- Religion must remain an outlet for people who say to themselves, 'I am not the kind of person I want to be.' It must never sink into an assemblage of the self-satisfied.— Dune Encyclopedia
The Dune Encyclopedia is a collection of articles written by multiple authors and compiled/edited by Dr. Willis E. McNelly. McNelly, a close friend of original Dune author Frank Herbert, consulted with him throughout the process and was given access to early versions of God-Emperor of Dune in order to further inform the work. The Dune Encyclopedia was published in 1984 by Berkley Books, an imprint of Putnam, which published the original Dune Chronicles.
The Dune Encyclopedia is written in-universe after the reign of Leto II based on the work of fictional in-universe Archeologist Hadi Benotto. The encyclopedia also references the scholarly work of Bronso of Ix, a historian executed at the beginning of Dune Messiah especially in the article for Dr. Yueh. McNelly uses this in-universe perspective as a pre-emptive explanation as to why information may become inaccurate or dated, since the accuracy of Hadi's source material may be propaganda or otherwise unreliable and subject to historical interpretation.
The Dune Encyclopedia gives a rich background to the Dune universe. It included detailed language guides, including Galach and Fremen. It includes detailed character biographies of both main and minor characters; technical articles such as the workings of the Ixian no-rooms and Holtzmann effects; histories of the Great Houses and major schools of the Imperium and historical events such as the Butlerian Jihad. It explores scientific aspects, including the Spice cycle and chemicals/poisons; historical details such as Sardaukar uniforms and awards and even in-universe literary study.
The Dune Encyclopedia was published as "complete and authorized". Frank Herbert consulted frequently with McNelly and Herbert himself wrote the forward which included:
- "Here is a rich background (and foreground) for the Dune Chronicles, including scholarly bypaths and amusing sidelights. Some of the contributions are sure to arouse controversy, based as they are on questionable sources ... I must confess that I found it fascinating to re-enter here some of the sources on which the Chronicles are built. As the first "Dune fan," I give this encyclopedia my delighted approval, although I hold my own counsel on some of the issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold."
While Herbert himself contradicted the Encyclopedia at times in Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune, it still easily fell within the built-in explanation of the book's in-character reliability. Herbert and McNelly were planning on writing a Butlerian Jihad prequel using the Encyclopedia as a starting point, prior to Frank Herbert's death.
However, when Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson began publishing prequels that completely contradicted the Encyclopedia, they retroactively declared ''The Dune Encyclopedia'' non-canon and pressured McNelly (at that point elderly and close to his own death) into agreeing to this joint statement:
- "THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA reflects an alternate "DUNE universe" which did not necessarily represent the "canon" created by Frank Herbert. Frank Herbert's son, Brian Herbert, writing with Kevin J. Anderson, IS continuing to establish the canon of the DUNE universe. This is being done with the full approval of the owner of the DUNE copyright, the Herbert Limited Partnership. While Frank Herbert himself considered THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA interesting and entertaining, he did not refer to Dr. McNelly's derivative work while writing any of his DUNE novels. Likewise, in writing their DUNE novels (beginning with DUNE: HOUSE ATREIDES), Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have exclusively used, and will continue to use, Frank Herbert's original notes as well as their own imaginations, and not THE DUNE ENCYCLOPEDIA"
Fanon Discontinuity has been applied to both The Dune Encyclopedia and the prequels depending on the individual reader, however hindsight has shown this to be more the case of the prequels as time goes on. While the prequels, particularly the Legends of Dune books and Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune, are supposed to be based on Frank Herbert's notes, many fans have come to believe the notes either do not exist or have been ignored in favor of the new author's own ideas. Either way, many fans prefer to continue to use The Dune Encyclopedia as the canonical or quasi-canonical backstory despite the Herbert Limited Partnership's objections.
Ironically, one of the few areas in which the prequels followed the encyclopedia is in making Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam into the Lady Jessica's mother; which was, according to McNelly, one of the few things Frank Herbert did not like and the biggest topic of debate in their meetings.
The Dune Encyclopedia contains examples of:
- Absent Aliens: There's a lot of life in the universe, but none of it talks back.
