Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune

Rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune: Dune, Part Three

The Dune Reread wishes it were more crafty. In the making sense, not the tricky sense. It’s already crafty in the tricky sense. Now it would like to learn knitting, or something.

This week we are going to spar with Gurney Halleck, chat with a Mentat, get a gift from a traitor, and finally meet Duke Leto Atreides! I mean, he had to show up at some point.

Index to the reread can be located here! And don’t forget this is a reread, which means that any and all of these posts will contain spoilers for all of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. If you’re not caught up, keep that in mind.

You have read that Muad’Dib had no playmates his own age on Caladan. The dangers were too great. But Muad’Dib did have wonderful companion-teachers. There was Gurney Halleck, the troubadour-warrior. You will sing some of Gurney’s songs as you read along in this book. There was Thufir Hawat, the old Mentat Master of Assassins, who struck fear even into the heart of the Padishah Emperor. There were Duncan Idaho, the Swordmaster of the Ginaz; Dr. Wellington Yueh, a name black in treachery but bright in knowledge; the Lady Jessica, who guided her son in the Bene Gesserit Way, and—of course—the Duke Leto, whose qualities as a father have long been overlooked.

—from “A Child’s History of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan


Thufir Hawat heads into the training room in Castle Caladan, and notes that Paul is sitting with his back to the door, as he’d told him not to. Paul acknowledges the error before being berated for it, insisting that he’d heard him coming and would have know if those noises were faked. Hawat has come to test Paul at the Duke’s request, but Paul is already looking up information on the storms of Arrakis, which are so intense that they can strip a body to pieces. Paul wonders why they don’t have weather control; it seems that it’s far too expensive and the Atreides House isn’t rich enough to install it. He asks for information on the Fremen, which Hawat gives, acknowledging that the Fremen have a pungent scent because they wear “stillsuits,” which recycle a body’s water. Paul is coming to understand the importance of water and thirst on Arrakis.

Paul thinks back to a conversation he had with the Reverend Mother, and something she told him: that the world runs on “the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave.” But that none of those things mattered without a ruler who knew the art of ruling. When she told Paul that no one in his House had yet learned that skill, he had protested that his father ruled a planet—but she told him that the Duke was losing it, and that he would lose Arrakis too. Paul tells Hawat that the Reverend Mother explained to him that he had to learn rule by persuasion rather than command. She also said that Paul would have to learn the “language” of Arrakis, and that every planet had a different one. Paul asks if the planet will be as bad as she says it is, but Hawat insists that it can’t be, and points out that the Fremen hate the Harkonnens. He is leaving the planet today, and Paul will follow tomorrow, and he wants the boy to sit with his back facing away from the door. Paul tells him to do the same.

After Hawat leaves, Gurney Halleck enters with a pile of weapons and his 19-string baliset. He begins tuning the instrument as Paul teases him—Duncan Idaho was supposed to be teaching him weaponry, but he has already left for Arrakis, so Gurney is there to do the job and can only think of music. He sings a raunchy tune, and he and Paul joke back and forth until Paul admits to leaving sand in Gurney’s bed, and the soldier tells him to take up rapiers and fight. Paul plays at mastery, schooling Gurney in shield-fighting, but makes a critical error that Gurney chastises him for. Paul admits that he’s just not in the mood for sparring, which angers Gurney, as mood has nothing to do with the need for care in combat. He attacks Paul so ferociously that the boy is briefly worried that he’s been betrayed by the man. He finally gets the better of him the fight… or thinks he does, as it turns out that Gurney has his own blade trained on Paul just as easily.

Paul worries that his father would have been angry if Gurney had actually drawn his blood, but the older man knows that the duke cares more about his son being ready to fight. Paul admits to wishing for a bit of play today since everyone has been so serious. Gurney gets the training dummy ready and controls it against Paul for practice, noting new skills that the lad seems to have picked up on his own. He thinks of an old expression his mother used to utter about wishes, and determines to keep his thoughts on the trials ahead.


At this point, we look at the title of the above text and realize that the Princess Irulan has clearly made her name by writing a library of Muad’Dib books. While some scholars do have favorite pet subjects, we can gather that there’s something important about Irulan and her vantage point in all this. She’s not simply a historian, she’s a biographer, and she’s close enough to the source material to have a good sense of Paul’s childhood, one where no children his own age were truly present.

On a personal note, Paul’s precociousness always rang true to me for precisely that reason. Being a fellow only child who had lengthy stretches in my life where my primary companions were the adults around me—it shifts your perspective and forces you to interact with grownups differently. It makes you precocious, even when you wish it wouldn’t. So that sense of Paul being a bit too grown up in places always really worked for me.

