Fremen of Sietch Tabr spring a trap. In the middle of the battle Paul recognizes his weapons teacher Gurney Halleck, and calls on him to surrender, and surrender his men. 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 that betrayed the Atreides and that Paul does not know, he is about to kill her, when Paul walks in, and manages to stop him, and explains that it was Yueh. Gurney is almost broken by his almost fatal and tragic error, but Jessica forgives him and he is bound even further into Atreides 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 takes the 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, and so many people think he is dead, though others do think 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, realizes what a mad thing Paul has done, and uses Spice Essence to bring him out of his trance. For Paul no time has passed, and he glories in his new memories, and powers. Now he declares is the time to destroy the Harkonnen.

Paul has a great plan. First he steps up Fremen attacks on the Harkonnens and manages to almost entirely stop the flow of the spice from Arrakis. This forces 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.

When the Emperor lands, Paul launches his full attack. Using the secreted family atomics, he blows a hole in the shield wall, and under cover of a huge desert storm attacks using giant worms. The Sardaukar, only half landed on the planet, are unable to withstand the full force of the Fremen, caught as they are in total surprise and the Emperor is forced to call a truce totally surrounded as he is, unable to land all the troops he has in space.

By now the Emperor is aware of who Muad'dib is. 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 were driven off from Fremen children and old people and women. In the surprise of Muad'dib's attack, Alia manages to escape, and in the process kill Baron Harkonnen.

Realizing that Muad'dib is not some mad Fremen religious leader gives the Emperor possibilities. Feyd-Ruatha Harkonnen, the Baron's nephew, and an acclaimed gladiator, challenges Paul to single combat. Paul agrees even knowing that it is possible he will die, but after a hard fight he 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 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.

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

5. Themes and Analysis

When Frank Herbert began writing Dune , he intended it to be an ecological commentary. What it became was a novel that explored politics, religions, human nature, the effects of technology on a culture and the imposition of the artificial over the natural. A major obstacle for a filmmaker is the subtleties and sheer volume of Herbert's plots and subplots. In several of the points below, comments from the crew of Sci-Fi Channel's Frank Herbert's Dune come from the audio commentaries in the Special Edition DVD.

I. Ecology

A. Some Good Science

When Pardot Kynes introduces his paradise vision for Arrakis to the Fremen, they immediately ask the most obvious question: "Where is the water for this?" The main source of water on Arrakis are the polar ice caps, but even melting every glacier on the planet would not release enough water to complete Kynes vision. The novel states that there was once water on Arrakis. Where did the water go?

Consider that Herbert originally wanted to set Arrakis on Mars--not knowing what we now know about possibilities of past and present water on Mars. Though Kynes' dream of a green Arrakis motivates most of the Fremens' actions through both the miniseries and the novel, is the science in Dune central to the narrative? The novel is regarded as one of the essential classic works of SF: how does the answer to the previous question reflect on the relationship between science and the genre?

B. Some Bad Science

Now they had the circular relationship: little maker to pre-spice mass; little maker to shai-hulud; shai-hulud to scatter the spice upon which fed microscopic creatures called sand plankton; the sand plankton, food for shai-hulud, growing, burrowing, becoming little makers. (Herbert 481)

The great sandworms of Arrakis (shai-hulud) are one of the most memorable and important elements of both the novel and miniseries. However, they are a scientific implausibility--thermodynamically impossible. Almost every native lifeform on Arrakis is a stage in the lifecycle of a sandworm, and the entire lifecycle is self-contained: a giant sandworm feeds on thousands of tiny planktonic sandworms while producing thousands more. Herbert tried to skirt around this flaw by crafting the little maker phases as half-plant, but since the little makers are subterranean they cannot photosynthesize and add energy to the otherwise closed system.

In both the novel and miniseries the sandworms are regard in the Fremen mythos as a manifestation of god. Thinking back to Chani's brief explanation of the life cycle in the miniseries (paying particular attention to the imagery she uses) and keeping in mind the Zensunni concept of the Tau (and its Terran predecessor, the Dao): what function does Herbert's bad science serve, if any? Does bad science make bad SF?

