‘Dune’ Origins of Atreides, Harkonnen, Bene Gesserit, Fremen, & Shai-Hulud, Explained


The Dune Saga is one of the best, if not the best science fiction story ever told. It has inspired various generations of science fiction films and television projects. From George Lucas to Ridley Scott, everyone has a special regard for the Frank Herbert novels that can be seen in their own works. Ranging from 34000 years of timeline, the Dune Saga presents a complex sci-fi depiction of world events and shows us how power and authority corrupt even the best of us. It allows the readers and viewers to conjure up various worlds with supernatural beings that are too similar to us homo sapiens. It’s a surrealistic dream come true.

The Law of the Imperium – Politics of Dune, Explained

According to the timeline of the Dune, the early civilizations of the earth or the planet Terra can be traced back to the 19000 BG. What makes the Dune a science fiction that will inspire the likes of Star Wars was the intricate web of real-world events and their depiction in the series with a credible and factually correct representation of the civilizations to arts and sciences. In 19000 BG, the Roman Empire rose to power, and by the end of 16000 BG, it faced its doom. The Roman Empire is important in particular because the House of Atreides is said to be its descendants. 

The next few thousand years were the age of space colonization which gave rise to Little Diaspora, the process of humanity scattering over various planets due to colonial expansion of space. In 13402 BG, the planet of Terra was destroyed by an asteroid that made the planet Ceres the imperial capital. In the wake of the colonial expansion of space, the government of the various intergalactic worlds made it necessary to have authority over all of the known universe. An imperial was a set-up that would be only a namesake for a few years as it was impossible at that time to overlook all of the 1000 possible worlds that were there in the year of  12000 BG. 

By the end of 10000 BG, the world was in the supposed dark ages where almost every other intergalactic group of planets had 10000 kings that claimed that they were the real emperor. It all changed with the 7593 BG when the infamous Ibrahim Vaughn Holtzman was born.

The Holtzman Effect and its demonstration ended the dark ages as the discoveries would provide the ability to communicate almost instantly throughout the universe. It also made sure intergalactic travel was possible by the Holtzman drive and its application. In the year 5022 BG, we can see the coming of Ladislaus and his unification of the empire under one ruler, and it ushered in the first golden age. The Ladislaus and the various noble houses were joined together under one rule and will be known as the imperial we know now, and the timeline was divided into two parts, the BG or before guild and AG or after guild. 

Emperor Shaddam IV – The Emperor in Dune Part One

The Padishah emperor belonged to the House Corrino and was 81st of his line to ascend the Golden Lion Throne, and his reign is the starting point of the Dune Saga. Shaddam IV ruled for forty years after his father, Elrood IX, was killed by chaumurky, a poisonous substance administered through drinks. It is also called the Musky or Murky in some other dialects. In his rule, he meddled with the Court functions and the pomp of office, which the historians have blamed to be the reason for the Revolt of Arrakis. He was succeeded by the Regency, an association set up in the name of his eldest daughter Irulan.

The Emperor and his fear of losing the support of the Noble Houses to Duke Leto of House Atreides made him extremely anxious about diplomatic relations. He deduced a plan to salvage the Harkonnen and their animosity against the House Atreides and Duke Leto, also known as the Red Duke. The fief that took Arrakis from Harkonnens and replaced it with Duke Leto turned out to be the immediate cause and tipping point for Vladimir “Baron” Harkonnen.

House Atreides and Duke Leto were betrayed by the Suk doctor, Dr. Yueh. Yueh’s wife was abducted by the Harkonnens, and they were merciless with their torture that made Yueh a traitor. He saw the anguish and, in lieu of protecting her, lowered the shields of the Atreides’ defense against the incoming attack of the Harkonnens assisted by royal Sardukars. Yueh also decapitated the Red Duke by a needle that paralyzed him so that he could deliver him to the Siridar Baron, Vladimir Harkonnen. The character of Yueh has a depth as he also gave Leto the pill that he put into his mouth and bit hard into it to release a poisonous toxin killing everyone along with him. 

The Origins and History of House Atreides, Explained

In the year of 88 B.G., Demetrios Atreides, a Sardukar, fought valiantly and was rewarded for his efforts by the first Padishah emperor and was made the Baron or governor of the planet Tantilos. The Noble House is named after him, and Duke Leto and Paul are their descendants that carry the house’s name. The Atreides were known for their ancestral prodigy arising from the early 19000 BG in the great empire of Rome. The house bears the motto “Here I am, Here Shall I Remain,” which illustrates the enduring nature of the house in general. In the year 0 B.G., a few years after the formation of C.H.A.O.M., the planets were given to various Barons or governors that overlooked the planet’s affairs as a Siridar. 

The planet of Caladan was under Duke Leto Atreides, and they used to harness the energy resources present in the planet Caladan. It is the beginning of the Dune Saga, and we see the shift from Caladan to Arrakis as a result of dalliance by the Padishah Emperor IV. 

Dune Planets Houses Their Topography Explained Frank Herbert
House Atreides

The Origins and History of House Harkonnen, Explained

The House Harkonnen is the direct-line male descendant of Bashar Abulrud Harkonnen, who fled from the Battle of Corrin due to his cowardice, and the aftermath saw him as a banished soldier. He then managed to associate himself with prices of whale-fur in the market and bring back the name of his house. The next few generations of Harkonnens dealt with the melange extraction and controlled the planet of Arrakis for the same. 

Vladimir Harkonnen faced his eventual death in the Revolt of Arrakis, and the title was passed to Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen for a brief period of time. 

