Princess Irulan

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Princess Irulan
Dune character
Princess Irulan-Virginia Madsen (1984).jpg
First appearanceDune (1965)
Last appearanceThe Winds of Dune (2009)
Created byFrank Herbert
Portrayed by
In-universe information
AffiliationBene Gesserit
House Atreides
FamilyHouse Corrino
SpousePaul Atreides

Princess Irulan /ˈɪrəlɑːn/[1] is a fictional character and member of House Corrino in the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. She first appears in Dune (1965), and is later featured in Dune Messiah (1969) and Children of Dune (1976). The character's birth and early childhood are touched upon in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999–2001) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, and she is a principal character in the Herbert/Anderson series Heroes of Dune (2008–2009). Irulan has also appeared in all film and television adaptations of Herbert's Dune works.

The character of Irulan serves as a de facto narrator in Dune, with excerpts of her later writings used as epigraphs before each chapter of the novel. Within the storyline, Irulan is established as the eldest daughter of the 81st Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV and Anirul, a Bene Gesserit of Hidden Rank, and has four younger sisters and no brothers. In Dune, the character appears in person only near the end of the novel, but continues as a regular character in the sequels Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Epigraphs attributed to Irulan also appear—to a much lesser extent—in these subsequent novels, and others in the extended series.

Irulan is portrayed by Virginia Madsen in the 1984 film Dune, and by Julie Cox in the 2000 TV miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune and its 2003 sequel, Frank Herbert's Children of Dune.


Within the storyline, Irulan is established as the eldest daughter of the 81st Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV and Anirul, a Bene Gesserit of Hidden Rank. She has four younger sisters named Chalice, Wensicia, Josifa and Rugi, and no brothers.[2][3][4] In Dune, Irulan is described through Paul Atreides' eyes:[5]

Paul's attention came at last to a tall blonde woman, green-eyed, a face of patrician beauty, classic in its hauteur, untouched by tears, completely undefeated. Without being told it, Paul knew her—Princess Royal, Bene Gesserit-trained, a face that time vision had shown him in many aspects: Irulan. There's my key, he thought.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen later notes that Irulan has eyes "that looked past and through him".[5] In Dune Messiah, the Tleilaxu Face Dancer Scytale refers to Irulan as "a tall blonde beauty ... she carried herself with an aristocrat's hauteur, but something in the absorbed smoothness of her features betrayed the controls of her Bene Gesserit background".[6]

Although Irulan is noted to have been "trained in the deepest of the Bene Gesserit ways, destined to be a Reverend Mother",[5] in the series she never undergoes the dangerous ritual spice agony to achieve this. In Dune Messiah she is noted to have been "well trained for a task at which she had failed, a flawed Bene Gesserit creation".[6] Of Irulan Lady Jessica says in Children of Dune: "Irulan had never been the most accomplished adept in the Bene Gesserit—valuable more for the fact that she was a daughter of Shaddam IV than for any other reason; often too proud to exert herself in extending her capabilities."[7]



Each chapter of Dune begins with an epigraph attributed to the Princess Irulan. In forms such as diary entries, historical commentary, biography, quotations and philosophy, these writings set tone and provide exposition, context and other details intended to enhance understanding of Herbert's complex fictional universe and themes. Irulan herself appears in person only near the end of the novel.[5][8][9][10]

Prior to Dune, Duke Leto Atreides' power and influence had grown in the Landsraad, making him a threat to Shaddam. Irulan writes:

My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. He led me down the Hall of Portraits to the ego-likeness of the Duke Leto Atreides. I marked the strong resemblance between them—my father and this man in the portrait—both with thin, elegant faces and sharp features dominated by cold eyes. Princess-daughter, my father said, I would that you'd been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman. My father was 71 at the time and looking no older than the man in the portrait, and I was but 14, yet I remember deducing in that instant that my father secretly wished the Duke had been his son, and disliked the political necessities that made them enemies.

— In My Father's House by the Princess Irulan[5]

Subsequently in Dune, Shaddam orchestrates a plot to destroy the Duke Leto, with the eager aid of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and his twisted Mentat Piter De Vries; House Harkonnen and House Atreides have been bitter enemies for millennia, since the Battle of Corrin that ended the Butlerian Jihad. The plot against the Atreides is executed: lured to the desert planet Arrakis on the pretense of taking over the valuable melange operation there, the Atreides are soon attacked by Harkonnen forces (secretly supplemented by Shaddam's seemingly unstoppable Imperial Sardaukar). Leto is killed, and Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother Jessica flee into the desert and are presumed dead. A crisis on Arrakis begins when the mysterious Muad'Dib, in actuality Paul Atreides, emerges as a leader of the native Fremen tribes against the rule of the Harkonnens.

