"His fall was not a small one.
"We did but build his pedestal,
"A narrow and a tall one.
(Warning: Most spoilers below, including ending spoilers, are unmarked, even in the summary.)
Dune Messiah concludes Paul's story, as he came to realize in Dune that prescience is a trap—by seeing into the future, one dooms oneself to live out that vision. Years later, 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:
- Addled Addict: The Fantastic Drugs within the setting of Dune take a toll on people.
- Semuta (a music-based drug) addiction pops up again with Lichna being strung out and barely aware of her surroundings when on it.
- Spice has many positive properties when consumed but the addiction causes many perils. Should Spice production be shut down the withdrawal could kill millions. Edric, and other Guild Steersmen, need to be immersed in it at all times to sustain their powers and their lives. Spice consumption to that degree has mutated them horribly.
- 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..."
- Anti-Magic: Sci-Fi Variation. Paul's future sight is imperfect but provides him with a lot of vision across the universe. However, the Guild Steersmen's own prescience due to excessive spice consumption blocks his vision of them. He can see where they might go and where they've been, but not where they are. During the Jihad Steersmen prevent Paul from finding out where their sanctuaries are and the Guild Navigator Edric is brought in to shield the conspirators who intend to assassinate Paul. Though by the same token the Steersmen are unable to see Paul's present as well.
- Artificial Human: The Ghola Duncan Idaho-Hayt and Bijaz.
- Ascended Extra: Duncan Idaho, in the first book, 'dies' only to become the only character to feature in all six novels of the original series.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Due to the intense religious deification around Paul, there's a common belief that he simply won't die and will ascend to a higher plane of awareness. When Paul leaves them to walk into the desert several speculate that this happened to him."Some of the Fremen back there in the sietch had said Muad'dib would never die, that he had entered the ruh-world where all possible futures existed, that he would be present henceforth in the alam al-mythal, wandering there endlessly even after his flesh ceased to be."
- Back for the Dead: Farok, a Fremen from Stilgar's Sietch, returns for a single chapter. He meets with Scytale to scheme against Paul and gives exposition about how things have changed and how the Fremen struggle to reconcile their new role in the universe. Scytale kills him and his son with a poison dart, before absconding with Lichna, the woman they kidnapped.
- Because Destiny Says So: Used throughout the series, but the particular focal point of this installment.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: The conspiracy to take down Paul is hatched by Edric (representing the Guild), Reverend Mother Gaius (representing the Bene Gesserit) and Scytale (representing the Tleilaxu). Though Scytale is the main force in trying to take Paul down each holds a major role and unite the main factions that oppose the Jihad.
- 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.
- Blind Seer: After Paul loses his sight in an assassination attempt he substitutes his prescient memory of the future instead. He literally knows exactly what's going to happen moment to moment and fits his actions seamlessly into that vision. Later, he chooses to "forget" his vision when overcome with grief over Chani's death, and loses it completely when Leto II takes the oracular reins from him in Children of Dune.
- BrotherSister Incest: Paul and Alia have incestuous overtones. At one point, Alia engages a sparring robot nude, before Paul stops her from almost 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 plays 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.
- Cuckold: When Paul refuses to give Irulan a child, she says she'll find another father and will "Cuckold [him]". Paul doesn't even flinch at the threat.Paul: Cuckold me all you wish, but no child.
- 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.
- Death by Childbirth: Chani
- Deconstructor Fleet: For The Chosen One, the Messianic Archetype, and hero tropes, continuing from Dune.
- Demoted to Extra:
- Chani is physically present for much of the book but has a much less active role in the story than in the previous book. The most important thing she does is die giving birth at the very end.
- Jessica is off-world and only "appears" once via a letter written to Alia.
- The sandworms are mentioned a handful of times and one very briefly appears late in the book, not impacting the story at all.
- Downer Ending: The book can be seen as an extended downer coda to Dune, as in the end Chani is dead and Paul is blind, has lost his prescience and goes into exile to his implied death. It's also only about half as long as Dune, so it may feel like a "final act" at this point of the series.
- 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.
- Electronic Eyes: "Metal Eyes" are a form of augmentation wherein artificial mechanical eyes replace damaged or lost organic ones, allowing for much better vision. Farok explains some of the paranoia about them, with many believing that the eyes end up controling one's mind. When Duncan Idaho is resurrected as Hayt he's given a pair.
- 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.
- FaceHeel Turn: With his ascension to Emperor and the Jihad raging on, several of Paul's allies amongst the Fremen end up turning against him. Farok and Korba were trusted comrades in the original Dune, part of the Fedaykin, but through disillusionment or fanaticism they join the conspiracy against Paul.
- Famous Last Words: Paul's spoken to Tandis before he walks out into the desert to die."Now I am free."
- 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.
- Full-Frontal Assault: At a non-living opponent. Alia feels the need to train while taking a bath, so she gets out and engages her sparring robot with sword and crysknife while still naked. She is found that way by Paul and Stilgar, who interpret it as a (rather disturbing) sign of her sexual awakening.
- 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.
- 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.
- Killed Offscreen: The surviving conspirators, including Greater-Scope Villain of the first two books Reverend Mother Mohiam, are offhandedly revealed to have been executed in the final chapter.
- 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".
- 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.
- Put on a Bus: Jessica and Gurney have moved back to Caladan, not to be seen until the next book.
- The Remnant: The Sardaukar have been reduced significantly after Paul's ascension. There is only one remaining legion after the time skip between this book and Dune and they operate as royal-guard for Emporer Corrino in his exile on Salusa Secundus. Paul admits unease to allowing even a fraction of the group to continue to exist under the fallen Emporer.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sound-Only Death: When Bijaz is killed, only the sounds are described. The scene is from Paul's POV and Paul's future sight is no longer available to him. He only can describe the sounds he is hearing.
- 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).
- Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Chani, though she dies relatively late.
- 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 Scytale.
- 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.
- Virgin Sacrifice: Farok, an elderly Fremen, recounts of old times when they would sacrifice virgins to Shai-hulud. Liet-kynes put a stop to it when he took power and Farok views that as one of many changes that has pushed them away from their roots.
- Xanatos Gambit: The Tleilaxu plan to destabilize the Atreides empire allows victory regardless of exactly how well their Ghola does his job. Ideally, Hayt will regain the real Duncan Idaho's memories and prove to Paul the potential of having a ghola made of Chani after her death, giving the Tleilaxu a massive bargaining chip to leverage the Imperium away from him. But if the real Duncan doesn't return and Hayt murders Paul as ordered, a ghola of Paul will be promised to Alia and there's still a chance she'll take the offer. If either of them don't take the offer, Scytale will simply kill Paul's children and the bloodline will be ended. Of course, Paul is aware of most of this, so it matters a lot less than his enemies think it does.
- You Need to Get Laid: All but invoked by name by Stilgar, when he and Paul catch the fifteen years old Alia sparring a fighting golem...on the highest setting... nude.