- In the out of print Encyclopedia of Dune the Natives of Caladan are sentient: morons by human standards and around Stone Age level of technology, but sentient all the same. They are mentioned maybe once in the series proper though.
- The "Crompton Ruins" were the fragmentary remains of a kilometer-wide building discovered well after the reign of Leto II on a previously unexplored planet; they were held up as possible evidence of intelligent non-human life for over a thousand years until an almost identical underground complex used by Leto II to store his crystal-paper journals was discovered on Arrakis. The purpose of the Crompton Ruins remains a mystery.
- Alternative Character Interpretation: In-universe. Many instances, given the nature of the work, but especially the back-to-back articles on Count Hasimir Fenring and Margot, Lady Fenring. Were they in a relatively happy relationship, with Hasimir a willing accomplice to Margot's Bene Gesserit breeding work, or was she forcing him to help with the threat of poison and paralysis-by-Trigger Phrase despite his resentment?
- A Million Is a Statistic: Pauls jihad and Leto IIs rule.
- Ancient Astronauts/All Myths Are True: Humans themselves fill this role, with the Bene Gesserit purposely spreading myths based on heroic and religious archetypes throughout fledgling colonies to make use of the people there later.
- Ancient Conspiracy: Although they are more visible than most ancient conspiracies, the Bene Gesserit definitely count: they have manipulated practically all existing religions in the Dune universe to be tools for their purposes, to the point a Bene Gesserit can basically go to any planet and detect different cues and codes within the local religion's tenets to know exactly what to say and do to present herself as a paragon, prophet or even messiah of the local religion. This is how Lady Jessica insinuates herself and Paul into the Fremen culture. Of course, Jessica had no way of knowing Paul would become an ACTUAL messiah.
- The encyclopedia takes it further with the Bene Gesserit going back to ancient Earth antiquity and Jesus being a failed Kwisatz Haderach.
- Artificial Human: Any Tleilaxu-creation, including the Face Dancers, Gholas, clones, some Mentats, and human-animal hybrids.
- Attack Pattern Alpha: Various Houses each have their own, mostly secret languages that are dead to other populations.
- Bling of War: The section on Sardaukar decorations, ranging from wound stripes and service medals to the Guardian of the Empire.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: In the Dune Encyclopedia, under "Atomics", they mentioned the first ever use of the weapons was by House Washington (the USA) in a "provincial conflict."
- By the Eyes of the Blind: Inverted. Siona and her descendants cannot be detected by prescience.
- Canon Discontinuity: Despite being published as a canon companion book and endorsed by Frank Herbert, it has been retroactively declared non-canon by Brian Herbert.
- Canon Foreigner: A large number of Houses, planets, events, details, etc. were introduced in the Encyclopedia. One House, the Ordos, was eventually incorporated into Dune II, as the Encyclopedia was used by Westwood. It was also the reason why the Harkonnen use a Ram in the game instead of the griffon - the Encyclopedia had that as an error.
- Compelling Voice: The Bene Gesserit have the Voice. Jessica uses this in the first novel to facilitate the escape of her and Paul, by making the guards kill each other. The fear of this prompts various defenses, including stationing deaf-mutes as guards for important people and, later, conditioning people to reflexively kill at the first sign of Voice being used. In the original novel, the Bene Gesserit have to study the target of the Voice in order to adjust their pitch accordingly.
- Conlang: Many of the phrases and terms used throughout the book have some basis in real-world languages. The Fremen speak a clear development of Arabic. Galach, the official language of the Imperium, is described as an Anglo-Slavic hybrid with some other tongues mixed in for good measure. The Encyclopedia gives detailed studies, including alphabet and pronunciation for both Galach and Fremen.
- Cool, but Inefficient: A lot of the tech, justifying the Feudal Future / Punk Punk feel of The 'Verse. Much of this is deliberate due to prohibitions against thinking machines and the dominance of shields in warfare.
- Crapsack World: Dune is a universe of tyrannical regimes, war and constant backstabbing. And even the most moral factions aren't that moral either — see Black-and-Gray Morality.
- Culture Chop Suey: A classic example. Millennia of galactic colonization have created completely new unrecognizable ethnicities and modified versions of current Earth religions.
