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The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert

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A futuristic 'Dune-scape'.

Frank Patrick Herbert Jnr was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1920. He had a variety of jobs, from jungle survival instructor to cameraman. In 1941 he married Flora Parkinson, only to divorce in 1945. In 1946 he remarried, to Beverly Ann Stuart Forbes, whom he lived with until her death in 1984 after a 10-year battle with cancer. Frank Herbert died in 1986 from a massive blood clot following surgery for pancreatic cancer.

What is 'Dune' about?

The original book, Dune, is about the voyage of discovery undertaken by the teenaged Paul Atreides. Uprooted from his home on Caladan, with his parents, Duke Leto and the Lady Jessica, to the harsh desert planet Arrakis, Paul and his parents have to deal with the plotting of the Harkonnens who are trying to destroy the Atreides. To this end, one of the most trusted members of the Atreides household becomes a betrayer, and the Atreides are captured by the Harkonnens. Guilt-ridden, the Judas in the Atreides camp creates a bolthole for the young Paul and his mother, but the father has to be sacrificed.

Stranded in the desert, Paul has to start coming to terms with his awesome power. He has the ability to see the future, and could be the Kwisatz Haderach1, the male who can look into the male and female ancestral memories. During this time he can see the Jihad coming, with himself leading it, and he struggles to avoid this where at all possible. While in the desert, exposed to the geriatric spice2, Paul could feel the stirrings of this awesome power becoming more amplified.

In the desert, Paul and his mother manage to find a sanctuary with the nomadic Fremen, a hard, unforgiving people who live constantly in the desert. Even the children had been known to be battle-hardened. The Fremen can also go anywhere in the desert, having developed ways of controlling the giant sandworms to take them wherever they want to go. During this time, Paul starts to fulfil his potential, becoming the messianic figure with his legions of fanatical Death Commandos (Fedyakin) behind him. It is here that he discovers desert power, where he controls the source of wealth throughout the galaxy. Using this and riding sandworms, he confronts the Emperor and Harkonnens, and wrests the power from these groups and sets up a legacy of his own which is followed up in the other books.

The Genesis of 'Dune'

Dune was born out of Frank Herbert's belief that any type of 'superhero' is bad for a society. When a society goes to war, a near-messianic figure such as Hitler or Mussolini emerges to 'lead the troops to victory'. These people are human, and make human mistakes, but their mistakes take a whole society with them.

The next step in the genesis of this idea was the fact that ecology, specifically the shaping of ecology3 could be the next big banner that these 'superheroes' would fly their colours with.

As Frank went on to explain in his essay on the genesis of the Dune universe:

Ecology encompasses a real concern, however, and the Florence project fed my interest in how we inflict ourselves upon our planet. I could begin to see the shape of a global problem, no part of it separated from any other - social ecology, political ecology, and economic ecology. It's an open-ended list.

The Herbert Superhero may start out with the ideals of equal opportunities for all, but in Herbert's mind the possibility of it being attainable is just not possible, due to the human condition.

Equal justice and equal opportunity are ideals we should seek, but we should recognise that humans administer the ideals and that humans do not have equal ability.

There are many religious overtones in the Dune books, starting with Muad'Dib in Dune, that stretch right through the series. Many of these religious references are based on many of the Islamic religious fundamentals. He also utilised Feudal and Imperial political systems throughout the books.

Background to the 'Duniverse'

At the time of the first three novels Dune, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, the universe of man is set up in a Feudal fashion. There are three main legs to the 'Tripod of power' in the universe.

  • Combine Honnette Ober Advancer Mercantiles (CHOAM) - The powerbrokers behind all trading in the universe, this company can dictate the prices of goods, the supply and the demand. The biggest product they controlled was the distribution of the geriatric spice controlled by the Emperor with the Bene Gesserit as silent partners; the company was disbanded by the time of God Emperor Dune.

  • The Landsraad - The Landsraad is the council of all the Houses (Major and Minor) in the universe. Even the Emperor was ultimately answerable to this council, which acted much like a Senate. Mainly in place to make sure that the Great Convention4 was adhered to.