The situation finally breaks on Arrakis and Shaddam is forced to personally intervene. Irulan accompanies her father and his army to the desert planet as he seeks to restore order and the disrupted production of the all-important spice melange. After Shaddam's Sardaukar are disastrously defeated by the Fremen assault, Paul sets his terms: the Imperial armada will leave Arrakis, Shaddam will step down and Paul will marry Irulan — or he will destroy all spice production. Shaddam is furious; Irulan says: "But here's a man fit to be your son."[5] Once Paul defeats the Baron's treacherous heir Feyd-Rautha in single combat, and Count Fenring refuses the Emperor's order to kill Paul, it is done — Paul will ascend the throne in Shaddam's place, assuming power of the Empire in Irulan's name. Jessica sums it up thus:

See that princess standing there, so haughty and confident. They say she has pretensions of a literary nature. Let us hope she finds solace in such things; she'll have little else ... Think on it, Chani: that princess will have the name, yet she'll live as less than a concubine — never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she's bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine—history will call us wives.[5]

Dune Messiah[edit]

Dune Messiah rejoins the story 12 years later. Irulan is Imperial Consort, but is Paul's wife in name only, as he intends his beloved concubine Chani to bear his children and heirs apparent. Any hope Irulan has of bearing a new Atreides-Corrino royal bloodline with Paul — and retaining the Imperial House Corrino's influence in some form—has been lost. She is also under pressure from the Bene Gesserit, who seek to preserve the Atreides bloodline, if not subvert Paul's rule entirely.[6]

Princess Irulan from Frank Herbert's 1985 work of short fiction "The Road to Dune"[11]

This resentment, coupled with Bene Gesserit orders that Paul not be allowed to father an heir with Chani, has driven Irulan to secretly drug the Fremen woman with dangerous contraceptives for years. As a result, the new Emperor and his concubine are without children. When Chani begins a special Fremen fertility diet high in melange, Irulan loses her ability to administer the contraceptives; though urged by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Mohiam to chemically abort any potential fetus, Irulan protests. Irulan does, however, become part of a conspiracy against the Emperor involving the Bene Gesserit, Tleilaxu, and Spacing Guild. Paul says of her at this time:

That's a real princess down the hall. She was raised in all the nasty intrigues of an Imperial Court. Plotting is as natural to her as writing her stupid histories![6]

Despite her ties to both the Bene Gesserit and her deposed father, Paul values Irulan as an advisor and has made her a member of his high council. Chani ultimately discovers not only Irulan's role in her infertility but the fact that the contraceptives have caused permanent damage and will jeopardize her current pregnancy. Chani seeks to kill Irulan, but Paul forbids it; he is secretly somewhat grateful to Irulan, as he has seen through his prescience that childbirth will bring Chani's death, and so Irulan has unwittingly extended Chani's life. Chani dies after giving birth to Paul's twin children, Leto II and Ghanima, and a newly blinded Paul soon thereafter wanders alone into the desert to die, as is Fremen custom for the blind. Subsequently Paul's sister Alia notes, "Do you know what I must do for [Paul]? I must save the life of the Princess Irulan. That one! You should hear her grief. Wailing, giving moisture to the dead; she swears she loved him and knew it not. She reviles her Sisterhood, says she'll spend her life teaching Paul's children ... She reeks of trustworthiness!" The ghola Duncan Idaho realizes that the defection of Irulan leaves the Bene Gesserit with "no remaining lever against the Atreides heirs."[6]

Children of Dune[edit]

Deserting the Bene Gesserit, Irulan subsequently devotes herself to House Atreides and helping to raise Paul and Chani's orphaned twins. Meanwhile, Irulan's sister Wensicia plots to assassinate Leto and Ghanima to reclaim power for the Corrinos. Irulan also serves as chief advisor to Alia, who reigns as Holy Regent for young Leto and Ghanima. During the events of Children of Dune, Irulan attempts to serve as a guide and confidante to Ghanima, but is often flustered by the adult consciousness the twins possess as a result of being pre-born and having access to Other Memory. Ghanima cares for Irulan, but Alia never trusts the Princess, due to Irulan's Corrino heritage and Alia's own increasing paranoia. This personal distrust proves to be well-placed, as Irulan follows Ghanima and Stilgar into the desert during the Fremen rebellion against Alia's tyranny. Though the other rebels are massacred, Irulan and Stilgar are imprisoned upon their capture, and presumably freed when Leto deposes Alia.[7]

Other novels[edit]

Irulan appears briefly as a child in Dune: House Corrino (2001), the third novel in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, set prior to Dune.

