Frank Herbert Biography

Frank Herbert Biography

Frank Herbert helped turn science fiction into literature. Although he is best remembered for his novel Dune and its many sequels, Herbert published an extensive amount of material during his lifetime. It is tempting for some critics to label Herbert as a cult figure because of the view of science fiction as a niche genre and market. Yet Herbert's Dune and his many other writings have gained an increasingly literary reputation in the later years of his career and those after his death. His reputation for weaving profound ideas throughout the sci-fi genre is virtually unparalleled, and he remains a major influence on the generation of writers who followed him.

Facts and Trivia

  • Herbert began to develop his writing style by working as a journalist. He penned articles for several newspapers as a young man.
  • Despite not completing his own degree in creative writing, Herbert taught at the University of Washington for several years in the early 1970s.
  • He grew up on a farm during the Great Depression and returned to living on one in 1972, once he was financially able to write books full-time.
  • Herbert released six novels in his highly regarded Dune cycle. A seventh novel was intended, but Herbert died before writing it.
  • Herbert died of pancreatic cancer in 1986. He worked throughout his illness by using a laptop.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)
Frank Herbert Frank Herbert Image via

Frank Herbert grew up during the Depression era. His family practiced economy but never lacked food or shelter, even when his father was unemployed. In Washington State, where he lived on a farm, he helped catch and smoke salmon, jacklighted deer with his father to supplement their domestic meat supply, and apprenticed as a skin diver with an uncle who was introducing Japanese methods of oyster farming to the area. According to Herbert, this life offered rich experience.

By the age of eight, Herbert knew he wanted to be a writer. By his teens he was known to his contemporaries as an accomplished storyteller, thus following in the footsteps of his paternal grandmother, who could not read but commanded a great store of folk songs. Her songs and her Appalachian dialect introduced young Herbert both to oral literature and to the wide variation in human language.

During his high school years, Herbert was an avid reader and an enthusiastic member of the school newspaper staff. He substituted during the summer for vacationing reporters on the Tacoma Ledger. At nineteen, he graduated from high school and began his journalistic career as a reporter for the Glendale Star.

In 1940, he married Flora Parkinson, with whom he had a daughter, Penny. He enlisted in the Navy in 1941 but was released on a medical discharge shortly thereafter. In 1945, his first short story, “The Survival of the Cunning,” appeared in Esquire magazine. In the same year, Herbert moved to Seattle and took a job with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. For instruction in writing fiction, he attended classes for a year at the University of Washington, where he met...

(The entire section is 693 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dune—refused by a multitude of publishers—became one of the most popular books of its time. The Dune series is compared ly some enthusiasts to J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1955) in its creation of a dazzlingly detailed world in which great forces clash, great personalities and organizations rise and fall, and much is said by analogy about the contemporary world and its values. Depending upon the reader’s predilections, it is possible to find metaphors for a variety of historical and modern situations. Humanity survives and prevails, but—unlike in Tolkien’s work—no philosophy or system dominates. Dynamic balance persists.

(The entire section is 108 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr., was born October 8, 1920, to Franklin Patrick Herbert, Sr., and Eileen McCarthy Herbert. His mother’s family was descended from Irish political refugees, and he later used this family background in the novel The White Plague. Herbert’s mother also had eight sisters who were devout Roman Catholics and gave him the idea for the Bene Gesserit, the powerful organization of women dedicated to producing a god, in the Dune books. His paternal grandmother, otherwise illiterate, had an exceptional memory and could calculate large numbers in her head. She was the model for the Mentats, or human computers, in Dune.

Herbert learned to read at an early age and could read most of a newspaper when he was five years old. On his eighth birthday, he announced that he wanted to become a writer. When Herbert was thirteen years old, he met a Native American fisherman, upon whom he based the main character in Soul Catcher. Herbert graduated from high school in 1939 and got his first newspaper job that fall. He married Flora Parkinson in 1941. They had a daughter, Penny, in 1942, but were divorced in 1945.

Herbert enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II but suffered a head injury during a training exercise and was discharged after eight months of service. After the war, he attended the University of Washington on the G.I. Bill. He met Beverly Ann Stuart in a creative writing class. They married in...

(The entire section is 484 words.)