  • Bene Gesserit (often referred to as BG or Witches) - The Bene Gesserit continue through the entire series. The BG are a society set up exclusively of women. To become a Reverend Mother, something called the agony5 has to be endured. Once the agony has been undergone, a Reverend Mother has access to all her female antecedents memories6.

    At the time of the first book, the raison d'ĂȘtre for the BG was their breeding program, which had the aim of providing a Kwisatz Haderach, a male who could undergo the agony and have access to the male ancestral memories. The Kwisatz Haderach would also be able to see into the future in both time and space.

    At the time of Dune, this program was quite near to completion, but the Lady Jessica, Duke Leto's concubine, disobeyed orders and bore her Duke a son, Paul, rather than the daughter the breeding program demanded.

    Throughout the rest of the Dune books the Bene Gesserit struggled to survive through the God Emperor, and then spent the rest of the time defending against creating another Kwisatz Haderach.

    The BG were also adept at engineering religion through their Missionaria Protectiva program. This meant that any Reverend Mother in extremis should be able to find a bolthole and protection until such time as she could become free, or be rescued.


Houses were split into two main categories: Major and Minor. Houses Major controlled Fiefs, and were classed as interplanetary entrepreneurs, in that they could control the exports off world. Houses Minor were limited to being single planet entrepreneurs, controlling only the movement of goods in planet, and then handing over to CHOAM for any off planet exports. By the time of God Emperor, Houses Major and Minor were virtually extinct.

House Corrino - The Corrinos had been the Imperial House in the universe for many generations. They gained power through the use of the Sardaukar. The current Emperor, Shaddam IV, had no sons, but several daughters. Many houses were waiting for the chance to gain power by marrying into House Corrino. Shaddam threw his lot in with Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and provided troops for the invasion of Arrakis and the overthrow of Duke Leto Atreides.

House Harkonnen - Led by the grossly overweight Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, there had been a simmering feud between this house and the Atreides since the time of the Butlerian Jihad7 after the Baron's ancestor was banished for cowardice by the Duke's ancestor.

The Baron has dreams of putting a Harkonnen on the imperial throne, and the first step on this path is to destroy House Atreides and reclaim Arrakis with its Melange wealth. Vladimir believes that his heir and nephew, Feyd Rautha, has the potential to be the first Harkonnen emporer.

House Atreides - Originally from Caladan, Duke Leto Atreides, Lady Jessica and Paul have been granted the fief of Arrakis by the Emperor. Realising this is a trap, the family try to circumvent the manoeuvrings of the Harkonnens. The entire series of Dune books has at least one character descended from this house.

Tleilaxu - The Bene Tleilax were experts at genetic engineering. The only visible parts of the Tleilaxu to the rest of the universe were Face Dancers8 and Masters. The masters were always male, and there were only ever seven of them.

The Tleilaxu were a very religious people, who believed that Paul Muad'Dib was the prophet and foretold of God's coming, God Emperor Leto. The religion is based loosely on Islam, with terms such as Powindah (unclean) and Kehl (religious conclave) used frequently.

As experts in genetic engineering, or as the Tleilaxu called it, the language of God, through the series the Tleilaxu could produce anything in their tanks9. One of the main products to come out of their tanks were Gholas. A Ghola is a clone made from cell samples of someone. Normally the Gholas were dead people, but anyone that the Tleilaxu had a cell sample of could be cloned. One of the main problems with Gholas was that their original memories could not be awakened. That was until Dune Messiah, when the Tleilaxu tried to get their Duncan Idaho ghola to murder Muad'Dib. The stress of doing this awakened the original memories of the Ghola, including the death memory since the sample had been taken from the dead body.

Ix - The Ixians were adept at making machines and especially miniaturisation of machines. Often came very close to breaking the rules laid down after the Butlerian Jihad10. Ix developed communications devices, replacements for Guild Pilots (Heretics) and The Ixian Probe (Heretics), a device that could extract information from a dead person. Perhaps the most famous Ixian creation was not a machine, but rather a person, called Hwi Noree (God Emperor). Ix, with help from the Tleilaxu, genetically engineered Hwi to charm the God Emperor Leto, and was so successful that he proposed to her.


