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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1700

Published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a classic science fiction novel about Paul Atreides. Paul is fifteen years old and is small for his age, but he is smart: he already sees the future in his dreams sometimes. House Atreides is preparing to leave its home of twenty-six generations,...

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Published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune is a classic science fiction novel about Paul Atreides. Paul is fifteen years old and is small for his age, but he is smart: he already sees the future in his dreams sometimes. House Atreides is preparing to leave its home of twenty-six generations, Castle Caladan, for Arrakis, a desert planet more commonly known as Dune. This planet is home to the “spice,” a substance that gives people a number of abilities, such as the ability to navigate safe routes through space. The Atreides are taking over the desert planet from their bitter enemies, House Harkonnen, and Paul’s family stands to gain considerable power through this new asset. However, Paul well understands what his father’s Master of Assassins, Thufir Hawat, means when he warns that Duke Leto, Paul’s father, has been given this task because of his popularity, but “a popular man arouses the jealousy of the powerful.” Thufir Hawat is a Mentat, which means that his mind is trained to calculate and analyze probabilities, and there is a great probability that Dune will mean the death of Duke Leto.

Thufir’s fears are well founded. Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is plotting to destroy House Atreides and is in league with the Padashah Emperor Shaddam Corrinio IV, who controls the galaxy thanks to his elite Sardaukar soldiers. The baron has corrupted the loyalty of Leto’s servant, Doctor Wellington Yueh. When Leto takes control of Dune, he will be betrayed from within while Dune is invaded by Sardaukar troops wearing Harkonnen livery. Harkonnen’s own Mentat, Piter, reports that the possibility of the Atreides family surviving is small. Leto is well aware of the dangers of Dune, but he cannot openly defy his emperor. Furthermore, there is a great potential for House Atreides to prosper if they can survive the trap.

Although Paul is excited by the coming move to Dune, he is also anxious. He quickly settles his mind by practicing “mind-body” meditation that he has learned from his mother, Jessica, Leto’s concubine and a member of the Bene Gesserit. Paul is accustomed to seeing people treat his mother with respect, so he is surprised when the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Jessica’s Bene Gesserit superior, treats the Lady Jessica like a “common serving wench.” Paul is not sure what she means to do with him, though he overhears her referring to him as the “Kwisatz Haderach.” When he meets the Reverend Mother, she holds her “gom jabbar” against Paul’s neck and threatens to kill him if he does not take a test. Paul agrees. He will experience pain by putting his hand in a box and will pass the test if he does not withdraw his hand. The pain is excruciating, but Paul recites the Bene Gesserit Litany against Fear:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliterations. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

He passes the test and the Reverend Mother informs Paul that he is not an animal; she explains, “A human can override any nerve in the body.” She goes on to explain that the Bene Gesserit strive to control politics through breeding. One aspect of their control is to ensure that their “breeding stock” is human. The Kwisatz Haderach is the end result of this program: a man who can see into both the past and future after taking the “Truthsayer drug.” Sadly, though Paul has the potential to become the Kwisatz Haderach, the odds are against him.

When the Atreides arrive on Dune, they quickly begin consolidating their control. The Harkonnen rulers long controlled the local population of Arrakis through brutality, but the Atreides attempt to forge relationships with Dune’s city dwellers. They also send their weapons master, Duncan Idaho, into the desert to form an alliance with the wild desert population known as the “Fremen.” Leto meets one Fremen leader, Stilgar, who offers Leto the chance to prove himself to the Fremen. Things seem to be going Leto’s way, but his preparations and schemes are not enough to stand against the Harkonnen attack. Dr. Yueh betrays the Atreides to save his wife, and Leto is abducted and killed in front of Baron Harkonnen. Baron Harkonnen regains control of Dune and sends Jessica and Paul into the desert with his soldiers to dispose of them as they see fit. In this way, he will be able to truthfully say that he has no idea what happened to them. He leaves his nephew, Rabban, in charge of the planet with orders to brutalize the people of Dune so that when the Baron sends Rabban’s younger brother, Feyd-Rautha, to Dune, he will be welcomed as a savior.

