The Dune Encyclopedia

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The Dune Encyclopedia
First edition cover
AuthorWillis E. McNelly
IllustratorMatt Howarth, et al.
CountryUnited States
SeriesDune franchise
GenreScience fiction
Media typePrint (Paperback)

The Dune Encyclopedia is a 1984 collection of essays written by Willis E. McNelly and multiple other contributors as a companion to Frank Herbert's Dune series of science fiction novels. Though approved by Herbert, his own introduction rendered the Encyclopedia non-canon. This was reasserted by the Herbert estate after the 1999 publication of the prequel novel Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.


The Dune Encyclopedia, written by McNelly and 42[1] other contributors as a companion to the Dune series, was published in paperback in 1984.[2] It describes in great detail many aspects of the Dune universe not found in the novels themselves, such as biographies of the major characters, the languages of Fremen,[3][4] Galach,[5] and Spacing Guild[6] (including alphabets and pronunciation), and shortened summaries of the plots of the novels. The encyclopedia also includes explanations of the armies, major schools (Bene Gesserit,[7] Mentats,[8] etc.), and major industries (including the spice melange),[9] as well as descriptions of future technologies and artwork on the major characters and concepts of the novels.

Canon status[edit]

The Dune Encyclopedia was published by Berkley Books, an imprint of Putnam, the publisher of all of Frank Herbert's Dune novels; the cover called the work "complete" and "authorized."[10] Additionally, Frank Herbert approved the book, considering it "amusing" and "fascinating."[10] The Encyclopedia was compiled and published some time between God Emperor of Dune (1981) and Heretics of Dune (1984), and Herbert "read large portions of God Emperor of Dune, then in the final stages, to McNelly during the compiling of the volume so that McNelly could keep abreast of developments."[11] However, Herbert did not hesitate to render it erroneous through later developments in his Dune series. Herbert himself wrote the foreword for the Encyclopedia (dated November 1983), which noted:

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.[10]

The nature of The Dune Encyclopedia makes its canonical status somewhat unusual; the book is written as an encyclopedia published within the Dune universe itself, edited by "Hadi Benotto,"[12] a fictional archaeologist mentioned by Frank Herbert in his novels God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune.[13][14] Rather than claiming to contain absolute fact about this universe, the Introduction by Benotto notes that "Readers of The Dune Encyclopedia should understand its limitations: it is not designed as a definitive study of the entire eras encompassed by the Atreides Imperium" and that a portion of the (fictional) source material is shaped by the interests and influences of the God Emperor Leto II.[12] In that much of the information (such as the biographical or historical) may then be seen as a possible later interpretation by "historians," within the Dune universe, The Dune Encyclopedia could conceivably be held canon while agreeing that some of its information directly contradicts Herbert's works.

In 1999, McNelly stated that he had proposed to Frank Herbert that they collaborate on a Dune prequel novel, expanding upon the Butlerian Jihad story presented in The Dune Encyclopedia.[15] He noted, "FH and I had discussed writing it together and he agreed with my general plot outline, completed first chapter, and so on but his untimely death prevented us from continuing."[15]

Many of the ideas in The Dune Encyclopedia were contradicted in the later Dune prequel series of novels (1999–present) written after Frank Herbert's death by his son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, as well as their sequel novels Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007), which complete the original series. Brian Herbert and Anderson have stated repeatedly that in writing the sequel and prequel novels, they used Frank Herbert's own notes found after his death.[16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

In response to questions over why the new post-Frank Herbert Dune novels conflicted with The Dune Encyclopedia, the book was declared non-canon on the official Dune website in a letter credited to McNelly, Brian Herbert, and Anderson:

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.[25]

Selected content[edit]

The Dune Encyclopedia is written in the form of an encyclopedia within the fictional Dune universe, often citing fictional written works. No reference is made to which information is taken directly from the works of Frank Herbert himself, and which has been invented.