C. Effects of Humans on the Environment

Generally speaking the thematic mode of Dune is Romance, but is human intervention in the environment viewed Romantically? Many of the characters in both the miniseries and the novel see the terraforming of Arrakis as a noble endeavor, but in the end only a demigod like the Kwisatz Haderach can achieve it. Consider Paul's vision of grass sweeping over the sand in the miniseries. Students familiar with later installments of the Dune Chronicles may provide further insight.

D. Effects of the Environment on Humans

Throughout the novel, Herbert describes various characters in terms of water. The Fremen have tight, weathered features, almost dehydrated looks; while offworlders are considered "water fat," plump with moisture. Also in the novel, debates arise over the use of water (consider Yueh's comments about the palm trees outside the palace in Arakeen). This is translated in the miniseries with Jessica's conversation with Shadout Mapes in the palace garden. How is Fremen culture shaped by the scarcity of water? In the miniseries, note the treatment of water by members of House Atreides versus that of the Fremen. The differences are particularly strong in Part I.

II. Politics

A. The Political Tripod

In both the novel and the miniseries, the political system of the Empire is refered to early on as an unstable tripod. If the emperor is seen as the executive branch of our own government, and the Landsraad as comparable with the Congress (the miniseries refers to the Federated Great Houses as the Congress of Royal Houses), what aspect of American politics could the Spacing Guild be seen as? On one hand they make the ultimate decision on the legality of any action in the Empire; but on they other they could be seen as a corporate influence on the government. If the three-tier society in Dune is viewed as a metaphor for the American political system, what, if anything, does this say about our government. Keep in mind that allusions in Dune are what one makes of them; it is not an allegory and there are no 1:1 ratios. (Note that there is no democracy; no one votes for the emperor without a gun in hand).

B. Empires and History

Looking at the Dune Timeline (found at the end of this study guide), notice how the entire history of our species is viewed as one near-continuous (Western) empire. The capital is constantly shifting, but the Empire always reborn in its new form. The timeline is written from within the world of the story from the perspective of the dominant culture. What prejudices are built into the ruling class of the modern Empire? Given the emphasis on empires, several are notably absent: The Egyptians, Sumerians, the Aztecs, the Mongols, etc. What does this bias toward Western history say about the issues raised in Dune ? Is the Timeline's basic view of world history greatly different from what is typically taught in schools today?

C. The West vs. The Slightly-East-of-West

John Harrison, the director and screenwriter of the mini-series, has said that Dune is a more poignant story now than it was forty years ago. Herbert wrote in the "bipolar world" of the USA versus Soviet Russia; but we currently live in a world dominated by a single hegemonic entity with its satellite powers, much like the Empire and the Royal Houses. Harrison adds that like today there is conflict along religious and economic lines. "Call it the First World versus the third, if you like; or Islam versus the West."

However, the Timeline seems to indicate that Dune is an entirely Western work, and the Muslim world throughout its history has had more interaction and more in common with Europe than with Asia (with the exception, perhaps, of the Mongol Conquest, which is omitted from the Dune-view of Earth History). Do the novel and miniseries attack the concept of Orientalism (an East vs. West world view)? What do they say about the interaction between European culture and Middle-East culture? How does the allure of the Spice play into this interaction? Frank Herbert's Dune aired in December 2000; considering 'who' the heroes are, would Sci-Fi Channel and its parent company allowed the mini-series to premiere if it had come out the following year? Is Dune viewed differently in a post-9/11 America? Do the novel and miniseries subvert our current views of terrorism? If so, do they attempt to or is it merely an accident of timing?

D. The Right to Lead

"No man recognizes leadership without the challenge of combat" is a slogan repeated throughout the Parts II and III of the miniseries. Though the Fremen culture is seen as primitive by galactic standards, are their methods of choosing a leader any different from that of the Empire? Are the Fremen ways fairer? Consider how Paul Muad'Dib becomes Emperor and many of Baron Harkonnen's comments on obtaining power through violence.