Jessica and Paul escape their captors thanks to their Bene Gesserit training. Paul and his mother are alone and abandoned in the desert, and the Harkonnens are hunting them. However, Paul has begun to see the future. In it, he has learned that Jessica is the daughter of Baron Harkonnen, so they are both Harkonnen. He reveals that he is not the Kwisatz Haderach but rather something unanticipated. For now, he reveals that they will join the Fremen, who will name him the Muad’Dib, which means “The One Who Points the Way.”

Stilgar’s “sietch” of Fremen take them in after watching Paul and Jessica make their way across the desert. The Fremen live a difficult life. Water is scarce on Dune, so they wear “stillsuits” to conserve their body water. They consume great quantities of spice, which has turned their eyes blue. Massive sandworms tunnel through the deserts of Dune. Although they are too powerful for the noble houses to control, the Fremen know how to evade them. The Fremen are powerful warriors; if Leto had lived long enough to make an alliance with them, he might have grown to become a very powerful house. When Jessica begins to observe the Fremen, she soon realizes that they were long ago prepared by the Bene Gesserit’s “Missionaria Protectiva” to become a “culture trained to military order. What a priceless thing is here for an outcast Duke!” However, she and Paul must first fulfill legends held by the Fremen.

To gain acceptance into Stilgar’s sietch, Paul engages in combat against Janis. Paul has been well trained in combat, but he is used to fighting with a “shield,” a device that deflects fast blows but can be penetrated by slower strikes. Paul’s method is to defend quickly and attack more carefully. However, the Fremen do not use shields, which attract deadly sandworms. Paul struggles to defeat Janis, but eventually he kills his rival and takes his possessions. Amongst Stilgar’s sietch, Paul will be known as “Usul,” which means “the base of the pillar.” However, amongst the Fremen, he will be known as “Paul-Maud’Dib,” named after a mouse of the desert. He also begins a relationship with a young woman named Chani.

Jessica prepares the Fremen to accept Paul as their messiah, or “Lisan al’Gaib.” The Harkonnen armies will soon attack and Stilgar’s sietch will be forced to travel deeper into the desert. Unfortunately, their Reverend Mother will not survive the journey, and it falls on Jessica to drink the spice mélange. With the heightened consciousness it brings, she will transform it on a molecular level so it can be ingested by the sietch. Because she is pregnant, her unborn child, Alia, gains consciousness as well. Jessica has now become a Reverend Mother who is connected to the memory of her ancestors. The transformed spice, which is no longer poisonous, is shared with the Fremen.

Over time, Paul gains control over more of the Fremen. He passes test after test until he finally summons a sandworm, or “maker” as the Fremen refer to the giant worms, and rides it. However, when his followers demand that he challenge Stilgar to take complete control of the Fremen, Paul refuses. Instead, he demands that the rules change so that he does not need to lose the strength and wisdom of his best leaders. He demands that he be acknowledged as the Duke of Arrakis, and the Fremen comply. His powers are growing, and when he ingests the spice mixture that transformed Jessica, Alia, and Gaius Helen Mohiam into Reverend Mothers, it seems that he has become all but omnipotent. However, he quickly realizes that many paths that he foresees lead to darkness, which he refers to as the “nexus.”

Before Paul can strike at the Harkonnens, the Emperor sends troops against Paul that kill his and Chani’s son, Leto, and abduct Alia. Paul accepts what has happened and leads an attack on the capital. The Fremen ride sandworms to the capital and overcome the Harkonnens. During the attack, Alia kills Baron Harkonnen with her gom jabbar. In the aftermath of the battle, Paul defeats the Emperor, though not in battle.

The empire depends upon the spice. Both the Bene Gesserit and the Space Guild’s navigators rely on the prescience it lends them. Paul realizes that control of the spice belongs to the person that can destroy it. He threatens to set off a chain reaction in the desert that would destroy the sandworms and the spice that they make. Feyd-Rautha challenges Paul in single combat and even tries to cheat using a poison barb. However, Paul distracts his rival when he yells to the ancestors in his head “I will not say it!” He manages to slay Feyd-Rautha, who hesitates.

The Emperor is forced to give up the throne while Paul marries his daughter, Princess Irulan. However, Chani’s children will continue the Atreides line, and Jessica suggests that history will remember concubines and them as wives. Paul controls Arrakis, the Fremen, and the spice. He has defeated the Harkonnens, avenged his father, and become the most powerful person in the galaxy.

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