Published in 1965, Frank Herbert’s novel Dune has become one of the most popular and most influential sci-fi works in the history of the genre. The story follows young Paul Atreides and his quest to save the planet Arrakis from different fractions – most notably the Harkonnens – who want to exploit the melange, which is present only on that planet. Dune is a must-read for all fans of science fiction and we’re going to be talking about its characters in our article.
The novel Dune, by Frank Herbert, was published in 1965 and has since become a timeless sci-fi classic. The novel won the Hugo Award and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966, and has since become the best-selling science fiction novel in history.
It is also the beginning of a whole literary franchise written by Frank Herbert (6 novels, one short story) and his son Brian Herbert, who collaborated with Kevin J. Anderson. Dune has inspired a lot of derivative material, including two television shows, video games, board games and movies.
The first Dune movie was David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation which has since become one of the most controversial adaptations in history, with Lynch even denouncing the work because the studio gave him little to no creative control over the final product; the movie was a critical and commercial flop.
A new adaptation, directed by Denis Villeneuve and with an ensemble cast, is to be released in 2020.
We’ve given you an introduction, now let us see our list of the best Dune characters from worst to best.
While composing our list, we wanted to give you a sense of the importance these characters had for the Dune and its narratives. We’ve, of course, concentrated only on the major characters in the novels, focusing on their role in the story, their importance for the plot and their general likeability, since those are the best criteria we could think of when creating our list.
Now, let us see the list.
We’re starting our list with one of the principal antagonists in the Dune franchise, Feyd-Rautha. He is the younger nephew and the presumptive heir of Baron Harkonnen, actually being the younger child of the Baron’s demibrother, Abulurd Rabban, who had renounced the Harkonnen name and cut ties with the family.
The Baron favours Feyd over his older brother, Glossu Rabban (“The Beast”), opting for him to inherit his title. He was raised in the Harkonnen tradition of sadism and cruelty, although physically – he is a complete contrast of his morbidly obese and ugly uncle.
He is known for his lust for power, which is why he even tried to assassinate his protective uncle, but failed; the Baron forgave him and told him that he would voluntarily step down from the throne if his plan to depose of the Emperor succeeds, but made him kill all of his lovers as a punishment for his failure.
At the end of the novel, Feyd-Rautha battles Paul Atreides for the throne of the Known Univers in the ritual kanly. Feyd, not unexpectedly, cheats and tries to kill Paul, but the young usurper was ready for that and managed to defeat and kill Feyd in combat.
Feyd-Rautha was played by Sting in Lynch’s 1984 movie and by Matt Keeslar in the 2000 miniseries.
9. Gurney Halleck
This “ugly lump of a man“, as he is described in the novel, was one of the most loyal members of Duke Leto’s court. He was the Atreides’ Warmaster and a very skilled musician; in fact, he was so skilled in both elements that Duncan Idaho once said of him: “He could be killing you while he was singing and never miss a note.”
Skilled in the use of the baliset, he was young Paul’s weapons teacher. He was the best fighter in the whole franchise and a very few characters could last more than a few moments in a fight against him. Physically, he is characterised by a scar on his jawline, inflicted on him by Glossu Raban in the Harkonnen slave pits.
Gurney was a loyal friend to Duke Leto and Lady Jessica, and it is even suggested that he became Lady Jessica’s lover after the Duke’s death, although that has never been fully confirmed. He plays a smaller role in the subsequent novels, becoming an advisor to Leto II.
He was played by Patrick Stewart in the 1984 movie and by P.H. Moriarty in the 2000 miniseries. Josh Brolin is going to portray the characters in Villeneuve’s 2020 adaptation.
8. Piter De Vries
Piter De Vries is the sadistic mentant — a human specially trained to perform mental functions rivaling computers, which are forbidden universe-wide — in service of the Harkonnen family.
He was created by the Bene Tleilax, who also altered his nature to make him a sadist. He was a very skilled mentant, his only mistake ever being when he predicted that Lady Jessica would bear a daughter and not a son to Duke Leto.
De Vries was a loyal servant to the Baron, even matching the Baron’s extreme sadism. He is also known for creating a “residual poison”, a very strong toxin that remains in the body and requires regular doses of an antidote; the Harkonnens used this toxin to poison Thufir Hawat, the Atreides’ mentant.
