The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Dune series can be seen as a set of three two-volume novels. The first involves the family of Paul Atreides, its battle for the planet Arrakis, and Paul’s coming of age as the messianic Muad’Dib. The second concerns the life of Paul’s son Leto II, from childhood to his ascendancy as God Emperor of Dune. The third deals with the ongoing machinations of the Bene Gesserit (an ancient society of women devoted to mind and body control and eugenics) in their attempt to control the sociopolitical environment of the Dune universe millennia later, as well as the ramifications of their betrayal by the Atreides family. Dune itself was rejected by twenty-two publishers before being accepted by Chilton of Philadelphia. It remained in print for at least the next thirty years.

In Dune, the Atreides family emigrates from their home world of Caladan to the desert world of Arrakis, pressured by the political dalliances of the Emperor Shaddam IV. Arrakis (Dune) had been controlled by the Baron Harkonnen, and it was there that he had gained his great wealth from trade in melange, a psychedelic spice. Melange is essential to the functioning of all elements of society, including the Spacing Guild, for which it ensures the ability to fold space.

The Harkonnens set a trap for the Atreides family in which Duke Leto Atreides and his weapons specialist, Duncan Idaho, are killed. His Bene Gesserit consort, Jessica, and their son, Paul, flee to the domain of the Fremen, the desert people of Arrakis. Once there, Paul partakes of melange and begins to show signs that he is the Kwisatz Haderach, a messiah-like culmination of the Bene Gesserit’s breeding program. Jessica was supposed to have had a girl, who would be married to the Harkonnen boy Feyd-Rautha, thus solidifying the aristocratic alliances and placing the Bene Gesserit fully in command of galactic political affairs. The Bene Gesserit time line is thrown off, and sociopolitical upheaval ensues. The rest of the novel involves the Atreideses’ attempt to retake the planet of Arrakis from the deposed Harkonnens and the installation of Paul as its ruler.

All of this occurs in the intricately realized ecology of the desert planet. The desert is essential to the complex life cycle of the sandworms, whose larval forms, the sandtrout, produce melange. A vast...

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The Great Dune Trilogy Dune, 1965

(Great Characters in Literature)

Paul Atreides

Paul Atreides, later known as Paul Maud’Dib and Usul, the focus of the first two of the three novels and a significant character in all three. He is the son of Duke Leto of Caladan. As a child, he moves with his family to the planet Arrakis, or Dune, where his father has been sent by the emperor to manage a company that mines “spice” from the vast deserts. Paul is trained in the mind-body disciplines of the Bene Gesserit cult. When Duke Leto is killed, Paul and his mother escape to the deserts and are taken in by the elusive Fremen. He thrives and is able to lead them in the defeat and death of the Harkonnens, thus neutralizing the emperor.

Lady Jessica

Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother and concubine of his father, who, for political reasons, never married. She is a Bene Gesserit “witch” but has defied the sisterhood by giving birth to Paul, a son, rather than daughters. She often defies orders and displays decisive strength and intelligence. She becomes a Reverend Mother for the Fremen on Dune by drinking a concentrated spice formula that intensifies her prescience. Soon afterward, she gives birth to a daughter, Alia. She remains with Paul in the seitch until he disappears at the end of the second book.

Thufir Hawat

Thufir Hawat, who has special training and skills in detecting false statements made by others. He is an adviser to Duke Leto. Under the control of the Harkonnen enemies who hold over him the fate of his wife, he colludes with them in Leto’s defeat....

(The entire section is 639 words.)

The Great Dune Trilogy Dune Messiah, 1969

(Great Characters in Literature)

Paul Atreides

Paul Atreides, who consolidates his intergalactic rule and negotiates the several futures his spice-prescience has given him. He has become the focus of a cult, and a movement created in his name intends to bring thousands of worlds under one rule. He loses his eyesight, his throne, and his beloved Chani, then retreats into the desert, leaving the people without a ruler.


Chani, a fierce companion for Paul who counsels him until she dies in childbirth as this novel ends. The children are twins, born somewhat prematurely. Princess Irulan had administered antifertility drugs that accelerated their birth and made them self-aware, like Alia was, in the womb.