E. Betrayal and Loyalty

"Never trust a traitor, not even one you create" is Baron Harkonnen's sage (if tardy) advice at the end of Part I in the miniseries. Themes of loyalty and betrayal run throughout Dune . Dr. Wellington Yueh betrays Duke Leto because of his loyalty first to his wife. He also betrays his Suk training (and by extension the Empire itself) in the process. Last he betrays the Baron Harkonnen and in turn is betrayed by the Baron. In the novel, Thufir Hawat survives the Harkonnen invasion of Arrakis and replaces Piter as the Baron's Mentat. Though on one level this is a betrayal to his old allegiance to House Atreides, he plots revenge against the Baron and maintains secret loyalty to the Atreides. The Empire as a whole conspires against Duke Leto, and his son in turn conspires against the Empire. Is the punishment of betrayal seen as revenge or karma? How is loyalty rewarded? Take note of Duncan Idaho, Dr. Kynes, and Guerney Halleck. At the end of the miniseries, note the movement of the Spacing Guild agents in the Arakeen throne room.

III. Religion

A. Religion and the State

There is an arm of the Bene Gesserit called the Missionaria Protectiva , charged with planting "infectious superstition" on worlds. Mother Ramallo represents the remnant of this branch on Arrakis. Through these superstitions the Bene Gesserit manipulates, exploits, and controls the populations of primitive planets within the Empire. The sect, however, insists that it is not a political entity. Do the actions of the Bene Gesserit support or undermine the rule of the Empire? What is the relationship between the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild, another so-called extra-political quasi-spiritual institution?

B. Fluidity of Religion

There are echoes of modern religions in the religions of Dune , particularly in Islamic influence in the Fremen religion. However, consider the Zensunni origins of the Fremen, and the components of their ancestral name. In what ways is Fremen origin Eastern rather than purely Islamic? Also consider the Orange Catholic Bible (Catholic in the sense of "universal," not Catholicism. Though Rich Erlich points out a "nice paradox in 'Orange Catholic'--orange as a Protestant color"). What does the religions of Dune suggest about the state of religion? Considering the reaction of the common people during the creation of the Orange Catholic Bible (as stated in Herbert's Appendix II at the end of the novel) and the acceptance of the work in later galactic culture does the amalgamation of religions detract from or add to their validity? Syncretism, the union of two opposing religions, has been a common occurrence throughout history. You might be familiar with examples of European Pagan believes being incorporated into early Christianity. Can you think of any contemporary examples of mixed faiths?

C. Messianic Motifs

Paul comes to represent a multi-layered messiah figure, but not in the Christian sense of the word. Herbert borrowed the Muslim term Mahdi. In Sunni tradition, the Mahdi is a savior figure ("messiah" is reserved for Jesus in Islam) that will install a divine kingdom on Earth until Qiyamah, the Day of Judgment, after Jesus has defeated the false-Messiah Dajjal. In what ways does Paul Muad'Dib mirror this image of the Mahdi? (Those familiar with later Dune Chronicle installments, might consider Paul's line in the miniseries, "I've arrived before my time." When was the Kwisatz Haderach supposed to appear according to the Bene Gesserit plan? How does the timing play into other events later in the series?) Or should we see Paul more as a Moses-figure--raised in the elite ruling class, fleeing into the desert, and ultimately leading his people to freedom?

How does the technocratic messiah figure of the Kwisatz Haderach compare to Paul's position as the Mahdi? Are the two prophecies interconnected, coincidental, or the will of some higher power operating in the galaxy (a god, the Dao, Nature stabilizing itself)? Consider the Bene Gesserit involvement in both (see III.A and the Missionaria Protectiva ), and the Spacing Guilds fear of Paul's power. How does the answer to the previous question effect your understanding of exactly what Paul is?

D. Paradise

John Harrison found the Fremen struggle to make Paradise of Arrakis intriguing. In order to obtain their dream, he said, the Fremen must destroy their own culture. He drew a comparison between the Fremen's cultural sacrifice and the loss of individuality in the obtainment of Nirvana. Is this a fair comparison? What would be lost and gained in the process of terraforming Arrakis in regards to Fremen identity and spirituality?

