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Literature / Dune Messiah

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His third eye's the one that's not blind

"Here lies a toppled god —
"His fall was not a small one.
"We did but build his pedestal,
"A narrow and a tall one.
Tleilaxu Epigram

Dune Messiah is a science-fiction story by Frank Herbert published in 1969. It is the sequel to the popular Dune and the second of the six original Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert.

(Warning: Most spoilers below, including ending spoilers, are unmarked, even in the summary.)

Dune Messiah concludes Paul's story as he comes to realize that prescience is a trap—by seeing into the future, one dooms oneself to live out that vision. In spite of Paul's best efforts to prevent it, the war he began on Arrakis has become an interstellar jihad that has sterilized entire planets and made him one of history's greatest murderers.

As the remaining powers in the galaxy—the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit sisters who control religion, the Bene Tleilaxu masters of genetic engineering, and the children of the deposed Emperor Shaddam, one of whom has been married to Paul for political reasons—begin to conspire against him, his visions grow darker. Paul allows the events of the conspiracy to play out, resulting in his blindness and indirectly, the death of his beloved concubine Chani, while giving birth to his twins.


As the result of their attempt to make Arrakis temperate and verdant, the sandworms are dying—and with their extinction will come the end of the spice, economic collapse, and the extinction of the human race. Ultimately, Paul finds freedom by wandering into the desert to die. But the legend and the myth of Muad'Dib lives on.

Dune Messiah contains examples of:

  • Addiction-Powered: Paul, Alia, The Spacing Guild, The Bene Gesserit, etc.
  • Alternative Calendar: The calender used in the book begins from the establishment of the Spacing Guild's monopoly on space travel, with BG standing for "Before Guild" and AG being "After Guild".
  • A Million Is a Statistic: This is Paul's horror at seeing the future in the first book, which becomes true in the second. There's a scene where he compares himself to Hitler — "He killed more than six million. Pretty good for those days... Statistics: at a conservative estimate, I've killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I've wiped out the followers of forty religions..."
  • Artificial Human: The Ghola Duncan Idaho-Hayt and Bijaz.
  • Ascended Extra: Duncan Idaho, in the first book, actually dies only to become the only character to feature in all six novels of the original series.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Used throughout the series, but the particular focal point of this installment.
  • Big Bad: The Guild/Bene Gesserit/Tleilaxu conspiracy
  • Blessed with Suck: You can see the future. All of it. Every twist, turn, nook, and cranny. There are no surprises. There is no escape. You will never live something that you have not already foreseen. It's even worse for Alia: she has access to the genetic memory of all her ancestors. Unfortunately, this includes her grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.
  • Blind Seer: After Paul loses his sight in an assassination attempt he substitutes his prescient memory of the future.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Paul and Alia have incestuous overtones. At one point, Alia engages a sparring robot nude, before Paul stops her from killing herself. It's certainly not helped by the Bene Gesserit's clear intention to find a way of bargaining for Paul and his sister to produce an heir.
  • The Chosen One: Paul's status as this is secured in Dune and played out to its conclusion in this installment.
  • Copied the Morals, Too: The plot to use the ghola Hayt to assassinate Paul fails because they copied Duncan Idaho's morals too well, including his Undying Loyalty to the Atreides family. This resulted in Hayt not only resisting the trigger command, but reclaiming the full memories of the original Duncan Idaho, something that no ghola had been able to do before.
  • Dark Messiah:
    • Paul appears to be this, but uses all his political and religious power, as well as prescient foresight, to prevent as much harm as he can. But as evidenced by the quote in the above A Million Is a Statistic, this wasn't much.
    • His son, however, more accurately fulfills this role by purposely being as evil as possible.
    • Dune Messiah brings up a dose of realism when Stilgar informs Muad'Dib of the various difficulties that the Fremen, himself included, have had on other planets, especially water-rich planets. Since the Fremen have adapted to an extremely arid and desiccated environment, it makes sense that they would suffer illness and weakness in water-rich environments.
  • 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. Paul and Alia however aren't easily manipulated, though their scheme does cause problems for Paul and Chani.
  • Death by Childbirth: Chani
  • Deconstructor Fleet: For The Chosen One, the Messianic Archetype, and hero tropes as they were established in Dune.
  • Demoted to Extra: Happens quite a fair bit over the course of the series, with Jessica, Gurney, Stilgar and Harah as a few examples (although some of them, like Jessica, are only temporarily demoted).
  • Downer Ending: Almost from the moment he gets his prescience, Paul spends most of his time seeing visions of Fremen screaming his name as they lead a jihad across the known universe, thinking this would be a terrible idea, and trying to prevent it. Not to mention Chani's death. This is all due to another trope: You Can't Fight Fate... that you yourself created. Ouch.
  • Driven to Suicide: Well, not literally suicide, but Paul gives up on life after Chani's death and walks out into the desert to his death.
  • The Empire: The polity that Paul and his Fremen establish throughout the known galaxy in the Jihad, as seen by the Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, the Face Dancers and essentially all the planets the Fremen conquer.
  • Express Delivery: In Dune Messiah, Chani's twins come to term superfast as a side effect of the Spice.
  • Eye Scream: Paul Atreides' eyes are burned out of his face by being too close to the explosion of a stone-burner nuke. It's stated that this is a common use for the stone-burner. Also, many people have their eyes gouged out in fights.
  • Foregone Conclusion: A major theme of Dune Messiah is You Can't Fight Fate, so expect these in spades.
    • The conclusion is hinted at in the second chapter, and by halfway through the novel, the protagonist has a prescient dream in which he foresees the entire rest of the story. The vision guides him even after his eyes get burned out by nuclear radiation. By twenty pages before the climax (a substantial portion of the just 200-page book) it's a definite Foregone Conclusion, except for the Plot Twist in which Paul foresees only the birth of his daughter, and not her far more significant twin brother — because he's the one who will ultimately take the reins of prophecy from Paul.
  • Future Imperfect: Paul has to tell people who Hitler and Genghis Khan were, and clearly has an imperfect understanding himself.
  • Genetic Memory: Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers (and Wild Mothers such as the Fremen's and Rebecca) get genetic memories of all their female ancestors, while 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. The discovery of Ghola memory resurrection is a central plot point.
  • Gender Bender: 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.
  • Hot Consort: Paul ends up marrying Princess Irulan for political reasons, but keeps his true love Chani as royal concubine. This is a source of tension and the reason for Irulan’s scheming as she loves Paul as well and is being pressured by the Sisterhood to bear his child.
  • It Can't Be Helped: Paul says this almost verbatim before heading out to the desert to die.
    There are problems in this universe for which there are no answers. Nothing. Nothing can be done.
  • Kill and Replace: A favorite tactic of Tleilaxu Face Dancer Shape Shifters.
  • Kill Me Now, or Forever Stay Your Hand: Duncan Idaho comes back to life with the help of the Bene Tleilax who brainwash him to kill Paul-Muad'Dib. Paul knows this, and deliberately gives him a chance near the end of the book to kill him. Idaho snaps out of his brainwashing and lets Paul live.
  • Lonely at the Top: Paul at the height of his power has no one to truly understands him, and his love Chani dies in childbirth.
  • Manchurian Agent: Tleilaxu are capable of delivering gholas custom-programmed to act out any desired behavior on the appropriate trigger. This is used with Duncan-Hayt to trigger him to kill Paul.