Dune Planets Houses Their Topography Explained Frank Herbert
House Harkonnen

The Sisterhood Bene Gesserit, Explained

In the Dune Saga, the Bene Gesserit sisterhood has a very shrouded history, and its origin cannot be traced precisely. Still, as we know, they have been working as an all-female secret society of women with supernatural abilities since the beginning of time. After the Butlerian Jihad, all the machines that could think similarly to the homo sapiens were destroyed completely, which consequently gave the telepathic abilities of the Sisterhood an upper hand in the day-to-day operations of the vast collection of worlds. 

They started to inculcate the method of selective breeding techniques. They methodically crossed the bloodlines to achieve their ultimate goal of bringing forth the Kwisatz Headerach, a male Bene Gesserit that could see where the abilities of the Sisterhood couldn’t. He would be able to see the future and the past clearly and precisely. In order to do so, the concubine of Duke Leto Atreides gives birth to a boy instead of a girl. Paul was born to much dismay of the Bene Gesserit as the Sisterhood only bore daughters, and his mother Jessica’s decision of teaching him the Bene Gesserit skills at home amplified the same. The Gom Jabbar test that Paul takes is a Bene Gesserit way of gauging one’s awareness and instincts. 

Lady Jessica, who is actually a natural-born daughter of Siridar Vladimir Harkonnen, is aware of her Bene Gesserit and Harkonnen bloodline, and crossing it with Duke Leto brings forth the Duke Paul Muad’Dib, who ends the tyranny of the Harkonnen rule and liberates the Fremen and planet of Arrakis. In the latter part of the story, she becomes a reverend mother as she willfully consumes the Truthsayer drink. 

Dune Ending Explained 2021 Film Denis Villeneuve Bene Gesserit
Sisterhood Bene Gesserit

The Origins and History of The Fremen, Explained

The Fremen have human ancestry, as their mythological evidence suggests. Still, the people of planet Arrakis were not always the Eyes of Ibad or the ones we associate with the dreary geography of Arrakis. Before the arrival of the Shai-hulud, Arrakis was a wet planet, and the conditions were not this brutal. The Fremen Arrived at Arrakis as Zen Suni wanderers looking for a refuge from persecutions. They didn’t arrive on Arrakis but Poturan, where the easy conditions made them a target for the Imperial raiders. As a result, they were moved to slave colonies of Selusa Secundus and finally Arrakis. 

 The scarcity of water that was caused by the worms made the resources disappear over time, and the Fremen evolved with worms. Enduring the heat and the desert, their culture became a water-centric heritage, and the worms played their integral part in it as the Fremen began to harness the abilities of the Shai-Hulud. A crysknife that a Fremen kept was made up of the tooth of a Shai-hulud and held a sacred place in their culture.

The Fremen warriors are quite fierce, as we have seen them take on the Harkonnen oppression and endure it with their guerilla warfare techniques. The people are classified into groups and live in sietches that are methodically made in accord with the rock formation of the planet. Each group has a leader, and the rules of challenging him involve an Amtal. Amtal is the Fremen way of justice that is based on the premise of ‘trial by combat.’

Enduring the topography of Arrakis, the Fremen made Stillsuits that made a living in such harsh conditions possible. The suit recycled the water lost from the body, and a person would be able to survive for four weeks in the open desert and would lose a thimble of water a day. Without the stillsuit, a person will not endure the planet of Arrakis for more than a few hours. Eyes of Ibad result from prolonged exposure to spice melange and can be a sign of melange addiction.

Every Fremen develops these in their adolescence as they have ingested spice for a long period of time, and the withdrawal from the substance will cause eventual death. It is the price for dwelling in the desert. Zen Sunni faith was brought back to the culture of Fremen, and they named the worms as Shai-Hulud as a physical manifestation of God. The Arabic and Islamic undertones suggest their ancestral relations with Terra or Earth. The word Arrakis might be derived from the word ‘Ar-rakis’ meaning ‘of least worth’ that accurately defines the planet. Before the discovery of spice, the planet was literally of no use as the desertification made sure of it. 

The Origins and History of The Fremen
The Fremen

The Origins and History of Shai-Hulud – The Sandworms of Arrakis , Explained

In the era 2000 BG, the Shai-Hulud was brought to the Arrakis, which was then a wet planet with ample amounts of water. The arrival of sandworms can be traced back to that time, and their prolonged exposure to the planet terraformed its environment causing permanent desertification of the planet.  Melange or spice is the psychoactive hallucinogen with geriatric properties that make it immensely important for interstellar travel and consequently the spacing guild. In the world of Dune, the planet Arrakis has a topography that allows the sandworms known as Shai-Hulud to inhabit the planet. 

The Shai-Hulud has many names, and it differs on the basis of tonality to capitalization of words. It might be the “Old Man of The Desert” or “Old Father Eternity” that traces back to the earth or Terra and its deities and various superstitions associated with them. The lifespan of a Shai-Hulud is said to be of a great age if it’s not slain by one of its own or by coming in contact with water that is a poisonous substance for the worms and is the reason why the water in the bedrocks of Arrakis was never allowed to flow out to prevent the extinction of Shai-Hulud and the spice melange it creates over its lifespan as a biological byproduct.

In addition to this, the Fremen who inhabit Arrakis are able to tame the beast and endure the barren topography of Arrakis that included heat strokes and various sandstorms that were caused due to the Coriolis effect. The ferocity of the sandstorms can be gauged from their ability to cut through metal and its peak. 

The Origins and History of Shai-Hulud - The Sandworms of Arrakis 

Read More – ‘Dune’ Ending, Explained

Dune is a Science Fiction Novel Series written by Frank Herbert. The first book, Dune Part one, was printed in 1965. Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 film, Dune: Part One, is based on the same.

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Shreshtha Shukla
Shreshtha Shukla
"Thou art the suffering from which unwarranted melancholia emerges" Shreshtha Shukla is a writer, teacher, and a film enthusiast.

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