Alia, now a young woman to whom Paul looks for counsel and support. She acts as a leader for his religious cult, with a temple built in her honor. She reacts to the ghola Duncan with lust that threatens her religious fervor. Paul leaves her at the head of his religious cult.


Scytale, a Tleilaxu Face Dancer who is employed by the guild of intergalactic navigators, who depend on Dune spice for their craft, and the Bene Gesserit, represented by Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, to overthrow and perhaps kill Paul/Maud’Dib. As a face dancer, he changes his physical appearance to that of a young Fremen woman and joins Paul’s court at the same time as the ghola of Duncan.


(The entire section is 423 words.)

The Great Dune Trilogy Children of Dune, 1976

(Great Characters in Literature)


Alia, whose knowledge of her past lives finally overwhelms her. She has grown into a powerful woman on Arrakis, with a cult of her own. As the wife of Duncan Idaho, she is regent for her twin niece and nephew. She is controlled internally by her ancestor, Baron Harkonnen, whose genetic memories are stored inside her. She, Princess Irulan, and various retainers plot to destroy Jessica and control the twins. She becomes insane early in the book.

Leto II

Leto II, who was born and was named by Paul at the end of Dune Messiah. He is a now nine-year-old child. He and his twin sister possessed adult awareness at birth. Both children avoid the spice in fear that they will become possessed like Alia, but it becomes part of Leto II’s training in the desert. When the twins separate to avoid the plot against their lives, Leto II is taken by Gurney Halleck to his seitch, where he is forced into a spice trance. He escapes to travel alone to the legendary pirate seitch and learns the secrets of Arrakis. He becomes a composite being, with endless life, by encasing himself in sandtrout and helping the traditional Fremen, with his great strength and speed, to halt efforts to transform Arrakis’ desert.


Ghanima, the twin sister of Leto II, an accomplished fighter and strategist who is often underestimated because of her age. The young twins manage to elude the plot to have them eaten by tigers. Alia sees her as a pawn, planning to marry her to Farad’n and keep control of them both.

The Preacher

The Preacher, a blind mystic who appears early in the novel in the streets of the Arrakis capital. In his public...

(The entire section is 707 words.)

The Great Dune Trilogy Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Barton-Kriese, Paul. “Exploring Divergent Realities: Using Science Fiction to Teach Introductory Political Science.” Extrapolation 34 (Fall, 1993): 209-215. Barton-Kriese argues that concepts such as freedom, equality, and environmental protection can be portrayed meaningfully in science fiction, offering students a chance to see common things, incidents, and realities in an uncommon light. He explores Herbert’s Dune, as well as other science-fiction classics, to support his contention.

DiTommaso, Lorenzo. “History and Historical Effect in Frank Herbert’s Dune.” Science Fiction Studies 19 (November, 1992): 311-325. DiTommaso addresses the complex relationship between the many plots and themes of Dune and the history of the Imperium. He contends that Paul Muad’Dib is the catalyst who ignites the inertial forces of history and is able to use his heritage as a stepping stone to godhood.

Mulcahy, Kevin. “The Prince on Arrakis: Frank Herbert’s Dialogue with Machiavelli.” Extrapolation 37 (Spring, 1996): 22-36. Mulcahy shows how Dune uses science fiction to raise important questions concerning the function of government and the relationship between rulers and their subordinates. He argues that Herbert’s work can be viewed as an examination and refutation of Niccolo Machiavelli’s political thought.

Palumbo, Donald. “The Monomyth as Fractal Pattern in Frank Herbert’s Dune Novels.” Science Fiction Studies 25 (November, 1998): 433-458. Palumbo asserts that there is a link between chaos theory and the usage of monomyth in Herbert’s Dune trilogy. He examines the dynamics of ecology as revealed in the views of imperial planetary ecologist Dr. Kynes as well as the myth of the hero as portrayed in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

Parkerson, Ronny W. “Semantics, General Semantics, and Ecology in Frank Herbert’s Dune.” ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 55 (Fall, 1998): 317-328. Parkerson discusses the association between organisms and their environment as well as the social, political, economic, and language ecologies portrayed in Dune. He shows how Herbert’s use of general semantics emphasizes a theme of power, notion of consciousness, and structure for human thought and behavior.