He is also responsible for breaking dr. Yueh’s conditioning and making him betray the House Atreides.
De Vries is accidentally killed when Duke Leto bites down on the false tooth containing poison gas, implanted in him by dr. Yueh; the intended victim, Baron Harkonnen, managed to escape the gas, but De Vries dies.
Brad Dourif played Peter De Vries in Lynch’s 1984 Dune movie. In the 2000 miniseries, De Vries was played by Jan Unger. David Dastmalchian is set to play the character in Villeneuve’s 2020 adaptation.
7. Wellington Yueh
The trusted Suk doctor of the House Atreides, dr. Wellington Yueh was a skilled physician and the personal physician of Duke Leto Atreides. He has been conditioned (Suk Imperial Conditioning) to never inflict harm; it has been said that this conditioning is so strong that nothing could break it.
Wanting to destroy the House Atreides, Baron Harkonnen needed a spy within the House and with the aid of his sadistic servant, Piter De Vries, he manages to find one in dr. Yueh. De Vries managed to find a way how to break the conditioning without killing dr. Yueh and so he did, forcing the doctor to obey the Baron, who had also kidnapped the doctor’s wife and threatened to torture her.
Dr. Yeuh implants a fake tooth with poison gas in the Duke’s mouth and delivers him to the Baron, wanting to kill the latter in the process. De Vries soon kills dr. Yueh and the Duke bite down on the tooth. The Baron escaped, but the Duke and De Vries died in the process. His story was further expanded in the subsequent novels.
He was played by Dean Stockwell in Lynch’s movie and by Robert Russell in the 2000 miniseries. Chang Chen is going to portray him in the 2020 Dune movie.
6. Leto II Atreides
Leto II Atreides was the son of Paul Atreides and Chani. He was named after his grandfather and was the second of Paul’s children to have been named Leto; the first one was killed as an infant.
He is regarded as a highly controversial figure within the Dune franchise. After the death of his aunt, the regent Alia Atreides, Leto II rose to power and proclaimed himself Emperor.
His supporters perceived him as a godly, divine figure, while his enemies and critics called him the “Tyrant of the Known Universe”. He ruled his Empire with an iron fist, but rationalized that he had to do it for the survival of his people. In the later years of his reign, he transformed into a human-sandworm hybrid which significantly increased his powers and abilities.
Following his death, the universe fell into chaos until Sheeana appeared and managed to control the reappearing sandworms.
Leto II appeared only in the 2003 miniseries Frank Herbert’s Children of the Dune, where he was played by James McAvoy.
5. Duncan Idaho
Duncan Idaho is a badass swordmaster exceptionally loyal to the House Atreides. He is described as an exceptionally handsome man and was regarded as a ladies man. Along with Gurney Halleck and Thufir Hawas, he was the right-hand man of Duke Leto Atreides and one of Paul’s principal teachers.
He was an exceptionally strong and skilled fighter and was exceptionally loyal to the House Atreides and played a large role in the Dune sequels, unlike some of his comrades, despite his death.
Duncan Idaho died at the end of the Dune novel while fighting the Emperor’s Sardaukar. He was able to single-handedly defeat an unbelievable 19 Sardaukar, the feared supersoldiers of the Padishah Emperor, before ultimately dying from a blow to the head by one of the Sardaukar.
He was revived on several occasions and did, indeed, play a large role in the series as a hola.
Duncan Idaho appeared in all four adaptations of the Dune. In David Lynch’s 1984 movie, he was played by Richard Jordan. James Watson portrayed the character in the 2000 miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune, while Edward Atterton took over the role for the Frank Herbert’s Children of the Dune miniseries. Jason Momoa is set to appear as Duncan Idaho in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
4. Duke Leto Atreides
Duke Leto I Atreides, also known as Leto the Just, is one of the principal characters in the Dune franchise. He is the leader of the House Atreides, who has been given administration (fief) of the melange-producing planet Arrakis.
He was a just and peace-loving ruler, but was despised by the evil Baron Harkonnen who wanted to dispose of him. The Baron manipulated the Duke’s physician, dr. Yueh, who implanted a fake tooth filled with poison gas into Leto’s mouth.