Irulan is a principal character in the Heroes of Dune duology of novels by Brian Herbert and Anderson. Half of the story of Paul of Dune (2008) takes place between Frank Herbert's Dune and Dune Messiah.[12][13][14][15] Irulan decides to become Paul's official biographer, shaping his legend.[12][13][15][16] In the story, as Paul's Jihad rages, Shaddam seeks to regain his throne, and Irulan accepts the "task of building the legend of Muad'Dib". The other half of the novel is Irulan's chronicle of Paul's early years, between House Corrino and Dune.[13][14][15] The Winds of Dune (2009) is set between Frank Herbert's Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.[17] In the novel, Paul's disappearance into the desert has left a power vacuum, and Irulan and his other advisors struggle to determine what path his empire should take.[18]

Works attributed to Irulan[edit]

Excerpts from the following fictional works written by Irulan appear in the form of epigraphs in Dune, as well as (to a lesser extent) other novels in the series:

  • A Child's History of Muad'Dib
  • Analysis: The Arakeen Crisis
  • Arrakis Awakening
  • Collected Legends of Arrakis
  • Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib
  • Conversations with Muad'Dib
  • Count Fenring: A Profile
  • Dictionary of Muad'Dib
  • The Humanity of Muad'Dib
  • In My Father's House
  • Lecture to the Arrakeen War College
  • The Lens of Time
  • Lessons of the Great Revolt
  • Manual of Muad'Dib
  • Muad'Dib: Conversations
  • Muad'Dib, Family Commentaries
  • Muad'Dib, The Man
  • Muad'Dib: The Ninety-Nine Wonders of the Universe
  • Muad'Dib: The Religious Issues
  • Paul of Dune
  • Private Reflections on Muad'Dib
  • Songs of Muad'Dib
  • The Wisdom of Muad'Dib
  • Words of Muad'Dib

In adaptations[edit]

Irulan is portrayed by Virginia Madsen in the 1984 film Dune,[19] and by Julie Cox in the 2000 TV miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune[20] and its 2003 sequel, Frank Herbert's Children of Dune.[21]

Dune (1984)[edit]

David Lynch's 1984 film recreates Irulan's narrative function literally; Irulan only appears briefly in person at the beginning and very end, but narrates an introduction to the Dune universe. Madsen said that Helena Bonham Carter was originally cast in the role, but ended up having a scheduling conflict with the film A Room with a View. According to Madsen, there was a "mad scramble" to recast, and she was signed for Dune and two potential sequels. Madsen called the role her "big break" and said: "Really all I had to do was that monologue, and I was really a glorified extra".[22][23]

Frank Herbert's Dune (2000)[edit]

The 2000 miniseries, however, invents an extensive subplot for Irulan.[8][24] Director John Harrison said that he felt the need to expand Irulan's role because she plays such an important part in later books, and her epigraphs make her a significant presence in the novel.[8] Additionally, the character gave him a window into House Corrino.[8] Actress Julie Cox noted that Harrison made Irulan "more of a love interest and to offset the weirdness of Paul marrying a stranger at the end".[25]

In the miniseries, Irulan is sent to Arrakis to confirm Duke Leto's position, the presence of the Princess Royal meant to defray Leto's suspicions about the Emperor's motives. While there, she strikes up a friendship with his son, Paul. After the attack on the Atreides, Irulan immediately realizes that her father is the only one who could have possibly helped the Harkonnens, and expresses her displeasure at being used. Later on, Irulan spies on Reverend Mother Mohiam's clandestine meeting with a Spacing Guild operative; their conversation makes her realize that there is more to what is happening on Arrakis than meets the eye. Under the pretext of being bored, Irulan heads for the Harkonnen homeworld of Giedi Prime and coyly coerces Feyd into confirming her suspicions. As the Fremen uprising grows worse, Irulan ingratiates herself to her father's council and offers valuable military advice. She is the only one of Shaddam's advisers to realize the connection between Muad'Dib and Paul Atreides, the truth of which she reveals to the court upon Alia's capture. Rather than simply agreeing to Paul's demands, it is Irulan who actually suggests their marriage.

Besides the final scene, in which Irulan is betrothed to Paul, her only appearance in the miniseries based on an actual excerpt from the novel is her visit to Feyd. However, in the book it is a different Bene Gesserit, Margot Fenring, who visits the Harkonnen heir, on assignment from the Sisterhood to retrieve his genetic material (through conception) for their breeding program. The miniseries does not suggest this as Irulan's motive, particularly since she hands Feyd off to one of her operatives before he can actually sleep with her.