E. Rituals

Dune is thick with ritual. Consider the reverence with which the Guild Agents treat the Navigator early in the miniseries, the highly ritualized aspects of Fremen life (combat, Jamis' funeral, the Water of Life ceremony, Paul taming the worm), the concept of kanly (family vendetta) in the Empire, the water basin in the Arakeen Palace, etc. What does the novel and miniseries have to say about the value of ritual? John Harrison has said that rituals add meaning to necessary and mundane actions of a society. Is the added meaning viewed positively or negatively?

F. The Chief Commandment

"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind" became religious doctrine after the Butlerian Jihad against the thinking machines and robots. Clearly this commandment has affected the civilization throughout the galaxy, and removed computers and robots from the universe Herbert created. Which came first, the social hatred toward machines or the commandment? What does this say about the origins and necessity of religious laws? How does the religious eradication of two major SF icons influence Dune 's place in the genre of Science Fiction?

IV. Gender and Sex

A. The Place of Women in Society

Much is made of the role women play in Dune . Politics is still apparently patriarchal, but religion has been turned over, for the most part, to the women. Who holds more power in the galaxy, men or women? How do they exert their power? Considering the plot of Dune , who's decision and actions spark the conflict and are most essential for all later events?

B. Sexuality in Fremen Culture

Consider the scene of the mini-series which the Fremen remove their stillsuits after crossing the desert early in Part II. Who's looking at whom and who isn't looking at anyone? What does this scene suggest about sexuality within the sietch communities?

C. Mothers and Wives

The miniseries showcases the development of Jessica's relationship with Chani, which is particularly evident in Part III. Early in this portion of the miniseries, they argue over the proper way to raise Paul's son. Later they are brought together by the near death of Paul, and in the end Jessica consoles Chani after the marriage of Paul to Irulan. John Harrison suggests this sequence of events says much about the relationship between a mother and a daughter-in-law, but what exactly is it say? Who is initially antagonistic to the other? Who first extends her hand, so to speak, to the other?

D. The Role of Irulan

In the novel, Princess Irulan provides head notes but plays a small part in the plot. Later in Dune Messiah , Paul states that Irulan was bred to be used--by the Bene Gesserit, by the Empire, by the Guild, in order protect them from him. How is Irulan "used" in the novel? In the miniseries? Does Irulan ever turn the tables and use other people? If so, when and how? In the miniseries, Irulan exploits her looks to get what she wants, but stops short of having sex with Feyd. She figures out the Baron's scheme before the Mentat Fenring. Would you consider Irulan a strong female character outsmarting the men or a weak one for playing into masculine desires?

E. Sex vs. Intimacy

Compare and contrast the scenes at the end of Part II of the Miniseries (the scenes with Feyd and Irulan versus the Fremen Tau orgy). Which scene is more sexual? More sensual? In which scene are the characters the most intimate? What differences does this suggest between views of sexuality among the Fremen and the Empire?

F. Sexual Imagery

The establishing worm sequence in the miniseries unmistakably introduces the worms as phallic symbols. Likewise the hunter-seeker is depicted as a mechanical sperm cell, and the gathering of the Water of Life is rather blatant in its innuendo. To balance this masculine imagery, the miniseries is also filled with a considerable number of tunnel images, associated with women for obviously reasons but also by the first tunnel sequence in which the Reverend Mother and Jessica discuss the breeding program. Other notable tunnel images include the Heighliner, the departure from Caladan, and most importantly the three Water of Life visions. What do these various representations suggest about the differing natures of men and women?

G. Romance

In the Empire, marriage is a matter of politics. In Fremen culture (in the novel), a man can have many wives. How does the concept of romantic love as we now think about it factor into the relationships in Dune ? Consider Jessica's final speech in both the novel and miniseries.

V. Human Nature

A. The Superhero

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?

-- Frank Herbert []

How does Dune reflect Herbert's theory on the superhero? Does Dune attempt to satirize or romanticize the superhero, or both? Neither? In the novel, Paul contemplates the Jihad he foresees and at first tries to prevent it from happening. Later, once he realizes he cannot stop it, he tries to position himself to control it. In the miniseries this is conveyed through several dream sequences of war and death. Does the novel or the miniseries end optimistically about Paul's ability to control the actions of those that follow him?