Fremen - The Fremen were a fierce nomadic desert people that lived with the desert on Dune. It is said that even the women fight as fiercely as the men. A deeply religious people, the BG had deeply implanted part of their Missionaria Protectiva with this people, using prophecy about the Lisain Al-Gaib, The Voice from the Outer World. Many Fremen when they saw Paul and Jessica arrive on Dune, started shouting this towards them.

After Paul gained control of the Fremen, events took over and in their religious fervour they launched a Jihad from Arrakis between the times of Dune and Dune Messiah, making Arrakis the absolute centre of power and wealth. By the time of God Emperor Dune, after Arrakis had been turned from Dune into a verdant green planet, there were no real Fremen left.

Sardaukar - The Emperor's shock troops. Prior to the battle with the Fremen were the Emperor's peace keepers. No-one would fight them as they had never lost a battle. Hardened on Salusa Secondus11, these troops were the toughest in the galaxy.

Fish Speakers - The Fish Speakers were God Emperor Leto's troops in God Emperor Dune. The were all women except for their commander, who was a Duncan Idaho Ghola.

The Spacing Guild - The Spacing Guild had a monopoly on inter-planetary travel due to the fact that they were the only ones who could guide a Heighliner12 through foldspace. Guild navigators were distorted humans that floated in a tank of spice gas. They had limited prescience to enable them to navigate foldspace.

Honoured Matres (Heretics) - Returned from the scattering13 this was a group of females who enslaved males by sexual addiction. Adept at any form of stimulation, many believed these women to be a cross between the BG and Fish Speakers who departed in the Scattering. Very quick to anger and addicted to an adrenalin drug which turned their eyes orange, these women were hell bent on eradicating the Bene Gesserit.

The Priesthood of the Divided God(Heretics) - This priesthood came into being after the events in God Emperor Dune, and controlled Arrakis. Their main character was Hedley Tuek, the High Priest. Very often 'translated'14 sinners and people who got in their way.


Caladan - Planet where the story begins, a world which is varied in habitat and wildlife, and temperate climate. Main export is Pongi Rice.

Arrakis - The main setting for four-and-a-half of the six books, Arrakis, or 'Dune', is where the story is moulded.

Starting as a desert planet in the first three books, Dune is home to the giant and fearsome Sandworms, and the equally fearsome Fremen. The worms are linked to the production of the geriatric spice, and are very sensitive to foreign vibrations on the sand, and will investigate, (and devour whatever's found), of these occurrences.

By the time of God Emperor, Dune has become Rakis, and is a verdant and green planet through the use of weather control satellites and the Fremens planting program. Duke Leto II's metamorphosis into human /sandworm has ensured that sandworms will once again return to Rakis, but there are none there now. Only one patch of desert remains at this time, and that is The Sareer a few kilometres square of desert.

By the time of Heretics, Rakis is back again to Dune, mainly desert with sandworms once again the dominant life in the desert.

Geidi Prime - During Dune this is the Home to Baron Harkonnen. Capital city of Geidi Prime was Barony, a huge black tower block of a city, where the rich lived at the top. Often the scene of past Harkonnen brutality and cruelty.

By Heretics and Chapter House, the planet had been renamed 'Gammu', and the capital city renamed to Ysai. Became a stronghold for Honoured Matres in Heretics and Chapter House.

Chapter House - Chapter House wasn't the name of any one planet, but rather the place that the Bene Gesserit called home. Chapter House as always well hidden, no others had been on it. Self-sufficient, except for in Melange, Chapter House was still classified as a temporary home for the Bene Gesserit, no matter how long they had been on the one planet. By the time of Chapter House, Dune was starting its transformation into another Arrakis, with the transplantation of one of the Sandworms to the planet.


There are six books in the Dune series (also known as the Dune Chronicles) that are written by Frank Herbert:

Dune has also been made into a film by David Lynch, and a mini series produced by the Sci-Fi channel. Children of Dune is another mini series from the Sci-Fi channel. Recently his eldest son Brian has teamed up with science fiction writer Kevin J Anderson to write prequels to the original Dune.