- Darwinist Desire: the Bene Gesserit actually have Darwinist Desire Matchmaking. They've been secretly manipulating the marriages of all the members of the noble houses to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, a being capable of omniscience.
- Dead Guy Junior: Paul named not just one but both of his sons after their late grandfather, though one (son) had died by the time the other came along. Oddly, they're both named Leto II. The Encyclopedia also names many more ancestors in the noble lines that the books do not, many with the same names.
- Deus Est Machina: The backstory suggests humanity once created machines so advanced that life became incredibly easy and comfortable. It is implied that humans (or at least a large number of fanatics) became so abhorred by their perceived over-reliance on intelligent machines (and advanced computer technology in general) that they initiated the Butlerian Jihad, a violent purge of all Artificial Intelligence and advanced computers. When the Jihad ended, it became a crime by religious and secular law to create advanced computers (the chief commandment resulting from this war is that "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of the human mind"), with all of their functions in calculation and space travel adopted by specialized humans (who arguably become a human form of this trope).
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The dueling articles on the historicity of Paul Atreides are very clear references to the similar historical controversies about Jesus Christ, with the same kind of arguments employed on the competing sides.
- Duel of Seduction: With technique and counter-technique.
- Famous Ancestor: House Atreides claims to have been founded by Atreus, the son of Agamemnon of Greek Mythology, House Harkonnen claims descent from the Romanovs of Tsarist Russia, and Houses Harkonnen and Corrino claim common descent from the Palaiologos, the last ruling dynasty of the Byzantine Empire.
- Fanon Discontinuity: Subject of this a lot, fans tend to fall into three groups.
- Fans that take the Encyclopedia as canon or sub-canon for gaps the books don't cover. Citing that it was published as an authorized companion book and endorsed by Frank Herbert.
- Fans that do not consider it canon, agreeing with the attempted Canon Discontinuity issued by Brian Herbert and preferring the prequels.
- Fans that only consider the original six books by Frank Herbert as canon and exclude both the encyclopedia and prequels.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Foldspace
- Fictional Document: The basis of the Dune Encyclopedia.
- Fictional Geneva Conventions: The Great Convention, which prohibit certain weapons from being used in warfare. The most important is the use of nuclear weapons on human targets.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: A lasgun shot hitting a shield is highly unpredictable, and can cause either a nuclear-level explosion or only destroy both shooter and shootee. Also, lasguns are presented unusually realistically for sci-fi (except for the universe-physics-specific shield bit). In Leto II's future, lasguns have come back into general use after he banned shields, leading to a massive arms race after his death.
- Future Imperfect: This is scattered throughout the encyclopedia, in relation to both real-world history and in-universe history (see Unreliable Narrator). Of note is how Alexander the Great is considered to have been the first Galactic Emperor, and members of the "House Of Washington" (i.e., America) were the first historical users of atomic weapons. Averted in some cases, as the Bene Gesserit (and some Atreides) possess Genetic Memory telling them exactly who their ancestors were and covering the entire scope of human history. Also, whereas in the book series it's mentioned that the origin of the planet Ix's name is obscure, the Encyclopedia explains that it means "nine", from its position in its own solar system.
- Galactic Superpower: The Empire that reigned from the Butlerian Jihad to Leto II's Scattering.
- Ghost Memory: Bene Gesserit acolytes receive the total line of their predecessors' memories when undergoing the Water of Life. Later books have Bene Gesserit placing their foreheads together to exchange genetic memory in times of extreme danger.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Dune universe is positively riddled with words seemingly inspired by or derived from Arabic and Farsi (most of the future religions have some Islam in them). Even Hebrew shows up once or twice. Amongst other things, K'fitzat ha'derekh (compare to Dune's Kwisatz Haderach) is a magical ability ascribed to some real-world Chassidic holy men — specifically, the ability to teleport.
- The twins speak French, because it's a dead language at this time, so nobody else could possibly understand them.
- Genetic Memory: Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers (and Wild Mothers such as the Fremen's and Rebecca) get genetic memories of all their female ancestors, the Kwisatz Haderach gets them for all his ancestors, as do children of these two. Gholas can gain past life memories this way too, by being manipulated into doing something their original self would never have done.