B. Rivalry and Hate

Beside the keynote rivalry between Houses Atreides and Harkonnen, there are many other rivalries at play in Dune . There's a sequence of rivalries between Paul and the Fremen that challenge his authority, from Jamis to Stilgar. There's a rivalry between Irulan and her father; between Baron Harkonnen and the Emperor; between Jessica and Chani; between Jessica and the Reverend Mother Mohaim; between Jessica and Guerny Halleck. Which characters in Dune have positive relationships? Which characters are pitted against each other? What does this say about human interactions both within and outside of family relationships? How hates whom, and what was their relationship like before the hate? Remember that House Atreides, Harkonnen, and Corrino are all bound by blood, in one way or another.

C. Human vs. the Animal

"You've heard of animals chewing off a leg to escape a trap? There is an animal kind of trick. A human would remain in the trap, endure the pain, feigning death that he might kill the trapper and remove the threat to his kind." --The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim (Herbert 8)

Early in the novel and in the miniseries, Reverend Mother Mohaim tests Paul with a nerve induction box to determine if he were human. The test of one's humanity is one's response to threats. What is regarded as the correct human reaction to moments of personal threat? How does delayed gratification come to play in the novel and the miniseries? If the Bene Gesserit have been harvesting Humans from the general population, what becomes of the Animals?

Screenwriter and director John Harrison wanted the Spacing Guild to have animalistic qualities. The Navigator is the most unhuman character in the entire miniseries, but is s/he higher or lower than Humans on the chain of being? Note the gestures and body language of the Guild Representative. In what ways are these characters portrayed as animals? How do their reactions to threats play into the Bene Gesserit view of humans and animals? Which other characters are portrayed as even more animalistic in their reactions and desires?

D. Violence

a. Sex and Violence

"The race knows its own mortality and it fears stagnation of its heredity. It's in the bloodstream--the urge to mingle genetic strains without plan. The Imperium, the CHOAM Company, all the Great Houses, they are but bits of flotsam in the path of the flood."

--The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim (Herbert 22)

In the novel, the Reverend Mother lays out what will become the motivation behind Paul's Jihad. How is the relationship between violence and sex described in Dune ? Does violence stem from sexual repression as in Freudian thought or from sexual expression? Does sex promote violence or does violence promote sex?

b. Victory and Peace

In the miniseries, Chani and Paul have an exchange about the possible outcome of all the violence and death in Part III. What does this exchange say about ends justifying means, or vice versa? If war does not bring peace, what is it good for?

c. Depiction of Death and Violence in the miniseries

Consider what Robert Martin and Rich Erlich have called "Law of Todd " (which examines the continuum of which demographics get what amount of screen time at death: armed men at the low end, women and children at the high end). Harrison said he did not want to sanitized the violence in the miniseries. How does the "Law of Todd" apply in Harrison's work? Note who is fighting and who is dying in the battle scenes of Part III. Does the camera pay closer attention to the deaths of one demographic at the expense of another? During the dueling scenes the camera keeps its distance from the duelists (Paul and Feyd versus various opponents and eventually each other); what effect does this have on the audience? In an effort to maintain the brutality of violence, is violence depersonalized in the miniseries or does violence remain humanized?

E. Children

Typically children are viewed as symbols of hope, potential and innocence. How are children viewed in Dune ? How do children interact within society? We see Fremen children often, but where are the children of the Great Houses and the Empire? In the novel, Paul is only fifteen when he begins having visions of the coming Jihad, Alia at age two kills the Baron Harkonnen, and, in the miniseries, the Fremen Boy (who sees his father executed by Rabban in Part II) kills a Harkonnen guard and beheads Rabban. What does this suggest about childhood innocence? Or, conversely, violence as intrinsic human nature--even in children? Consider Jessica's line about Alia never really being a little girl.