We know that we’re about to get introduced to the rest of the Atreides household, the people who are in many ways responsible for jointly raising Paul. We begin with Thufir Hawat, who has served three generations of this family, starting with Leto’s father. While he appears wise as a Mentat should be, we’re notified straight off that’s he’s weary from his work, favoring old wounds. It’s left to us to decide if we believe that has affected his judgment in terms of keeping the Atreides family safe.

We get ecological information on the storms of Arrakis, which puts Herbert’s real life ecological research into play, as he will continue to do throughout the series. We also start start seeing repetition around the subject of water and its importance, which only grows with each page. We find out that the are ways to reduce the desert’s effect on the body, such as the Fremen stillsuits, and the Reverend Mother’s mention of procedures such as “staining eye pits to reduce sun glare.” (I really want to know exactly how that works.)

The Reverend Mother’s harsh words about the Duke serve a very specific purpose to my mind. It’s a warning for the future, of course, but more importantly it is an active dismantling of Leto in Paul’s mind. Many children grow up thinking the world of their parents, believing them to be impenetrable heroes of the first order. Paul’s father has power and a certain measure of wealth, and that makes the boy more inclined to think well of the man. The Reverend Mother is deliberately highlighting the Duke’s failure as a leader to push Paul onto a better path, but also to force him to recognize that his father is merely a man and men all have their failings. Naturally, Paul is resistant to the idea, but it’s an important first step nonetheless.

The Reverend Mother talks about leadership of persuasion and the language of a place, telling Paul that it is “not a problem to solve but a reality to experience.” In that respect she is making a point of the differences between the Mentat and Bene Gesserit ways of thinking. On the surface, these are very simple and common differences that Herbert plays on, even more common in epic fantasy: the order of men turns on computation, puzzle-solving, and probabilities. The order of women relies on perceiving the nature of things, on intuition, on knowledge of history. In short, women are empathetic, men are rational. (I am aware that women can become Mentats, but that seems incredibly rare overall… we get the example of Bellonda later on, who has the distinction of being a Reverend Mother as well.)

I’m not a fan of this division at face value; it is gender essentialist in a manner that bugs the hell out of me. Women can be hyper-rational the same way that men can be deeply empathetic, and I outright reject the notion that each gender is more inclined to one side than the other—many of these “intrinsic” values are still taught to us and absorbed that way. On the other hand, Herbert makes no clear commentary about this structure either way. He doesn’t claim that women are more inclined to the Bene Gesserit Way of thinking because it is in their “nature.” For all we know, both the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit were born from gender ideologies that were already in play and too difficult to outright dismantle. And the way that we see this play out in the book suggests that Herbert knows better than to deem the skills of either of these groups as more valuable than the other.

We meet Gurney Halleck, whose rapport with Paul is more similar to that of a grumpy and much older brother. And we are pushed to trust Gurney for a very particular reason: he is the only person thus far who can bring Paul’s true personality to the fore, breaking the boy’s reserved barriers down and giving him room to tease and play like a normal teenager. Still, Paul’s paranoia is on high alert, and he wonders about Gurney’s motivations too, before remembering the man’s life at the hands of the Harkonnen. Duke Leto is clearly a wise man in choosing to bring the enemies of his enemies into the fold.

YUEH (yü’ē), Wellington (wel’ing-tun), Stdrd 10,082-10,191; medical doctor of the Suk School (grd Stdrd 10,112); md: Wanna Marcus, B.G. (10,092-10,186?; chiefly noted as betrayer of Duke Leto Atreides. (Cf: Bibliography, Appendix VII [Imperial Conditioning] and Betrayal, The.)

—from “Dictionary of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan


Paul is relaxing after a massage following his sparring lesson with Gurney, when Wellington Yueh comes in to inform him that their usual lesson will be postponed because the Duke is coming up to spend time with Paul. He assures the boy that he will have filmbook lessons on the journey over to Arrakis on the terranic life forms that the planet plays host to. Paul asks if there will be any information on the Fremen. Yueh says that there are two groups of people on Arrakis—the Fremen, and then those who come from the graben, the sink and the pan. Sometimes the two groups intermarry, as the women in the villages prefer Fremen husbands and the men of the villages prefer Fremen wives. He tells Paul about their blue eyes due to melange saturation in their blood, and how dangerous the Fremen are as a people. He suggests that they are far too dangerous for Paul in interact with.

