The universe of Dune is immense. You could write 10 books on planets, intergalactic politics, and the people who live among so many stars. And some people have! Frank Herbert’s six-novel epic is surrounded by other stories written by his son Brian Herbert with the help of the inimitable Kevin J. Anderson. We know only covers part of the original book, but that doesn’t make the amount of information needed to make the most of what we’re about to experience any less intense.
Fortunately, you all have me. I’ve read Dune’s books all my life, and all of this information finally comes to use. Here is a quick terminology guide with basic explanations to help youall the more enjoyable.
Die-hard Dune fans can shout, âJust read the book! but – fun fact – the first Dune movie released in 1984 also had a handout explaining all of the weird language used in the movie. It seems a bit silly to hand out a piece of paper that people can refer to in a dark theater when you want them to look at the screen in front of them, so I’m going to do it a little differently. Please don’t use your phone when the movie starts, but if you want to check it out before it starts and after it ends, you’ve got it here to enjoy.
After several galactic wars, including one against robots, the Great Houses of the Universe decided that some sort of ruling body was needed to dictate how things would be. The universe of Dune is now controlled by a single ruling family, Maison Corrino. The head of this house, Emperor Shaddam IV, is the 81st Emperor in the known universe. At the start of the film, the 68-year-old Emperor worries about his place as Emperor, thanks to a rumor that he has poisoned his 138-year-old father.
To maintain power, Shaddam must keep everyone happy and in control.
Everything in the universe requires this mind-altering drug to continue at its current rate. It makes you smarter and allows you to live longer. In extreme conditions, your eyes even turn blue, but more on that later. Everyone uses spices, aka the mixture, although how much you use does impact its effect. Space pilots take it so they can navigate the hyperspace form of this universe, and tacticians take huge amounts of it so they can process massive amounts of information in a short period of time.
Everyone needs spice, and without it the universe would stop and a lot of rich people would die, because it artificially prolongs their lives.
Spices can only be found on one planet, and that is Arrakis. This planet is almost entirely desert, with very little natural water found on the surface. The spice is the by-product of the massive sand worms that roam the entire surface of the planet. Attempts to move sand worms to other planets to create multiple locations with spice production have failed. This only happens on Arrakis.
It is the most important planet in the universe, and whatever family the Emperor assigns to the extraction of spices, it is therefore one of the most important.
At the start of Dune, the family responsible for extracting spices on Arrakis is the Harkonnen family. This family’s home world is massively industrial and polluted, meaning they had done such a good job stripping their own planet of its natural resources that the Emperor believed they would be perfect for mining Arrakis.
House Harkonnen is asked to leave Arrakis at the start of Dune’s story because they were stealing spices to sell next door instead of giving everything to the Emperor. They are not good people, and they will do anything to regain control of Arrakis.
As one of the universe’s most popular Grand Houses, Duke Leto Atreides and the rest of his family have built a reputation for doing the right thing and helping those in need. They are incredibly popular, and it is believed that if they ran the mining operations on Arrakis, it would keep everyone in the spotlight for a very long time.
But being this popular usually means that your enemies are willing to do a lot to bring you down.
The natives of Arrakis are a tribal people bent on living in harmony with the planet, which often causes aliens to view them as supernatural or even magical so that they can survive in the desert and coexist with the enormous sandworms. Fremen are generally easy to spot, as they have all spent so much time with the spices in the air, water, and food that they have developed deep blue eyes. The whole eye is blue, not just the retina, and they call it Ibad’s eyes. You’ll also see Fremen wielding a crysknife, a sacred weapon forged from the tooth of a giant sandworm.
When the Harkonnen occupied Arrakis, the abuse of the planet was so extreme that some Fremen found it necessary to take action. This caused a lot of bloodshed and in some cases enslavement to the Fremen, all of which ended when House Atreides took control. But that doesn’t mean that all or even most Fremen trust the new occupants of their planet.
Arrakis is an extremely hot desert with almost no humidity in the air, and being outside in normal clothing for long periods of time is almost always a disaster. Everyone who lives on Arrakis, including the Fremen, wear coveralls to survive in a harsh environment. This combination not only protects your whole body from sandstorms and extreme heat, but it also collects all the fluid produced by your body and filters it to the point where it is safe to drink again.
Yes, all the fluid your body makes. All.
There is an intergalactic guild of supernaturally enhanced women in this universe called Bene Gesserit. Among other things, these women can change the chemical makeup of their own bodies to create poisons and manipulate others through a power of suggestion called The Voice. This collection of abilities is often referred to as The Weirding Way and even includes a particularly deadly form of combat. The Bene Gesserit are frequently revered as holy women, cursed as spies or witches, and generally feared and respected everywhere.
It is extremely rare for a man to learn the ways of the Bene Gesserit, let alone be particularly good at using their abilities, as they are extremely careful in their breeding and choose those who are trained.
After a great war against thinking machines, the Big Houses decided to definitively ban the use of complex computers. Instead, large human computers called Mentats were created by the big houses. These humans are capable of immense calculations in milliseconds, as well as military strategies, although not all Mentats are created equal. Training usually begins at birth, and these human computers are exposed to what is known as Sapho juice once they have shown advanced cognitive abilities, to further expand their minds.
One of the greatest Living Mentats is Thufir Hawat, who serves House Atreides.
To protect themselves from assassins, many wealthy members of the Galactic Court use a personal shield to protect themselves. This energy barrier is tailor-made for the wearer’s needs, meaning it can be loose enough to allow someone to pass a hand through it or dense enough to prevent the passage of air molecules. These shields are close enough to the skin to protect the wearer from anything in range, although a slowly moving blade can penetrate a shield if used correctly. It is also known around the world that if a personal shield were hit by a laser gun, the resulting explosion would be on an atomic scale.
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