Emmet Asher-Perrin of called the expansion of Irulan's role in the plot "the smartest change" from the novel. Asher-Perrin noted the importance of Irulan as an expository tool in the miniseries and wrote that "Cox is elegant and cunning with the part, and makes Irulan's own journey every bit as interesting as Paul's on the flip side of the political machine."[26]

Frank Herbert's Children of Dune (2003)[edit]

Cox reprised her role for the 2003 sequel Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, which covers the plot of both Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

Laura Fries of Variety wrote: "[Daniela] Amavia and Cox as the tortured Alia and the put-upon Irulan offer layered performances".[27] Asher-Perrin praised Irulan's "complete character arc" in the miniseries as an improvement to the character's treatment in the source novels,[28] and noted:[28]

There are a few clever changes made in order to connect the two stories better, the primary one being that rather than having Princess Irulan work as a conspirator against Paul alongside the Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, and the Tleilaxu, her sister Wensicia is brought to the fore sooner and given that role. This has two advantages; it means that Irulan's love for Paul doesn't come out of left field the way it does at the end of Dune Messiah, and it means that the story spends more time with Wensicia ... who is played with antagonistic relish by Susan Sarandon.

She also wrote: "There are other moments of perfect execution ... The dual conversations between Irulan and Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam—and later Jessica—are gorgeous, offering subtitles to their sign language while an entirely different conversation plays out in words."[28]


  1. ^ "Audio excerpts from a reading of Dune by Frank Herbert". Retrieved October 6, 2010.
  2. ^ Herbert, Frank (1965). "Appendix IV: The Almanak en-Ashraf (Selected Excerpts of the Noble Houses): SHADDAM IV". Dune.
  3. ^ The Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999–2001) establishes that the former Anirul Sadow-Tonkin is a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, Proctor Superior of the Hidden Noble Rank and Kwisatz Mother.
  4. ^ Herbert, Frank (1965). "In My Father's House (epigraph, Princess Irulan)". Dune. But we denied [Shaddam] a legal son ... My mother obeyed her Sister Superiors where the Lady Jessica disobeyed.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Herbert, Frank (1965). Dune.
  6. ^ a b c d e Herbert, Frank (1969). Dune Messiah.
  7. ^ a b Herbert, Frank (1976). Children of Dune.
  8. ^ a b c d Fritz, Steve (December 4, 2000). "Dune: Remaking the Classic Novel". Archived from the original on March 16, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2008 – via
  9. ^ Edison, David (February 3, 2014). "Quotes from the End of the World". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  10. ^ "Collected Sayings of Princess Irulan". Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  11. ^ Herbert, Frank (1985). "The Road to Dune". Eye. p. 206. ISBN 0-7434-3479-X. This authentic visage of the Princess Irulan, Muad'Dib's virgin consort, should be committed to memory before your walking tour of Arrakis. The pilgrim should beware of false images. You will be beset by tradesmen hawking such mementoes. Irulan authorized only this portrait for official sale to pilgrims.
  12. ^ a b Anderson, Kevin J. (August 5, 2006). "Dune 7 blog". Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  13. ^ a b c "Interview with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson". Mir Fantastiki. 2004. Archived from the original on January 19, 2005. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  14. ^ a b Ascher, Ian (2004). "Kevin J. Anderson Interview". Archived from the original on July 3, 2007. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  15. ^ a b c Adams, John Joseph (August 9, 2006). "New Dune Books Resume Story". Archived from the original on February 24, 2009. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  16. ^ Herbert, Brian; Kevin J. Anderson (2008). Paul of Dune.
  17. ^ Anderson, Kevin J. (November 29, 2009). "Dune blog: Official Story Chronology". Archived from the original on November 28, 2013. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
  18. ^ Herbert, Brian; Kevin J. Anderson (2009). The Winds of Dune.
  19. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 14, 1984). "Movie Review: Dune (1984)". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2010.
  20. ^ Stasio, Marilyn (December 3, 2000). "Cover Story: Future Myths, Adrift in the Sands of Time". The New York Times. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  21. ^ Wertheimer, Ron (March 15, 2003). "Television Review: A Stormy Family on a Sandy Planet". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  22. ^ "Virginia Madsen on Dune". DuneInfo. September 11, 2016. Retrieved July 16, 2018 – via YouTube.
  23. ^ Jackson, Matthew (November 22, 2019). "12 Epic Facts About David Lynch's Dune". Mental Floss. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  24. ^ Dagan, Carmel (November 29, 2000). "Frank Herbert's Dune". Variety. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  25. ^ Paterson, Robert (November 30, 2000). "Dune's Princess Irulan Speaks". Archived from the original on August 20, 2001. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  26. ^ Asher-Perrin, Emmet (May 9, 2017). "Syfy's Dune Miniseries is the Most Okay Adaptation of the Book to Date". Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  27. ^ Fries, Laura (March 11, 2003). "Review: Children of Dune". Variety. Archived from the original on August 21, 2015. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  28. ^ a b c Asher-Perrin, Emmet (September 19, 2017). "SyFy's Children of Dune Miniseries Delivers On Emotion When Philosophy Falls Flat". Retrieved February 20, 2019.