Dune is by far one of the most important stories in the chronicles, setting the scene as it does for all the later events to happen. It also sets out the political, religious and economic structure of the universe. Has also won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Dune is the story of Paul Atreides struggle to cope with becoming a religion and cause for a jihad. The story maps Paul's journey through treachery, immense loyalty and bravery, politics and religion to regain the planet Arrakis after the Harkonnens cheated his family out of it. Enlisting the help of the Fremen, Paul leads one of the most ferocious and toughest armies the galaxy has ever seen into battle to reclaim what was his.

Dune Messiah

Set 12 years after the end of Dune, the Fremen have been rampaging through the Galaxy on their Jihad. Paul Atreides sits on the Lion throne as Emperor. As his enemies plot to bring him down, Paul maps his own path through the treacheries.

Children of Dune

After Paul's death in Dune Messiah, the universe is in the control of Paul's mother Jessica, and his sister Alia, until such times as his twin children Leto and Ghanima are able to take the throne. Starting off with treachery, who do the children turn to to fulfil the Golden Path Leto has seen in prescient dreams? Soon a nexus will come, and Leto will have to decide whether to sacrifice his humanity for the sake of the rest of humankind.

God Emperor of Dune

Often thought of as the best of the Dune Chronicles, God Emperor of Dune sets the scene for the later three books much the same as Dune set up the first three really well.

Over a millennia has passed since Children of Dune, and Leto's transformation from human/sandtrout to sandworm is getting closer. Arrakis is now a green and verdant land, the only sandworm is the one that Leto will become, so all the Melange is controlled and apportioned by Leto himself. The universe is controlled absolutely by Leto, limiting space travel, enforcing 'Leto's peace' everywhere, through the use of his Fish Speakers, who are commanded by Duncan Idaho gholas.

Leto has developed his own breeding program, looking for a human that can be hidden from prescience, and could have found it in Siona Ibn Fuad al-Seyefa Atreides. But she must pass the test first and acknowledge Leto's Golden Path and the reason for his transformation. Siona is a rebel though, and although she acknowledges it, she doesn't like it. The only way forward that she can see is to bring Leto down.

Heretics of Dune

Leto's golden Path made sure of mankind's survival. Humanity Scattered after the famine times which followed Leto's downfall. Arrakis is once again Dune, with the Sandworms once again dominant.

Some of the Scattering are returning though, and the Honoured Matres are coming back hell bent on eradicating the Bene Gesserit. At the centre of the Bene Gesserits plans is the New Duncan Idaho ghola, their 12th attempt at this one, since the Tleilaxu keep on killing it.

On Rakis a young girl emerges who can control the Sandworms, as prophesied by Leto. The Bene Gesserit need to bring this girl under their control. Also when Idaho's memories are restored, they need to find out why the Tleilaxu killed the other 11 Gholas, and why the Honoured Matres are so interested in him.

Chapter House Dune

After the Honoured Matres destruction of Rakis, The Bene Gesserit have the only surviving sandworm in the universe. They need to establish it on Chapter House.

Honoured Matres though are hunting through the universe for the Bene Gesserit intent on destroying them once and for all. Mother Superior must pick out a time and place to fight, if the Bene Gesserit are going to survive...

1The shortening of the way.2A cinnamon-tasting substance that provided greater longevity for humans, and some prescience in those susceptible to it. Spice was formed by the sandworms of Arrakis.3While visiting Florence, Oregon, Frank discovered the USDA were planning on shaping coastal dunes.4An agreement between all the houses that the family atomics (nuclear weapons) would not be used against another house.5Usually using the essence of geriatric spice, which is poisonous.6Often referred to as other memories.7A battle which ended man's reliance on machines and effectively outlawed the use of a machine where a person could do the job.8Mules who could imitate anybody. They usually had to kill the person in question first. The Tleilaxu got more advanced further into the series.9Even the geriatric spice by the time of Heretics of Dune. The tanks were actually distorted females.10A purge on thinking computers which resulted in a massive war, and brought about an edict that no computers should be made that thinks like man.11The Emperor's prison planet, kept as inhospitable as possible to provide the toughest training.12Massive bulk carrier, that was basically a big tube where smaller ships could berth.13After God Emperor Dune, humanity scattered to unexplored parts of the galaxy, and generally were never heard from again.14Left them in the desert for the sandworms to get.

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