When Leto bit down on the tooth, the gas killed him and the Baron’s sadistic servant, Piter De Vries, but not the Baron, who managed to escape. His legacy was continued by his son, Paul Atreides.
Leto remains one of the most important and influential characters within the whole Dune franchise, despite dying in the first novel.
German-American actor Jürgen Prochnow portrayed Duke Leto in David Lynch’s Dune in 1984. In the 2000 miniseries, a long-time sci-fi fan, William Hurt, portrayed Duke Leto and was the first actor cast for the miniseries. As for Denis Villeneuve’s 2020 Dune movie, Duke Leto is going to be played by Oscar Isaac.
3. Baron Harkonnen
The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is the penultimate ruler of the House Harkonnen and the principal antagonist of the Dune novel. He is a morbidly obese, horrendously disfigured sadist who wanted to eliminate the House Atreides and Duke Leto, claiming the Empire for himself.
He devised a plan to destroy the House Atreides and gain control of Arrakis, which set in motion the events of the Dune novel. He is portrayed as a true villain, a sadist, a rapist, and a murderer, but the biggest reveal was that he was the actual father of Lady Jessica, which in turn meant that he was the grandfather of Paul Atreides.
Lady Jessica was the Baron’s secret daughter, and no one was really aware of this fact, not even him. He died after being poisoned by Paul’s younger sister, Alia, his own granddaughter, but his legacy continued. He also played a substantial role in the prequel novels.
Kenneth McMillan portrayed the Baron Harkonnen in David Lynch’s 1984 Dune movie. Ian McNeice played the role in both Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000) and in Frank Herbert’s Children of the Dune (2003). Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård is set to appear as the Baron in the 2020 Dune movie.
2. Lady Jessica
Lady Jessica of the Atreides is a female protagonist of the Dune franchise. She was the concubine of Duke Leto Atreides and the mother of Paul and Alia Atreides. She was also a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. Her role in the story is pivotal and she has played a substantial, mentor-like role in both Dune and Children of the Dune, with her story being further examined in other novels from the series.
She was, unknowingly to her or anyone else, the secret daughter of Baron Harkonnen, passing on the Harkonnen gene to her own children. This is why Alia Atreides, possessed by Vladimir Harkonnen, tried to destroy the House Atreides after the Baron’s death. After Paul’s presumed death, she took care of her grandchildren.
Lady Jessica was portrayed Francesca Annis in Lynch’s 1984 Dune movie. In the two miniseries, she was played by Saskia Reeves (2000) and Alice Krige (2003). Rebecca Ferguson is set to appear as Lady Jessica in the 2020 movie.
1. Paul Atreides
The central character of the whole franchise, Paul Atreides was the son of Duke Leto and Lady Jessica.
He was the heir to the House Atreides but lost all power when the Baron Harkonnen killed his father, after which Paul fled to the desert. There, Paul met the Fremen tribe and survived drinking the Water of Life; this transformed him into a god-like messiah in the eyes of the Fremen, who swore absolute loyalty to him. He returned as Paul Muad’Dib and defeated the Harkonnens, eventually becoming the Emperor.
He ruled the Empire like a tyrant, even instigating – although reluctantly, a bloody jihad in his name, which eventually pacified the universe, but killed billions of people. Seeing what he has become and observing his powers weaken, Paul gave up the throne to his sister and returned to the desert, seemingly dying there.
But a mysterious blind figure, led by a boy, soon appeared and started urging for an uprising against the rule of Paul’s sister, Alia, who was manipulated by the then-dead Baron Harkonnen, who was her grandfather.
The Preacher, as he was called, was actually Paul Atreides and he helped his son, Leto II, take down Alia, who eventually committed suicide. Paul was ultimately killed by Alia’s priests in Arrakeen.
He remains a very controversial figure within the franchise, with his actions and rule being subject to frequent interpretations.
Kyle MacLachlan portrayed Paul in David Lynch’s 1984 movie. In the two miniseries, Alec Newman played Paul Atreides (2000) and The Preacher persona (2003). Timothée Chalamet is going to play Paul in the 2020 Dune movie.
And this is our list of the best characters from Frank Herbert’s Dune franchise. We hope you found the list interesting and informative and that you’ll keep following us! See you next time!