The Encyclopedia presents extensive, alternate biographies for key characters not developed in Frank Herbert's original series, including Princess Irulan,[26] Count Fenring,[27] and Margot, Lady Fenring,[28] Anirul,[29] and Reverend Mother Mohiam.[30] In the case of Mohiam, the Encyclopedia makes the controversial claim that she is secretly the mother of Lady Jessica.[30][31] This was later rendered canon in the Prelude to Dune series; according to authors Brian Herbert and Anderson, this fact was pulled directly from Frank Herbert's working notes for the original Dune series.[32]

In the Encyclopedia, the Butlerian Jihad is attributed to Jehanne Butler, a Bene Gesserit whose developing fetus is therapeutically aborted due to apparent birth defects.[33] She soon discovers that her child had in fact been healthy, but that the hospital director, the first self-programming computer on the planet, had been secretly carrying out a policy of unjustified abortions.[33] This triggers further investigation into the extent to which such machines had been controlling society and altering the emotional and intellectual characteristics of planetary populations over a course of centuries.[34] A religious backlash incites a formal jihad.[34] In the Legends of Dune prequel series (2002-2004), the Jihad is ignited by the murder of Manion Butler, the young son of public figure Serena Butler, by the independent robot Erasmus.[35][36]

Similarly, the Encyclopedia credits the discovery of the Holtzman effect to Ibrahim Vaughn Holtzman, a genius whose brain had been transplanted into a machine;[37] Legends of Dune chronicles the development of the effect's applications after its discovery by Tio Holtzman.[36] Included in the Encyclopedia is an invented list of Great Houses supposedly in existence at the beginning of Paul Atreides' reign as Emperor; the list includes House Ordos,[38] a House which does not appear in any canon Dune work but was later used by Westwood Studios for their Dune video games. The Encyclopedia also invents a list of all Emperors of the Known Universe back to the creation of the Empire.[39]


Colin Greenland reviewed The Dune Encyclopedia for Imagine magazine, and stated that "Unlike existing reader's guides to the worlds of Tolkien and others, The Dune Encyclopedia is itself a work of fiction, rich in imaginary footnotes and learned sources, and 'newly discovered information'. Herbert himself is (of course) delighted, but promises 'Issues still to be explored as the Chronicles unfold'. Where will it end?"[40]