VI. Culture and Technology

A. How Technology Shapes Us

Harrison comments that most SF today is about "flash and tricky laser shots" and not about issues. As technology in the real world advances, the issues raised by advancing technology in SF have lost their some of their impact. Harrison, however, is still concerned with how technology shapes culture. How has the advanced technology in Dune (novel and miniseries) shaped the culture? Where are the nuclear weapons? Why so many knife fights? Consider the effects of body shields on warfare and the Great Convention (the institutionalizing of Mutually Assured Destruction). What other ways has technological advances affected the culture of Dune ? The laser is another SF icon generally missing from Dune . Herbert provided reasons for this, but how does the lack of computers, robots, and lasers influence the SF look and feel of Dune ?

On a related note, how does the environment affect technology? Consider the worms' reaction to shields, the stillsuits, and various others articles of Fremen technology.

B. Cultural Identity Under Subjugation

Many of the actors in the miniseries were native Czechs (the miniseries was filmed in Prague), a nation that had been under rule of Nazi Germany and later Soviet Russia. Harrison admired the way the Czechs maintained their cultural identity, particularly through their art, during the "Dark Days" as the Czechs had called the time period. Does the subjugated state of the Fremen mirror that of the actors who played them? Note the use of puppets in the Fremen sietch, a popular art form among the Czechs. In the novel there are two different groups of native people, the Fremen who maintain their old ways, and the communities that live an Imperial lifestyle in the cities. What does Herbert have to say about the ability of a people to maintain their culture under the rule of a foreign empire?

C. The Individual in Society

The Fremen live in close-knit tribal communities, bound together by the necessity of survival. How is individuality handled in Fremen society? Are the Fremen forced to conform to the tribe? How are Paul and Jessica shaped by the tribe they live in, and how do they shape the tribe? Again considering aspects of Fremen religious belief, such as the Tau, which is held in higher regard: the individual or the community?

In the Empire, is the individual placed higher than society? Consider Jessica's act of rebellion against the Bene Gesserit plan, and Leto's relationship to his Emperor and the Empire. In which society is the individual freer? In which society does the individual have the greatest commitment to society?

VII. Imposition of Artificial over the Natural

A. Bene Gesserit Breeding Program

In the background of Dune is the Bene Gesserit Breeding Program, the systemic control of certain elements of the human gene pool. However, it is this highly controlled method of reproduction that sparks the fear of genetic stagnation and the desire to "mingle genetic strands without plan" within the human population. Is a natural chaos to be preferred over an artificial order in Dune ? What do the motives of the Bene Gesserit say about human will to reshape and refine the world around them? What does Paul's Jihad say about the consequences of such desires?

B. The Butlerian Jihad

The Butlerian Jihad against the robots and the computers is the central historical backdrop in the novel and influenced human civilization for the next 10,000 years. Though its effects are seen in the miniseries, it is never mentioned by name. Prior to the Jihad, humanity was ruled by thinking machines that were overthrown in violent rebellion. Does this historical element add or subtract from its SF ambiance? How does the historic human-machine war motif in Dune relate to other SF works such as the Matrix series and the Terminator series? Is the post-Butlerian Jihad culture believable in its lack of artificial intelligences? Could you imagine the world of the Matrix developing along these lines after the end of the third film, or would that society develop along a different path? What does the Butlerian Jihad suggest about the relation between humans and their machines?

VIII. Miscellaneous Considerations

A. Jewelry

There are two important pieces of jewelry in the miniseries. The first and most obvious is Duke Leto's signet ring. In Romances, whether Fantasy such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or SF such as Dune , rings are loaded with symbolism. A ring has no beginning and no end, it is whole and entire. It surrounds what enters it. Rings are symbols of power. The passing of the ring to Paul is symbolic of the authority over House Atreides being passed on as well. He doesn't wear the ring until he's prepared to take on the mantle of power in Part III.

The other article is Chani's Sayyadina amulet that she receives during the Water of Life ceremony at the end of Part II. She passes the amulet on to Paul in Part III and he continues to wear it along with his ring. The amulet is a much more ambiguous item, perhaps representing a more religious authority than the signet ring. What would this suggest about Paul in Part III when he is wearing both the amulet and the ring? Also consider the significance of the pyramid on Leto's ring, which has a variety of symbolic implications.