The boy mentions that he would also like more information on sandworms, and Yueh says that he has a filmbook on a small one, but that there are much larger ones that are not documented. He then presents Paul with a small gift, a very old copy of the Orange Catholic Bible. He suggests that they keep the gift between themselves, as it is a very nice antique, one that was given to him when he was young. He advises Paul to open it to a passage that begins “From water does all life begin,” but Paul accidentally comes upon a different marked passage that was set by Yueh’s wife. He grows upset and snaps at Paul to stop. He refers to his wife as dead… but thinks about how she is being held the Harkonnens. He tells Paul to read the book at his leisure, and Paul thanks him for the gift. Yueh thinks of how he has given the boy this gift primarily to assuage his own conscience and hates the Harkonnens for making him a party to their plan.


This opening section from the dictionary makes it clear that regardless of Yueh’s personal accomplishments, this will always be what he is known for in the history books: betrayal with a capital “B” and a great big “The” proceeding it. You can’t help but feel kinda sorry for the guy. And of course there’s the question of why his wife’s death year is fuzzy in that entry, giving a sharp reader a deep sense of foreboding about the bargaining chip the Harkonnens have on him.

Yueh is also pretty bad at hiding the fact that he’s a traitor. He’s got nervousness sketched all over him. True to Herbert’s penchant for having people’s appearances reflect their true nature, Yueh is described as purple-lipped, stick thin but square-faced, his mustache limp. Just reading that description makes you feel awkward. He is a physical personification of his guilt in a way. But he interacts with Paul kindly enough, answering his questions on sandworms and Fremen. Proving that Paul is more adept at this leadership game than we might have thought, he is already hoping to have the Fremen as allies on Arrakis.

Yueh gives Paul a fancy, tiny antique version of the Orange Catholic Bible, and the mechanics of it are so flipping cool. (I forgot to say the same about the shield technology; both are a great way of communicating a science fictional setting while maintaining that aura of high fantasy.) Both passages of the OC Bible that are dropped in this section are relevant to Paul’s journey; the first providing that repetition around water, the second about senses that humans may have yet not perceive. Either way, Yueh is not spared his guilt as the wheels of the plan turn.

How do we approach the study of Muad’Dib’s father? A man of surpassing warmth and surprising coldness was the Duke Leto Atreides. Yet, many facts open the way to this Duke: his abiding love for his Bene Gesserit Lady; the dreams he held for his son; the devotions with which men served him. You see him there—a man snared by Destiny, a lonely figure with his light dimmed behind the glory of his son. Still, one must ask: What is the son but an extension of his father?

—from “Muad’Dib, Family Commentaries” by the Princess Irulan


The Duke enters the training room, already exhausted from keeping up appearances for everyone else’s sake. Paul asks him if Arrakis really will be as bad as everyone claims, and Leto considers soothing him with platitudes before recognizing that he is speaking to his son. He decides to be frank about the danger, explaining that having Arrakis gives them a directorship in CHOAM and that while the company controls the spice, there is more to it than spice. With great effort, Paul manages to ask if the Reverend Mother warned him about all this, but the Duke dismisses it, claiming that the true hand behind the Bene Gesserit’s warnings was ultimately Jessica fearing for her family.

The Duke explains that CHOAM is a company with a hand in a imports and exports, but spice makes up the majority of its profits. If production of spice falls under Atreides leadership, the Houses that look to him as their spokesperson will turn away because he’ll be hurting their bottom line. The Harkonnens will be fine because they’ve been stockpiling spice for the past 20 years. Paul wonders why they are walking into this sham, but the Duke insists that knowing there is a trap puts you on the path to evading it. He suspects many aspects of the Harkonnen plan, even the Emperor’s involvement in it.

Paul wants to know why Thufir Hawat thinks the Fremen might be able to help them, and the Duke talks of the Emperor’s prison planet Salusa Secundus, a harsh and unforgiving world. He then suggests to Paul that the Emperor’s Sardaukar are not recruits, but rather prisoners from that planet, molded and shaped by harsh conditions and a joined purpose—and Paul realizes that the Fremen are quite similar to them in that respect. The Duke’s goal is to gain the Fremen as a fighting force and use the wealth from spice to arm them properly. The Harkonnens treated them like game and never bothered to learn anything about them, but the Duke has already sent Duncan Idaho out to negotiate with them.

Duke Leto then discusses Paul’s weaponry lesson with Gurney saying that the man praised him, despite being harsh with Paul. Paul asks about their upcoming journey aboard a Guild ship, which will have many other ships docked inside of it including their own. The Guild ships are true neutral ground because no one wants to risk having their shipping rights revoked. Paul wants to try and see one of the Guildsman, but they are never seen—Paul wonders if it’s because they’ve evolved past the point of looking human.

