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Dune | Study Guide

Frank Herbert

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Dune | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Book 1: Dune

The emperor has given Duke Leto Atreides rule of the desert planet Arrakis, also called Dune. Arrakis has, until now, been ruled by House Harkonnen. Arrakis is a harsh world with an extreme climate nearly devoid of moisture, but it is the only planet on which the spice called melange can be mined. This valuable product is essential to space travel, as it allows navigators of the Spacing Guild to manipulate space and time to travel long distances. Spice also extends the human life span, is highly addictive, and gives some users an ability to glimpse the future. The duke is in the process of moving his household and military forces from Caladan to Arrakis.

The novel begins as 15-year-old Paul Atreides, son of the duke and his Bene Gesserit concubine Jessica, is visited by a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother. She challenges Paul with the gom jabbar, a poison needle used in a secret Bene Gesserit test. In this test, Paul must either keep his hand inside a box full of pure pain or die of the poison. He passes the test and learns he may be the Kwisatz Haderach, a male with the Bene Gesserit ability to access ancestral memories. Shortly after this occurs, the Atreides family leaves for Arrakis.

Meanwhile, Baron Harkonnen plots the destruction of House Atreides in order to retake rule of Arrakis and do away with the duke, who is the baron's old adversary. The baron has recruited the duke's trusted doctor, Dr. Yueh, to betray the duke at a crucial moment. Then, Harkonnen forces—as well as some imperial forces disguised as Harkonnens—will capture the duke and retake the planet.

Things begin to go downhill as soon as House Atreides arrives on Arrakis. Despite the strategies of Duke Leto, the Harkonnen plan mostly works out and the Atreides' rule of Arrakis is overthrown. However, Dr. Yueh double-crosses the baron at the last minute. He implants a false tooth filled with poison gas in the captured duke's mouth and arranges for Jessica and Paul to have a chance to escape. Using the tooth the duke is able to kill several of the baron's advisers but not the baron himself. Paul and Jessica escape into the desert. In the process Paul ingests a great deal of spice, which is abundant in the desert environment. The spice triggers his ability to see into the future; possible futures spread out before him.

Book 2: Muad'Dib

Paul and Jessica take sanctuary with the Fremen, an indigenous desert people who live under extremely strict rules about water usage and who secretly plan to remake the ecology of Arrakis. Fremen messianic prophecies apply to Jessica and Paul. As a result Jessica and Paul are soon regarded as religious figures in the community. Jessica becomes the Reverend Mother of the Fremen. But becoming a Reverend Mother means drinking a spice drug called the Water of Life that gives her access to the collective ancestral memories of the Fremen. Jessica is pregnant at the time. The change affects not just her, but the baby inside her—who will now be born with the memories of a Reverend Mother. Paul continues to see into time, but his glimpses suggest he will lead a jihad—religious war—that spreads throughout the galaxy. He falls in love with Chani, a young Fremen woman.

Meanwhile, Baron Harkonnen continues scheming. He puts his nephew Rabban in charge of Arrakis, but only temporarily. Unbeknownst to Rabban, the baron plans to double-cross him. He demands Rabban mine ever-increasing amounts of spice, pushing the workers of Arrakis mercilessly. The people of Arrakis will suffer so much under Rabban that they will welcome the baron's other nephew, Feyd-Rautha, as their ruler. The baron also recruits Hawat, the duke's Mentat, to work for House Harkonnen, convincing the old man that Jessica betrayed the duke. The baron uses Hawat's anger to control him.

Book 3: The Prophet

Two years later, the baron's ambitions continue to grow. Now he has his eye on the imperial throne with the aim to place Feyd-Rautha upon it. Meanwhile, Paul has been gaining authority among the Fremen. He learns to ride a sandworm in the Fremen style, an important coming-of-age milestone among them. He has a child with Chani. He drinks the powerful spice drug and becomes the Kwisatz Haderach. Most importantly he trains the Fremen soldiers to fight using some of the Bene Gesserit ways his mother taught him. He is both a political and religious figure, and his followers are fiercely loyal and united in purpose. This makes them ideal fighters. Eventually the Fremen are ready to attack the Harkonnen rulers of Arrakis and retake the planet for themselves. The emperor, seeing the military might of the Fremen, comes to the planet with his own Sardaukar soldiers. When he arrives the Fremen attack the Sardaukar and are victorious. Baron Harkonnen is killed by Alia Atreides, the daughter Jessica bore who has the collective Fremen memories.

Paul demands the emperor abdicate the throne and allow him to marry Irulan, the emperor's daughter. Feyd-Rautha challenges Paul to single combat, but Paul kills him in the fight. Having no other choice the emperor gives up the throne. Paul becomes emperor, Irulan is promised as his wife, and Chani remains his concubine.

Dune Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 House Atreides is assigned to rule the planet Arrakis.

Rising Action

2 House Harkonnen plants a traitor among the Atreides.

3 Harkonnens overthrow the Atreides' rule of Arrakis.

4 Duke Leto Atreides is killed. Paul and Jessica escape.

5 Paul and Jessica live among the Fremen of Arrakis.

6 Jessica becomes a religious leader among the Fremen.

7 Paul becomes a military leader and prophet among the Fremen.

8 The emperor comes to investigate the Fremen military.


9 Led by Paul, Fremen forces subdue the Imperial army.

Falling Action

10 Paul demands the emperor's daughter and throne.

11 Paul kills Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in a trial by combat.


12 The emperor abdicates the throne to Paul.

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