B. What's in a Name?

Considering that in the miniseries Paul has three names: Paul, Muad'Dib, and the Mahdi, and in the novel has two more: Usul and Lisan al-Gaib; what is the importance of names in Dune ? How do Paul's various names define his character? For example, Muad'Dib is also the name of a large desert rodent and Paul's taking of the name literalizes his transformation into a "desert creature." Who gets to call Paul by what names? Who gets to know all his names? What does the knowledge of names suggest about the relationship between characters? Consider the use of Usul [Paul's private sietch name] as opposed to Muad'Dib [Paul's public Fremen name] in the novel.

On another note, the name Atreides comes from the Greek name Atreus. (Atreides literally means 'children of Atreus.') In their legends, Herbert's House Atreides traces their lineage back to Agememmon, one of Atreus' sons. Atreus was part of a family cursed several times by the gods for oath breaking and twice breaking cannabilism taboos. How does this background mythology play into the rise and fall and ascension of House Atreides? Is the ancient Greek curse alive and well?

C. Crying

Pay close attention to who cries for whom in the miniseries. There is much ado over Paul's giving 'water to the dead' during the water-taking of Jamis (which occurs in the novel as well), but he is not unique. Other characters cry at other times. Tears are reserved for rare occasions. What events trigger tears from Chani? Jessica? If a single tear is a precious gift, what does this suggest about emotional expression in Fremen culture? In our own society, not crying used to be the more masculine response, but in Fremen society, is their view of crying a matter of pride or practicality? Is the crying hero revolutionary in 1960s SF? 21 st Century SF?

D. Technical Aspects of the Miniseries

Many critics have complained about the unrealistic sets for the miniseries, but the production crew defends themselves by stating they always intended to create a "theatrical motion picture." In what ways is Harrison's Dune more like theater than film? Consider lighting, set, actors (mostly from theater backgrounds), and aspects of the dialogue (notably the Baron's love of Shakespearean couplets). In what ways is Harrison's Dune more like a film than theater?

Much is made of the exaggerated lighting palette in the miniseries. Note that the lighting is often changing during scenes. How does this affect the mood of the scene? Lighting and camera work also used to suggestion geography. For example, the Harkonnens are portrayed in warm tones and at tilted, often raking, angles. The Empire is often scene in cool blues and purples. The Atreides are given earth tone lighting during Part I, and the Fremen are associated with green. (Interestingly, in the novel, green is the Fremen color of mourning. Does this play into the lighting choice in the miniseries?). Also, note that the three primary colors of light are red, blue, and green, together which make white--the color associated with transcendence in the miniseries (see Paul's meditation in the hands of the Mahdi statue in Part III).

The crew has admitted to a strong Kubrick influence on the miniseries. A mundane example would be the referencing of the end sequence of Dr. Strangelove... for the image of the spice blow in Part II. More significant are the examples of Kubrickian camera work, static and formal. When are these shots used? How do they influence the mood of the scene compared to other scenes with lots of cuts, or scenes with a lot of camera motion?

6. Abridged Dune Timeline

(from The Dune Encyclopedia)


19,000-16,500 Early civilizations on Terra.

16,500 Aleksandr creates FIRST EMPIRE [for the purposes of the Dune Universe (ca. 330 BCE)]

16,400-16,000 ROMAN EMPIRE arises and conquers the known world, except for China, which resists until 14400. [ca. 200 BCE-200 CE]

15,800 Imperial Seat moved to Byzantium in retreat before provincial rebellions and minor jihads. [ca. 330 CE]

14,700-14,608 THE GREAT STRUGGLE: The Century Without an Emperor.

14,608 Discoveries in America allow Madrid to attain the status of the Imperial Seat. [ca. 1492]

14,512 BATTLE OF ENLICHANNEL. Seat of Empire moved from Madrid to London. [ca. 1588]

14,500-14,200 THE GOLDEN AGE OF INVENTION: Development of radio, television, atomics, rocketry, genetics, and the computer.

14,255 First atomics demonstrated in an intraprovincial war. Seat of Empire moved to Washington. [ca. 1945]

14,100-13,600 THE LITTLE DIASPORA: The solar system colonized, and the population of Terra is eventually outnumbered by 20 to 1.

13,402 Ceres gains the Imperial Seat after a planetoid strikes Terra.

