The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This massive work is filled with scores of memorable characters, each distinctively created by an author skillful at his work. The sheer number of characters does not tax the reader’s memory because of a schema that Herbert adopts: He divides the characters into sets along political lines, and each set is made up of characters who stand in a parallel relation to the other characters in the other set. For example, Duke Leto heads House Atreides, Baron Harkonnen heads his own house, and so on. Each of these leaders employs a mentat—a human computer: Leto’s is Thufir Hawat, Harkonnen’s is Pieter de Vries. Each has a war leader: Duncan Idaho for Atreides, “Beast” Rabban for Harkonnen. Each has a scion: Paul among the Atreides and Feyd Rautha among the Harkonnens. When Paul becomes the leader of the rebel Fremen, the set of characters who surround him will come to occupy almost the same positions: Paul can serve as his own mentat, but in the Fremen Stilgar he will find his battle leader, and from his love of Chani will come his heirs, Leto II and Ghanima.

Each of the great power blocs also has a character more mystical than mental, serving as adviser to (and sometimes manipulator of) the bloc. The Emperor Shaddam has a high-ranking member of the Bene Gesserit, the Reverend Mother Helen Gaius Mohiam. She analyzes his enemies for him, depending on her more-than-natural powers to be of service. Within Duke Leto’s circle, Jessica, his concubine, has...

(The entire section is 543 words.)