  • Meaningful Name: Ghanima, Leto II's twin sister. Her name means "spoils of war," because despite his seeing-the-future-vision, he'd never realized his wife was having twins. "Ghanima" also comes with added connotations of an object that is no longer being used for its real purpose—or for any meaningful purpose at all, in fact. Paul was in a weird mood when he named her: he'd just been blinded, and she'd just killed his concubine via Death by Childbirth.
  • Monochromatic 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 Woman's Land:
    • Farok tells Scytale that Fremen sacrificed virgins to Shai-Hulud (a practice Farok wants to see return) before Liet-Kynes abolished the practice.
    • Some Fremen men have no qualms about rape through force or deception. In Dune Messiah, Farok's son gives semuta to Otheym's daughter "in the hope of winning a woman of the [Fremen] for himself despite his blindness." Farok speaks casually about the conquest of Naraj and his son's forced impregnantion of Naraj women.
      Farok: I find it curious, though, to know I have grandchildren on Naraj that I may never see.
  • 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.
  • Once an Episode: The Litany Against Fear, which is recited in its entirely at least once in every one of the original books
  • One-Gender Race: The Tleilaxu (all male). Exactly how this is achieved is eventually revealed with significant squick.
  • The Plan: The Bene Tleilaxu create a ghola of Duncan Idaho to assassinate Paul Muad'Dib. Either he would kill Paul or he would regain all of his memories, something the Bene Tleliaxu have been trying to figure out for ages.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Fremen, deliberately contrasted with the Sardaukar who are more of a Praetorian Guard. Both in turn start out badass but end up succumbing to arrogance and pleasure, allowing them to be overcome by a superior force — Fremen for the Sardukaur, and, well, Leto II for the Fremen.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Paul and his court are very active and very little frivolity takes place.
  • Screw Destiny: Subverted. Paul tries oh so hard to be able to screw destiny, and basically falls into a Despair Event Horizon when he fails. His biggest reasons for trying are the jihad made in his name when he ascends to the throne of Emperor (with BILLIONS of people killed in his name) and the prophecies of the Bene Gesserit that predict that Duke Leto would be completely forgotten by history.
  • Scry vs. Scry:
    • Bonus points for the foresight itself being a trap; seeing a future locks it in among all the possible futures, so it's avoidable unless you know it's coming.
    • Or rather, past events have set up a collision of mutually exclusive forces, and the only place free will has in all that is in how these predestined events will be handled. Paul always refers to the Jihad as necessary, but he usually follows that up by saying that he at least chose the way with less killing.
    • An important point of the early novels is that those that see the future can't see each other, or those directly involved with them. Much of the second novel involves a conspiracy that is kept from Paul by a Guild Navigator's own scrying. It is implied that this is why Paul could not see his future son in his visions, as he is an oracle like his father
  • 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.
  • Sexless Marriage: Much to Irulan's consternation, her marriage to Paul turns out to be this; he considers Chani to be his real wife, in everything but name.
  • Spear Counterpart: The all-male Tleilaxu are eventually revealed to be this to the all-female Bene Gesserit (they also call themselves the Bene Tleilax).
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: This is basically the Modus Operandi of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood — breeding together people with the right genes in order to produce the Kwizatch Haderach... whether that means matchmaking, blackmail, or outright rape is of little concern to them as long as the right children result.
  • Standard Time Units: Years are known as "Standard years", or SY, and are described as being about 20 hours less than the "so-called primitive year".
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Chani. Though she dies relatively late in Dune Messiah.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: a thrown knife is used twice to take out a target without harming others, once to hit the off-switch of a training robot in mid-battle, and once to kill Bijaz.
  • Trilogy Creep: An interesting example. Dune was actually conceived as one long book, with the sequels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune fitting directly after the first. Messiah was fleshed out while writing Dune and eventually became its own novel, which due to its expansion then warranted Children to be expanded as well and also became its own book.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: Dune was originally conceived as one large masterwork, with the two sequels of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune entwined into the story. Considering the original is 412 pages, the second 222, and the third 592, they were obviously split. This creates an interesting case of the first book being easily stand-alone, while the two sequels are more closely connected but can still in a way also be stand-alone. Just kinda hard to say where Two-Part Trilogy begins and Trilogy Creep ends, or even what was intended to be a simple, honest trilogy.
  • Unhappy Medium: Paul Muad'Dib eventually discovers that having prescience is a trap, forcing you into a predetermined path.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: Paul's throne room on Arrakis in Dune Messiah is unnecessarily large for the sole purpose of intimidating his visitors.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Leto II and Ghanima.
  • Up to Eleven: Alia Atreides engages in a sparring match with a mechanical swordsman, which gets faster, and creates more lights (which reflect off its prismatic body to distract its opponent) every time it is struck. It's noted that the greatest swordsmen in the universe can strike it seven times before it becomes too fast to safely continue. Alia manages to strike it eleven times, before Paul stops her by throwing a knife at the off switch, which is on the machine.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The universe features wheels-within-wheels plots and dense mythology, although the poetic descriptions can make the book enjoyable even to those who fail to understand it.
  • Villain Ball: Done deliberately by the Tleilaxu. They mean to leave exploitable loopholes in their schemes, because they believe that perfection can only come from God, and therefore a person attempting perfection would be blaspheming, so therefore they deliberately include flaws in everything they create, just to make sure.
  • You Need to Get Laid: All but invoked by name by Stilgar, when he and Paul catch Alia sparring a fighting golem...on the highest setting...nude.


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