  1. ^ McNelly, Willis E. (June 1, 1984). "CONTRIBUTORS". The Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 525–526. ISBN 0-425-06813-7.
  2. ^ The Dune Encyclopedia was also released in hardcover by Putnam Adult a month later, July 13, 1984 (ISBN 0-399-12950-2)
  3. ^ McNelly (1984). "FREMEN LANGUAGE". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 234–247.
  4. ^ McNelly (1984). "CHAKOBSA". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 155–156.
  5. ^ McNelly (1984). "GALACH". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 258–261.
  6. ^ McNelly (1984). "SPACING GUILD". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 461–469.
  7. ^ McNelly (1984). "BENE GESSERIT". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 110–137.
  8. ^ McNelly (1984). "MENTATS". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 376–385.
  9. ^ McNelly (1984). "MELANGE". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 374–376.
  10. ^ a b c McNelly (1984). Dune Encyclopedia. Cover; Foreword by Frank Herbert.
  11. ^ Touponce, William F. (1988). "Herbert's Reputation". Frank Herbert. Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers imprint, G. K. Hall & Co. p. 124. ISBN 0-8057-7514-5.
  12. ^ a b McNelly (1984). Dune Encyclopedia. Introduction.
  13. ^ Herbert, Frank (1981). God Emperor of Dune.
  14. ^ Herbert, Frank (1984). Heretics of Dune.
  15. ^ a b "Post by Willis E. McNelly". December 21, 1999. Usenet: Retrieved November 11, 2008.
  16. ^ Liptak, Andrew (September 13, 2016). "The authors of Navigators of Dune on building an epic, lasting world". The Verge. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
  17. ^ Quinn, Judy (November 17, 1997). "Bantam Pays $3M for Dune Prequels by Herbert's Son". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2014. The new prequels ... will be based on notes and outlines Frank Herbert left at his death in 1986.
  18. ^ "Dune 7 blog: Conspiracy Theories". December 16, 2005. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2008. Frank Herbert wrote a detailed outline for Dune 7 and he left extensive Dune 7 notes, as well as stored boxes of his descriptions, epigraphs, chapters, character backgrounds, historical notes—over a thousand pages worth.
  19. ^ Neuman, Clayton (August 17, 2009). "Winds of Dune Author Brian Herbert on Flipping the Myth of Jihad". AMC. Archived from the original on September 21, 2009. Retrieved June 16, 2020. I got a call from an estate attorney who asked me what I wanted to do with two safety deposit boxes of my dad's ... in them were the notes to Dune 7—it was a 30-page outline. So I went up in my attic and found another 1,000 pages of working notes.
  20. ^ "Before Dune, After Frank Herbert". 2004. Archived from the original on April 9, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2008. Brian was cleaning out his garage to make an office space and he found all these boxes that had 'Dune Notes' on the side. And we used a lot of them for our House books.
  21. ^ "Interview with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson". 2004. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. Retrieved November 12, 2008. We had already started work on House Atreides ... After we already had our general outline written and the proposal sent to publishers, then we found the outlines and notes. (This necessitated some changes, of course.)
  22. ^ Ascher, Ian (2004). "Kevin J. Anderson Interview". Archived from the original on July 3, 2007. Retrieved July 3, 2007. ... we are ready to tackle the next major challenge—writing the grand climax of the saga that Frank Herbert left in his original notes sealed in a safe deposit box ... after we'd already decided what we wanted to write ... They opened up the safe deposit box and found inside the full and complete outline for Dune 7 ... Later, when Brian was cleaning out his garage, in the back he found ... over three thousand pages of Frank Herbert's other notes, background material, and character sketches.
  23. ^ Adams, John Joseph (August 9, 2006). "New Dune Books Resume Story". Archived from the original on December 19, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2007. Anderson said that Frank Herbert's notes included a description of the story and a great deal of character background information. 'But having a roadmap of the U.S. and actually driving across the country are two different things,' he said. 'Brian and I had a lot to work with and a lot to expand...'
  24. ^ Snider, John C. (August 2007). "Audiobook Review: Hunters of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson". Archived from the original on March 24, 2008. Retrieved February 15, 2009. the co-authors have expanded on Herbert's brief outline
  25. ^ Herbert, Brian; Kevin J. Anderson, Willis McNelly. "Frequently Asked Questions". (Internet Archive). Archived from the original on June 15, 2008. Retrieved June 15, 2008.
  26. ^ McNelly (1984). "ATREIDES-CORRINO, PRINCESS IRULAN". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 103–106.
  27. ^ McNelly (1984). "FENRING, HASIMIR". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 212–215.
  28. ^ McNelly (1984). "FENRING, LADY [MINGUS] MARGOT". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 215–218.
  29. ^ McNelly (1984). "CORRINO, ANIRUL". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 169–172.
  30. ^ a b McNelly (1984). "MOHIAM, REVEREND MOTHER GAIUS HELEN". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 388–392.
  31. ^ McNelly (1984). "ATREIDES-HARKONNEN, JESSICA". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 60–63.
  32. ^ "Chat with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson: Dune: House Harkonnen". (Internet Archive). 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved November 5, 2007.
  33. ^ a b McNelly. Dune Encyclopedia. p. 137.
  34. ^ a b McNelly. Dune Encyclopedia. p. 138.
  35. ^ MacDonald, Rod (January 6, 2009). "Review: Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson". Archived from the original on June 15, 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2010.
  36. ^ a b Herbert, Brian; Kevin J. Anderson (2002–2004). Legends of Dune.
  37. ^ McNelly (1984). "HOLTZMAN, IBRAHIM VAUGHN/HOLTZMAN EFFECT". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 307–314.
  38. ^ McNelly (1984). "GREAT HOUSES, THE". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 273, 278.
  39. ^ McNelly (1984). "EMPERORS OF THE KNOWN UNIVERSE". Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 200–205.
  40. ^ Greenland, Colin (January 1985). "Fantasy Media". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (22): 45.