13,360 Terra re-seeded and set aside (by Imperial edict) as a national park.


12,200 THE EMPIRE OF TEN WORLDS. Communications becoming strained.

11,200 The EMPIRE OF A THOUSAND WORLDS (an empire in name only, because Imperial power was so diffuse as to be nonexistent).

11,105 AGE OF PRETENDERS begins when Ceres is destroyed by rebellion, and the Imperial Seat ceases to exist as a single entity.

11,100-7,562 THE AGE OF TEN THOUSAND EMPERORS (sometimes called "The Great Dark Ages").

7,562-5,022 THE WARS OF REUNIFICATION, consequent on the immediate communication made possible by Holtzman Effect.

5,022 THE EMPIRE OF TEN THOUSAND WORLDS united under Ladislaus the Great.


3,678 THE SILICON PLAGUE: The "Death of the Machines."

3,678-2,000 THE LITTLE DARK AGES, ending with the development of plague-resistant conductors.

2,000-1,800 THE RETURN OF THE COMPUTER (sometimes called "The Second Reunification").

1,800-400 THE SECOND GOLDEN AGE. Circa 700 the first anti-computer pogroms occur.

711-200 Tensions increase between programmites and humanity-firsters, tensions which Jehanne Butler was to exploit.


ca. 100 Ixians, refugees from the Jihad, led by Aurelius Venport, discover TUPILE, the Sanctuary Planet(s).


86 FOUNDATION OF HOUSE ATREIDES when Demetrios Atreides is made Baron Tantalos in reward for aiding the Corrinos.

84 First MELANGE-guided journey through hyperspace, by Norma Cenva.

12 B.G.-70 A.G. The Reign of SAUDIR I, "The Great."

10 Corpus Luminis Praenuntiantis (the future Spacing Guild) begins negotiations with the Empire.

10-5 THE GREAT FINANCIAL SYNOD, on Aerarium IV, creates CHOAM.

0 THE LION THRONE, THE SPACING GUILD, and CHOAM (as the arm of the Landsraad) combine to establish the form of human society for the next ten thousand years.


337 THE GREAT CONVENTION is ratified.

385-388 THE LISHASH REBELLION, the last significant armed resistance to the Empire.

1,234 THE ORDER OF MENTATS is founded by Gilbertus Albans, originally on the planet Septimus, and moved to Tleilax a decade later.

1,487 The Corrinos shift the Imperial Seat to Kaitain.

2,800 Elrood V gives Poritrin, third planet of Epsilon Alangue, to House Maros. Siridar Charles Baron Mikarrol, planetary governor of Terra, sends two million ZENSUNNI to Poritrin, beginning the Zensunni Migration.

4,492 Poritrin is given to House Alexin, and the Sarduakar are sent to remove the Zensunni, sending five million to BELA TEGEUSE and five million to SALUSA SECUNDUS.

5,295 Ezhar VII releases the Zensunni on Salusa Secundus, sending them to ISHIA, second planet of Beta Tygri.

6,049 Zensunni on Bela Tegeuse are transported again, with the majority sent to Harmonthep, and the remainder to ROSSAK, the fifth planet of Alces Minor.

7,193 Zensunni on Rossak buy passage to ARRAKIS from the Spacing Guild. By this time, all Zensunni from both Ishia and Rossak have reached Arrakis.

8,711 The Atreides family is awarded the Siridar- Dukedom of CALADAN.

9,846 Invention of HUNTER-SEEKER.

10,140 LETO ATREIDES (Duke Leto I) born.

10,154 LADY JESSICA born.

10,155-10,165 GURNEY HALLECK a Harkonnen slave on Giedi Prime.

10,158 DUNCAN IDAHO (the human) born.

10,175 PAUL ATREIDES born.

10,190-10,191 House Atreides moves to ARRAKIS.

10,191 The Sardaukar attack on Arrakis kills Duke Leto; Paul and Jessica go into the desert with the Fremen. ALIA ATREIDES born.

10,193 Paul regains control of Arrakis and its spice monopoly.

10,196 SHADDAM IV abdicates; Paul becomes Emperor.

10,196-10,208 PAUL'S JIHAD.