- Gender Bender/Hermaphrodite: Face Dancers are described as "Jadacha hermaphrodites" (a term with an unknown meaning) and "mules" due to their sterility. They are able to change appearance and gender at will, and perform the role of either gender, but cannot reproduce.
- Higher Understanding Through Drugs: The appendix to Dune lists several "awareness-spectrum narcotics" that increased the user's understanding and mental abilities, including melange (by Guild Navigators), the Fremen "Water of Life" (which affected Paul Atreides and his sister Alia), and the drugs used by Bene Gesserit Truthsayers (who were Living Lie Detectors).
- Instant Oracle: Just Add Water!: The Guild Navigators adapted to life in a spice-filled environment which granted them precognition and the ability to navigate at FTL speeds. They spend most of their lives inside of zero gravity tubes filled with spice laden air rather than a tub of water, but same concept.
- Invisibility Cloak: No-Chambers and No-Ships. Not your average cloaking device; even prescient scryers cannot find you. The Encyclopedia explains the technology behind it.
- Junkie Prophet: Detailed studies of Paul, Leto II and the Spacing Guild.
- Kill and Replace: A favorite tactic of Tleilaxu Face Dancer Shape Shifters.
- King Bob the Nth: The Dune Encyclopedia has a list of every Emperor of the Known Universe (since 88 B.G.) along with the dates of their reigns. Shaddam IV's immediate predecessors were Fredhrick XIX, Corrin XXV and Elrood IX. Shaddam III reigned 4200 years before Shaddam IV, Shaddam II was some 3000 years before that, and Shaddam I reigned 2400 years before him. Shaddam IV was the 81st "Padishah" Emperor, but the 370th Emperor of the Known Universe. Leto II was indeed preceded by a Leto I, whose reign was from 1428 to 1530 A.G.
- Language Drift: A section on the history of the Fremen language notes how someone discovered that over the millennia their supposedly "pure" language had changed to the point of unrecognisability, beginning a campaign to restore it to the Arabic spoken 16,000 years earlier. Another section describes changes in Galach between 7000 B.G. and 10000 A.G.
- Living Lie Detector: Bene Gesserit can notice the visual and auditory cues that denote a lying person. Many courts employ Bene Gesserit for this specific purpose, as "Truthsayers". The Kwisatz Haderach takes this power Up to Eleven, as it does all the other BG powers. Leto II can detect a human's emotional state with perfect accuracy by sampling pheromones at 3 parts per billion.
- Longevity Treatment: One of many uses for spice, when it is plentiful lifespans of three hundred years aren't uncommon.
- Mainlining the Monster: Sandworms are the source of the invaluable Spice, without which galactic civilization would collapse. While keeping them captive is unfeasible to say the least, the need to preserve their species runs at odds with the Fremen drive to make Arrakis more liveable for humans, making it a major political issue.
- Mobile Factory: Harvester factories move across the desert refining spice from sand.
- Monochromatic Eyes/Technicolor Eyes: A result of high-level Spice addiction, when enough ingestion saturates the blood stream and stains the eyes. Described in the books as "blue-on-blue".
- The Navigator: An entire guild of them, who depend on spice to guide their ships.
- No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: An entry in the Dune Encyclopedia claims the Bene Gesserit existed millennia before humanity developed spaceflight, and more-or-less specifically stated that Jesus was nothing more than a premature — and, therefore, failed — Kwisatz Haderach.
- Numbered Homeworld: The planet Ix (pronounced as spelled) developed from millennia of language-development to the point that the original prefix was lost, and Ix came to be pronounced as a word rather than as "IX", or 9 in Roman numerals.
- Occult Blue Eyes: The influence of Spice turns people's eyes an unnatural bright blue. The turning blue is implied to be a normal biological reaction of humans exposed to spice. However Spice also gives psionic abilities to at least some humans which links the two together in people's minds.
- One-Product Planet: The major worlds are each known for producing a major product. Dune itself is the only source of Spice, Giedi Prime a Factory world, Ix and Richese are Science worlds, Telixau as a Underworld (selling taboo technology), Caladan is a Farm world, Kaitain is the Capital, Salusa Secundus is ostensibly a Penal colony but really a Military world. Tupile is a Service world, providing protection for exiled families.
