Dune Summary

Frank Herbert

Dune

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Dune Summary

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Dune, written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965, is widely considered one of the most popular science fiction novels of all time. It tells the story of a future feudal society spread across the planets, and one noble family given the task of governing a planet containing one of the most valuable substances in the world known only as “Spice.”

The novel opens in a world in which humanity has gotten rid of most technology and uses a mind-bending substance called Spice to extend life, improve the mind, and bestow limited powers. It is used as a form of currency and can only be mined on the planet Arrakis.

Duke Leto Atreides is given control of the planet by the Emperor who believes that the Duke will soon challenge his rule. He conspires to have the Duke killed once he arrives, and although the Duke suspects that his life is in danger, he accepts the rulership anyway. He arranges his trusted advisors to prepare for the worst; the Emperor conspires with the Duke’s longtime rival at the house of Harkonnen to attack him when he arrives while masking the Emperor’s involvement.

Meanwhile, the Duke’s concubine is an influential member of the Bene Gesserit. She defied a centuries-long breeding program to produce a male heir to the Duke. The Bene Gesserit have been attempting to breed a male heir that can see through time and space and believe that Lady Jessica has spoiled all their plans by giving birth to a boy too early. She has been training him nevertheless.

The Duke allies with the native Fremen of the planet, but to no avail. He is captured but smuggles Lady Jessica and his son, Paul, out of the castle while making it look as if they are dead. He is killed trying to assassinate the Duke of Harkonnen. Jessica and Paul are found and accepted into the Fremen world.

Paul proves his manhood in the Fremen society by riding a deadly desert worm, and Lady Jessica becomes a reverend mother by drinking the water of life. The ritual gives her unborn child, Alia, special powers that ostracize her once she is born. Paul takes a Fremen lover, Chani, and has a child. The Fremen begin to see him as their messiah, something that worries him, but his mother believes they will help him overthrow the Emperor.

Spice production has dropped due to the Fremen’s increasingly destructive raids, and the Emperor steps up regulation of the planet. He hears word of a messiah, but he is unaware that it is Duke Atreides’s son.

When they arrive on the planet, they attack a Fremen outpost, killing Paul and Chani’s son. Paul’s sister, Alia, is captured but remains defiant, eventually killing the baron. Paul faces the Emperor and threatens to kill him if he does not abdicate the throne. The Emperor agrees and gives his daughter to him in marriage. Paul takes control of the empire but realizes that he cannot stop the Fremen jihad because his image has become too powerful to control.

Herbert purposefully repressed the use of fantastical technology, a staple of science fiction at that time, to make better use of the story for political intrigues and human relationships. The story explores the idea that our idealism is at the heart of our power and those that we underestimate sometimes become the most powerful of all.

The Fremen are an oppressed people, seen as backward and savage by the occupying houses.  Their tales of a messiah are not taken seriously until the spice production is all but halted under their campaigns of terror. By the time the Emperor takes them seriously, Paul has amassed an army and a following that would die for him. This allows him to make a series of moves drawing the Emperor closer and making it possible for him to challenge him.

Paul’s father was suspected of wanting to challenge the Emperor; if the Emperor had not eliminated him, Paul might never have reached his potential as the Bene Gesserit’s chosen one. He can see through time and space and is the culmination of centuries of secret machinations by the society. His presence means a change in the universe, and the Emperor is unable to stop his power.

It is also a study in what happens when an empire overreaches. The Emperor has sought to interfere and expand, and by conspiring against the Duke, he reaches a point where he cannot control his territories. The Emperor plays a dangerous game giving the most valuable planet to someone he perceives as an enemy, and it costs him his throne.

It is also the story of what happens when someone becomes an idea rather than a person. Early on, Paul sees flashes of a destructive world in which the Fremen blindly believe in his godship and sacrifice themselves to it, spreading destruction. Though he tries to stop it, he cannot. Ideas spread fast, and by the end, Paul has had his revenge against the Emperor, but he has inadvertently unleashed a greater power, that of devotion to principle.

The book is one of the best selling science fiction novels of all time. It remains a staple of the genre and has been interpreted into other media and translated into many languages. Further books telling the stories of the Dune universe followed, and though they were each popular in their own way, none reached the fervor of the original. The story is one of humanity and its intrigues with far reaching consequences.