The Dune Chronicles

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The Origins of the Dune Chronicles

Dune, a worldwide bestseller that won the first Nebula Award and also grabbed the Hugo Award for science fiction, both in 1965, once shared the same type of humble beginnings as did many other great works of literature. At the time it was first released, the critics agreed that it was going nowhere. More than a dozen publishers turned it down, saying that Dune was too long, too complicated, or too intricately plotted to publish. One publisher wrote to Frank Herbert saying, "I may be making a serious mistake, perhaps the mistake of the decade, but . . ." and then went on to reject the book. Surprisingly, the only publisher that agreed to run Dune was Chilton Book Company, a publisher of numerous how-to manuals. Sterling Lanier bought the book for the company in 1963, and it was then published in 1965. Seemingly overnight, a miracle happened. Although there was no advertising for the book, it's short supply sold out almost instantly. For the next couple years, Frank Herbert was flooded with bookstore and reader complaints that no one could find any copies for sale. It is from this point on that Dune blossomed, capturing the attention of the science fiction world. Since these bleak early days, Frank Herbert's Dune Chronicles have gone on to sell well over ten million copies worldwide.

Of the many questions that Frank Herbert fielded from his readers shortly after the publishing of Dune, one truly helped this legendary writer realize his success. "Are you trying to start a cult?" many people asked. Frank Herbert's answer: "God no!" So what was he trying to do? According to Mr. Herbert, it was a story of the "myth of the messiah," about why we follow leaders without questions. One of his favorite questions reveals one source of inspiration: "Why do we go to Guinea to drink [poisoned] Kool-Aid?" But obviously, there was more to Dune than this perplexing idea. Why else would major publishing companies refuse to publish it? Frank Herbert used Dune and its five sequels to incorporate at least six other important topics into the story's plot. Taken from "When I was writing Dune," found at the beginning of Heretics of Dune, Mr. Herbert lists these other topics:

  • It was to produce another view of a human-occupied planet as an energy machine.
  • It was to penetrate the interlocked works of politics and economics.
  • It was to be an examination of absolute prediction and its pitfalls.
  • It was to have an awareness drug in it and tell what could happen through dependence on such a substance.
  • Potable water was to be an analog for oil and for water itself, a substance whose supply diminishes each day.
  • It was to be an ecological novel, then, with many overtones, as well as a story about people and their human concerns with human values...

As the plot took shape, Frank Herbert needed a setting. According to a personal friend of his, Mr. Herbert originally planned to set the story on Mars, but that idea was changed as his idea for an ecological novel developed. One experience in his writing career helped him decide upon the novel's home: Arrakis, also known as Dune. For a potential magazine piece about a project by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was studying ways to control the movements of sand dunes, Mr. Herbert went to the coasts of Oregon. Remembering that our Western civilization started in the deserts of the Middle East, he made his decision. "I did what science fiction writers always do--I amplified the idea of desert to a whole planet. That meant I had to go into the history of desert cultures; their survival." Over the next six years, Frank Herbert primarily studied Arabic, and as a result, much of his Dune terminology uses Arabic roots. With the plot and most of the setting finally coming together, the world of Dune began to take shape. As Frank Herbert introduced his novel, he summed up the reasons for its success in the first sentence of the introduction taken from "Manual of Muad'Dib" by Princess Irulan:

A beginning is a time for taking the most delicate care
that the balances are correct.

To learn more about the original 6 Dune books, including where to buy them, visit the Dune Chronicles Index.

Beyond the Original Dune Series
Sequels and Prequels to Dune

Since his untimely death in 1986, people have been wondering if Frank Herbert had been planning to write more Dune books. According to a personal friend of Mr. Herbert, that is very likely. "I suspect that Frank Herbert would have continued to turn out Dune books as long as they sold. I say this because he had told me often that his original conception of the series ended with God Emperor of Dune, and the publishers urged him to continue with the rest of those that were finished."

We now know that Frank Herbert did leave many notes, not only about a 7th book in the Dune series, but also events that would have occurred before the 1st book. It is also interesting to know that Frank Herbert and Dr. Willis E. McNelly, the compiler of the Dune Encyclopedia, discussed writing a prequel to be known as Prologue to Dune: The Butlerian Jihad. This project never got off the ground, unfortunately, due to the sudden appearance of Frank Herbert's fatal pancreatic cancer. Fortunately, Frank Herbert's ideas are still alive. Using the surviving notes, Brian Herbert (Frank's son) and Kevin J. Anderson are in the process of composing a trilogy dealing with the years before Dune. The first book, House Atreides was released in 1999. The second book, House Harkonnen, was released in October 2000. The release of the 3rd and final book in this trilogy, House Corrino is scheduled to be released in October 2001.

The Latest News (11/11/00):

In addition to this trilogy, a new trilogy, called Dune: The Butlerian Jihad is being planned. Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson recently the offer from Tor Books to write about the human revolt against machines that took place thousands of years before Paul Muad'Dib. The tentative titles of the three books (in order) are The Butlerian Jihad, The Machine Crusade, and The Battle of Corrin. No release date has been given.

Finally, both authors plan to conclude the series with the long-awaited sequel to Chapterhouse: Dune. They will be working off of Frank Herbert's original outline. This will be the grand finale for the Dune Chronicles.


Additional Information

The Dune Chronicles Index - These pages contain more information about the books, including brief summaries, a complete list of chapter headings mixed with some good quotes, and detailed information about the various editions of these books.
The Map of Arrakis - This is a large (244K), high-quality map, originally found in most copies of Dune. It has been redrawn as a computer image by me (Alex Dunkel), and was recently colorized by Gully Foyle.
Dune Terminology - This complete list of the Imperial Terminology at the time of Muad'Dib is also taken from Dune, plus it has many similar words connected by hypertext.
related items
Book-related Collectors Items - The first half of the Collectors Corner is dedicated strictly to book-related items, including information about several related books and the Avalon Hill board game.

Other Reviews of Dune

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