The Duke tells him that they have one last thing to settle: whether or not he would like to train as a Mentat. Paul is startled, as Mentat training is supposed to begin in youth, but without telling the subject—suddenly he realizes that this is precisely what was done to him. Duke Leto points out that he does not have to continue with the training, but being a Mentat Duke would make him extremely formidable. Paul agrees to continue the training, thinking maybe he has stumbled across his “terrible purpose.” But somehow he is sure that this isn’t it.


We are finally introduced to Leto Atreides, with several suggestions already being formed by Irulan’s text: that he will be overshadowed by the glory of his son, but that Paul is still very much a part of his father and shaped by him.

But most importantly, the first thing that we learn about Duke Leto is that he is the opposite of the Baron Harkonnen in every possible way. He is described to us as lean, dark-haired, olive-skinned, and angular, wearing a simple black “uniform”. He is a working leader, one who sets little by pomp or frivolities. But perhaps my favorite description associated with the Duke is this particular line: “He felt tired, filled with the ache of not showing his fatigue.” Yeah. Oof. I feel like anyone who has ever been overworked or bogged down with a chronic ailment of any kind can feel that line right down to the tips of their toes. Simple but precise.

The conversation between Duke Leto and Paul further breaks down the CHOAM Company for us, finally giving us the breakdown of the acronym: The Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles. Sheesh, and we thought the East India Company was a mouthful. The company itself is responsible for nearly all trade, though the majority of their profits are achieved through melange, the spice from Arrakis. It is described by the Duke as a geriatric, which explains why people in the universe are long-lived as well. It is during this conversation that the politics of this series truly come alive—the Duke is well aware of the Harkonnen plans, and has his own to counter them, looking to the Fremen as Paul instinctively has. He has no compunction about exploiting these people as a fighting force (he uses the word “exploit,” so he’s not interested in sugar-coating it either), which is something that the narrative never chooses to question the morality of in the moment; true to the reality of political machinations, people are often dispensable. The mortality of these decisions is something that is meant to be sussed out in the long game by the reader themselves. Herbert is a fan of making you work for his messages, which is something that I appreciate about his writing. It makes it far more interesting to break down in the long run.

So here’s a place where we see it all break down a little in terms of that gender essentialism I mentioned above. Paul can’t help but ask his father about whether or not the Reverend Mother warned him about Arrakis, and this is the Duke’s reply:

“Don’t let a woman’s fear cloud your mind. No woman wanted her loved ones endangered. The hand behind those warnings was your mother’s. Take this as a sign of her love for us.”

Whoa. Whoooooooaaaaa.

Yeah. That’s why the Reverend Mother isn’t gonna help you.

Not only is that response condescending in the extreme, but it proves that the Duke has no interest in even attempting to understand the Bene Gesserit Way that his concubine heralds from. He presumes that Jessica is essentially asking the Reverend Mother to speak her worries on her behalf as well, as though Jessica is incapable of voicing them on her own. He has utterly dismissed Reverend Mother’s visit—and by the same token Jessica’s emotions, the fear that he is talking about—as unimportant, a woman wringing her hands over concern for her family.

And I would argue that this neglect and disrespect of the Bene Gesserit is precisely what gets him killed.

In this world, it doesn’t seem that it all comes down to which side is “right” or “wrong” between the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit. It seems we should be arguing for the opposite, in fact: by the end of this section, we learn that Paul has been undergoing Mentat pre-training, as it were, that he has those abilities along with the Bene Gesserit training that Jessica has giving him, and his potential for being the Kwisatz Haderach. The narrative is indicating to us that Paul needs all of these facets—this universe’s breakdown of “the logical” and “the instinctual” in order to achieve his Destiny (or terrible purpose, however you want to put it). He is only this special because he combines all of these skills into one. His father greatly values the Mentat side of this, but does not seem overly concerned the Bene Gesserit side. This is one of his key mistakes as a ruler.

There is a lot of important information in this section that gives us glimmers of worldbuilding; we learn that the Houses have some form of treaty called the Convention, that “atomics” are at play in this universe, that the Sardaukar are essentially brainwashed prisoners from the Imperial prison planet of Salusa Secunda, and that the Guild members might be so far evolved for their knowledge of space-time that it is possible that they no longer appear human… and they refuse to show themselves to others at all. And at the end, Paul decides to continue his Mentat training, wondering yet immediately dispelling with the idea that this was his terrible purpose. He knows that there is more to come than this.


And here is this week’s audio clip! Enjoy Thurfir’s convo with Paul….

Emmet Asher-Perrin finds incredible irony in the Duke’s concern over Jessica’s fear when the Litany of Fear is taught to Paul by Jessica, but whatever. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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