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.


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 covered in the novels themselves, such as character biographies and explanations of key elements, including planets, factions like the Bene Gesserit and Mentats, the spice melange, and technology such as heighliners and stillsuits.


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".[3] Additionally, Frank Herbert approved the book, considering it "amusing" and "fascinating".[3] The Encyclopedia was compiled and published 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."[4] 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.[3]

The Dune Encyclopedia is written as an encyclopedia published within the Dune universe itself, edited by "Hadi Benotto",[5] a fictional archaeologist mentioned by Frank Herbert in his novels God Emperor of Dune and Heretics of Dune.[6][7] 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.[5]

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.[8] 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."[8]


Dave Langford reviewed The Dune Encyclopaedia for White Dwarf #61, and stated that "The production is quite impressive, though real or faked photos instead of line-drawings would have added greatly to the "encyclopaedia" look. Whether it's of interest to mere readers is debatable, but garners will be fascinated."[9]

Colin Greenland reviewed The Dune Encyclopedia for Imagine magazine, and stated, "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?"[10]


Relationship with subsequent novels[edit]

Some 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.[citation needed] 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.[12][13][14]

In response to questions over why the new post-Frank Herbert Dune novels conflict 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.[15]


  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. ^ a b c McNelly (1984). Dune Encyclopedia. Cover and Foreword by Frank Herbert.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b McNelly (1984). Dune Encyclopedia. Introduction.
  6. ^ Herbert, Frank (1981). God Emperor of Dune.
  7. ^ Herbert, Frank (1984). Heretics of Dune.
  8. ^ a b "Post by Willis E. McNelly". December 21, 1999. Usenet: Retrieved November 11, 2008.
  9. ^ Langford, Dave (January 1985). "Critical Mass". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (61): 11.
  10. ^ Greenland, Colin (January 1985). "Fantasy Media". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (22): 45.
  11. ^ "The Dune Encyclopedia". Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  12. ^ Liptak, Andrew (September 13, 2016). "The authors of Navigators of Dune on building an epic, lasting world". The Verge. Retrieved July 24, 2019.

    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.

    Anderson, Kevin J. (December 16, 2005). "Dune 7 blog: Conspiracy Theories". Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2008 – via 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.

  13. ^ 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.

    "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.

    "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.)

  14. ^ 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.

    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...'

    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

  15. ^ Herbert, Brian; Kevin J. Anderson, Willis McNelly. "Frequently Asked Questions". (Internet Archive). Archived from the original on June 15, 2008. Retrieved June 15, 2008.