Dune Book Summary, by Frank Herbert

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1-Page Summary of Dune

Overall Summary

The Padishah Emperor has ruled the universe for thousands of years. He has given control of Arrakis, a desert planet, to House Atreides. The planet is valuable because it produces spice (also known as melange), which is a highly addictive drug that can increase lifespan and allow interstellar travel. It also opens up higher cognitive functions such as prescience in humans.

The novel begins with Duke Leto Atreides moving his son Paul, his concubine Lady Jessica, their noble household and military forces from Caladan to Arrakis. The Duke is a popular leader as he’s fair and virtuous. However, there are rivals in the form of House Harkonnen who want to take over the planet from them. Lady Jessica is a member of the Bene Gesserit order who use genetic breeding and cognitive abilities to hold power in the wider universe. One of these leaders visits Caladan demanding that she meets fifteen-year-old Paul Atreides; this Reverend Mother puts him through a dangerous test where he must overcome fear using cognitive rationality and control or die by her poison tipped needle at his neck. He passes this test demonstrating courage and self-control which makes it possible for him to be the Kwisatz Haderach (a male individual with higher cognitive awareness than all other humans).

Meanwhile, the Baron is planning to overthrow his cousin. He has managed to turn one of Duke Leto’s advisors by manipulating him through the Mentat Piter de Vries. The Baron and his Mentat have subverted Dr. Wellington Yueh’s Suk conditioning so that he will not harm other humans as part of their plan for a coup on Arrakis, which was previously under Harkonnen control but then re-gifted by Emperor Shaddam IV to House Atreides.

The Atreides family leaves Caladan for Arrakis, a planet that is also known as “Dune”. The people who live there are called Fremen. They survive in the harsh environment of the desert outside of cities. Leto must maintain order on Dune while trying to figure out if House Harkonnen will attack his household during this time of change. His trusted advisor, Thurfir Hawat, wrongly believes that Jessica is a traitor and causes tension between her and Leto.

When the Harkonnens attack with the help of Imperial Sardaukar troops disguised as Harkonnens, Leto is shocked to learn that it was Yueh who betrayed House Atreides. Leto, Jessica and Paul were captured but Yueh made sure that they escaped into the desert. He also double-crossed Baron Harkonnen by putting a tooth filled with poison gas in Duke’s mouth so he can kill him through suicide. Leto followed through with his plan but Baron managed to escape alive anyway, even though several of his advisors fell victim to the poison gas.

Paul and Jessica travel through the desert, fighting a sandworm. After that, they find an oasis where Fremen people live. The Fremen are a tribe of people who have lived on Arrakis for thousands of years. They follow strict rules about politics and religion. Paul shows his strength by fighting one-on-one with Stilgar’s best fighter in order to earn their respect; Jessica proves her worth when she drinks the Water of Life (a ritual) so that she can become Reverend Mother (the leader).

Paul and Jessica find out that the Fremen are more powerful than they thought. The Fremen pay the Guild to ignore their movement on Arrakis, and they also work to restore Arrakis’ ecology with lakes and oceans. They see Paul as the messiah who was promised long ago, although he recognizes this myth as a Bene Gesserit construct planted in Fremen culture. Due to their liberal use of spice, his cognitive abilities continue developing while he also becomes stronger physically due to the tough lifestyle that comes with being a Fremen. He’s concerned about how much power he will have in his future visions of becoming so powerful that there will be a religious crusade across space in his name. During his time at Stilgar’s sietch (a group home), he falls in love with Chani, one of Stilgar’s daughters.

Dune Book Summary, by Frank Herbert