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Dune | Study Guide

Frank Herbert

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Dune | Quotes


I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.

Paul Atreides, Book 1, Section 1

These words begin the Bene Gesserit litany against fear that both Paul Atreides and his mother Jessica use throughout the novel to calm themselves in crisis situations. It reflects the Bene Gesserit belief that mastering one's instincts of fight or flight is what makes humans human rather than animals. In this situation Paul thinks through the litany in his mind to calm himself when he is tested by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam's gom jabbar.


Take your hand from the box, young human, and look at it.

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Book 1, Section 1

The Reverend Mother, after testing Paul's ability to keep his hand in a box full of terrible pain, pronounces him "human." Her position is that many so-called "humans" are not truly human, but rather animals acting according to instinct. Animal instinct is to withdraw to safety when encountering pain, and Paul shows the mental discipline to act against this instinct.


Observe the plans within plans within plans.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Book 1, Section 2

Baron Harkonnen advises his nephew and heir to listen carefully to the interlocking plans of his Mentat, Piter, and understand how these plans are part of a greater scheme. They will use a traitor planted in House Atreides to ultimately bring it down but also divert attention with a fake assassination attempt and suspicions that Lady Jessica is a traitor. All the while, imperial soldiers disguised as Harkonnens will be ready to strike at the proper time and help to overthrow the Atreides' rule.

Although this is just one example of Harkonnen plans within plans, it becomes clear over the course of the novel they are not alone in their complicated treachery and political maneuverings. Duke Leto has plans, the emperor has plans, Paul has plans, the Bene Gesserit have plans, and even the baron's nephew has plans within plans to gain power for himself. In Dune "plans within plans" is politics as usual.


The willow submits to the wind ... until one day it is many willows—a wall against the wind.

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, Book 1, Section 3

The metaphorical willow illustrates the Bene Gesserit attitude toward gaining power and achieving long-term goals: patience and planning. In the short term they appear to submit to powerful forces and people. But all the time they survive and grow, working behind the scenes to put in place the people, ideas, and tools they will use later to exert their influence. In particular the Bene Gesserit manipulate the gene pool to preserve and integrate certain genetic lines, in order to bring about a future they desire.


This is like single combat ... a feint within a feint within a feint.

Duke Leto Atreides, Book 1, Section 6

Duke Leto explains his strategy to outwit the Harkonnens to his son Paul, spelling out how such a strategy includes economic and political leverage, behind-the-scenes intrigue, lies, deceptions, and secret alliances. He draws a parallel between this and the strategies of single combat. Unfortunately for Duke Leto, the Harkonnens have "plans within plans" and ultimately get the better of the duke.


They've a legend here, a prophecy ... It follows the familiar messiah pattern.

Thufir Hawat, Book 1, Section 13

The duke's Mentat, Thufir Hawat, explains to the duke that the religion of the people of Arrakis includes a messiah figure—a child of a Bene Gesserit who will lead them to freedom. Some of the people believe Paul is this messiah. What Hawat does not know is that the messiah legend is actually the result of the Bene Gesserit Missionaria Protectiva, a division of the organization that plants such prophecies into the religions of people on many planets. These prophecies are sown so if a Bene Gesserit needs to have a bit of extra influence or protection on a planet, the stories are available to leverage.


Is there a relationship between worm and spice?

Duke Leto Atreides, Book 1, Section 15

The duke asks Liet-Kynes if there is a relationship between sandworms and spice, and Liet-Kynes does not want to answer because the connection is a closely guarded Fremen secret. In fact the sandworm life cycle is what produces the pre-spice mass under the surface of the sand. When the mass is pushed upward to the surface and is exposed, it becomes spice.


They were all caught up in the need ... to ... mingle and infuse their ... genes.

Narrator, Book 1, Section 22

The narrator shows Paul's train of thought as he considers the possible futures and the forces driving them. He knows war, or jihad, is one possible future—a likely one—that is part of his own path, yet he does not want to be responsible for such violence. But he also knows war is just one of the ways the human race seeks to diversify its gene pool. And he believes this essential genetic drive—for what amounts to genetic chaos—is a powerful driver of the future.


One must always keep the tools of statecraft ... power and fear—sharp and ready.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Book 2, Section 26

Baron Harkonnen is accomplished in wielding the power and fear he believes necessary to govern effectively. He also employs other means, including emotional manipulation, torture, assassination, and the exploitation of people's vices such as drugs and women. But he isn't the only one who believes power and fear are part of the toolbox of politics. In Section 14 Duke Leto also tells Paul to use power and fear if needed.


The way to control ... a Mentat ... is through his information. False information—false results.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Book 2, Section 26

Multiple forms of power and ways to control people and events are explored in Dune, and one of them is the use of information. Leaking false information, such as the notes implicating Jessica as the traitor in House Atreides, is one way to control events through controlling information. Withholding information—keeping secrets—is another. But feeding false and misleading information to a human computer, a Mentat, is a third way. Like any computing machine, if false information is input, incorrect outputs are the result. And the baron is very good at using all forms of information control.


How inadequate [his hand] appeared when measured against such creatures as that worm.

Narrator, Book 2, Section 27

When Paul first sees the great sandworms, they are shockingly large. His mother impresses upon him the importance of complete mastery over every muscle of the body. Knowledge of the body's most miniscule workings is a part of the Bene Gesserit training Jessica has continued to give Paul even while they are abandoned in the desert. As she reviews the muscles of the hand in one such lesson, he looks at his own hand and considers how small it looks in comparison to the worm. Yet later he masters not only a worm but an entire culture, then a planet—then the empire. This is an exploration of the idea that one individual's actions can be just as powerful as seemingly larger forces.


Religion and law among our masses must be one and the same.

Liet-Kynes, Book 2, Section 30

As he is dying, Liet-Kynes sees a hallucination of his own father lecturing him on both ecology and politics. His father impresses upon him the usefulness of religion to bring about a secular goal. In this case the importance of adhering to a very strict discipline regarding water and secrecy is crucial to the success of the Fremen plan to transform the surface of Arrakis. Therefore, Liet-Kynes had become both religious leader and political leader, mingling governance with religion. After Liet-Kynes dies, Paul follows in his footsteps, becoming both military leader and prophet of the Fremen.


And Paul ... felt ... that he ... was now caught up in his own myth.

Narrator, Book 2, Section 34

The Bene Gesserit utilize religious legends and prophecies for their own ends, but they have mystical goals as well. They seek to bring about the Kwisatz Haderach, a male who can look into a mysterious dark place women cannot look. On the one hand, they use religion as a tool to control events and people, but on the other hand they have what amounts to a religion. This plays out in Paul's life as well. He leverages the Bene Gesserit prophecies to gain power and safety, but he also feels caught up in a destiny larger than himself. And while he certainly uses his mythological status, he also develops the ability to see possible futures and influence them—an undeniably prophetic function.


The man without emotions is the one to fear.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, Book 3, Section 38

The baron dispenses more insight into the many ways to control people, noting that those, such as Thufir Hawat, who have deep emotions can be easily controlled. On the other hand he warns against a man who has no emotions, because you cannot control him. Clearly, the baron believes emotions are weaknesses to be exploited.


I'll give the order that'll destroy all spice production on Arrakis ... forever.

Paul Atreides, Book 3, Section 48

Paul realizes he has the power to stop the planetary and biological processes that allow spice to be generated on Arrakis. Because the guildsmen rely on spice to navigate space and Arrakis is the only planet that produces spice, Paul can control the guild by threatening to destroy all spice. As he puts it a few moments later, "The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it." Needless to say, the guild does what Paul asks.

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