- Organic Technology: Due to the prohibitions against advanced technology, humans were forced to develop their own talents to fill the void. Mentats act as human-computers, the Spacing Guild navigates space through prescience in the place of computers, and the Bene Tleilax use their females as wombs for their genetic products.
- Phlebotinum Overload: Shield and lasgun interaction results in nuclear explosions.
- Psychic Powers: Prescience (precognition), Other Memory and memory transfers, Miles Teg's clairvoyant sensing of No-Ships, most of these are not explained as "psychic" powers, but a natural consequence of Genetic Memory and Charles Atlas Superpower levels of mental training.
- Psycho Serum/Super Serum: The Spice is both a boon and bane for humanity, politically, culturally, and biologically. Leto II spends his entire (extremely) long life trying to get humanity over its spice addiction. He succeeds — sorta.
- Sand Worm: Detailed scientific study of the sandworms of Arrakis.
- Schizo Tech: Many of the apparently anachronistic elements of technology are justified by the book's extremely-detailed backstory.
- Send in the Clones: Duncan Idaho dies in the first novel, only to return over and over again first as a ghola, then as a ghola-clone. God-Emperor of Dune even has several Duncan gholas throughout the story, though all but one were played with through flashbacks and mentions. The Encyclopedia gives more detail and backstory about Leto IIs Duncans.
- Solid Gold Poop: Spice is formed via the excretions of the sand trout mixed with water.
- The Spock: Mentats. Although not all of them are by any means moral and logical.
- Standard Time Units: According to the encyclopedia, standard time units are based on the orbital and rotational parameters of the planet Kaitain, where one year is 360 days and 3.56 seconds. The standard year is divided into twelve 30-day months, each consisting of five six-day weeks, while the standard day is divided into standard hours, minutes and seconds in the traditional manner.
- Starfish Aliens: The sandworms, which are gigantic (as in up-to-half-kilometer-long) wormlike creatures that live in the desert. They also have a larval form, which begin as microbial "sand plankton" that serve as food to the adults, and grow into a small roughly diamond-shaped form called sandtrout AKA "Little Makers". The sandtrout are later revealed to seal away all the water on the planet, which is highly toxic to the adult form, and secrete the precursors to the addictive and Psychic Powers-granting Spice, which triggers their transformation into the sandworm "Makers".
- They also inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out fresh oxygen, working as a substitute for the nearly non-existant plantlife on Arrakis. This also justifies why such a Single-Biome Planet can have a breathable atmosphere. The byproducts of the worms are suspiciously Terran-friendly indeed. Various characters lampshade this occasionally, even suggesting the idea that sandworms may be in fact Lost Organic Technology for terraforming planets (created a long time ago by humans, presumably).
- Sword Fight: Swords and knives are the main weapons used in ground combat: shields stop projectile weapons, and explode like nukes when attacked with lasguns.
- This is inverted during and after Leto II's reign, as he bans shields within the Empire in order to force warfare to start evolving again. Shields also cause him to go berserk just like normal sand worms.
- Themed Tarot Deck: The Dune Tarot is described in detail.
- Theme Naming: (Nearly) all the Bene Gesserit have names of the form (Male Latin name) (Female Name) (Surname).
- Unreliable Narrator: The Encyclopedia is very much an example of this. It is framed as an encyclopedia within the Dune universe, purportedly 5,000 years after the events of the first novel and after the historical record has been greatly altered or lost. Several of the entries either contradict or give a different perspective on the events of the novels. It is up to the reader to determine what account, if any, "really" happened.
- Variant Chess: Cheops gets its own article, discussing its history, play styles and masters while somehow failing to describe its rules or equipment. It also mentions the related game "Little Chess", implied to be our own Chess, which is mainly played by children.
- Villainous Incest: It's suggested that Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and his nephew Feyd-Rautha had a sexual relationship, and strongly implied in several articles that the Baron had sex with/was seduced by his mother before strangling her.
- Voice of the Legion: The billions of ego memories within genetic memory-awakened individuals can appear like this, especially to the pre-born.
- World Building: The Encyclopedia adds even more detail to the already rich world of Dune.