The Meaning of Dune's "The Spice Must Flow" Quote

The Meaning of Dune’s “The Spice Must Flow” Quote

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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 talk about it in today’s article.

“The spice must flow” refers to the essential drug of the same name from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It is a phrase from the movie that signified that spice had to remain available, regardless of the circumstances.

In today’s article, we are going to explain the famous “The spice must flow” quote. You are going to find out what it means and why it was so important, as well as whether it’s an original phrase from David Lynch’s 1984 movie or a quote taken from the book series. Enjoy!

What is the meaning of the phrase “The spice must flow”?

David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune was supposed to be a revolutionary movie and another example of Lynch’s amazing artistic skills. Yet, the producers of the movie heavily intervened in Lynch’s unique artistic vision and the movie is today viewed as a complete failure, a movie that even Lynch himself disowned, which is why it is generally credited to Alan Smithee, a made-up pseudonym for movies that their directors no longer want to claim.

And while the movie certainly had some good sides, it was for the most part a chaotic work with no clear direction, which is the result of the producers altering Lynch’s version during and after the production. Still, a very important part of the movie is one quote that, in a way, sums up the movie’s essence. Here is the monologue in question:

And its transcription:

LISTEN TO ME!! The spice must flow… the spice has given me accelerated evolution for four thousand years… it has enabled you to live two hundred years… the spice helps make the sapho juice, which gives the red-lipped mentats the ability to be living computers… the secret side of spice… the water of life.

Dune (1984)

Now, in order to fully understand the meaning of the quote, one has to know what spice is. This is how the unofficial Dune Wikia describes it:

The Spice Melange, commonly referred to simply as ‘the spice’, was a naturally produced awareness spectrum narcotic that formed a fundamental block of commerce and technological development in the known universe for millennia. It also played an important role in travel and cultural development as it is vital for space travel by enabling navigators to safely guide space ships through warp space.

Since its discovery, several thousand years prior to the ascent of House Atreides, it was produced exclusively on the planet Arrakis. This was because the conditions on Arrakis by which melange was created were unique to that planet. However, some 1500 years after the death of the God-Emperor Leto II, the Bene Tleilax had managed to successfully replicate it.

Spice” on Dune Wikia

As you can see, the spice is actually an essential element in Herbert’s Dune and a very powerful substance that is fundamental to Herbert’s fictional universe. Without spice, there would be no Dune. Now, when the phrase actually appears in the movie, as the rest of the monologue explains it, it is used to emphasize the importance of the spice for the functioning of the universe as the characters know it. It is essential in keeping the known balance of power, but also serves as an opiate with addictive qualities.

The phrase “The spice must flow” thus stresses out the importance of the availability of spice. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the sacrifices, the spice must keep flowing, i.e., it has to be available at all costs and at all times.

Who uttered the phrase “The spice must flow”?

The phrase is uttered, as we remember, only once in the movie by the monstrous Guild Navigator as he comes to talk to the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. The Guild Navigator is addicted to spice and thus orders the Emperor to have Paul Atreides killed because he projected that Paul would become a problem in the future.

Does the quote “The spice must flow” appear in the original Dune series?

The phrase “The spice must flow” doesn’t actually appear in the book series by Frank Herbert, meaning that it was an original addition to the movie adaptation. David Lynch wrote the screenplay for the movie so we assume that this phrase is his invention, although it could also be something added during the butchering, um… we mean post-production of the movie.

Although completely original, the phrase does fit Herbert’s general tone and it doesn’t really seem like a foreign body in the movie, as it does reflect the importance of spice and the characters’ desires to have it available. The closest thing we have to that phrase in the books are phrases from these paragraphs:

“A certain amount of killing has always been an arm of business,” the Baron said, “but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Someone must be left to work the spice.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

And:

Paul turned back to look at the Emperor, said: “When they permitted you to mount your father’s throne, it was only on the assurance that you’d keep the spice flowing. You’ve failed them, Majesty. Do you know the consequences?”

(…)

“Stop playing the fool,” Paul barked. “The Guild is like a village beside a river. They need the water, but can only dip out what they require. They cannot dam the river and control it, because that focuses attention on what they take, it brings down eventual destruction. The spice flow, that’s their river, and I have built a dam. But my dam is such that you cannot destroy it without destroying the river.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

So yeah, this is the closest thing to the quote that we have found in the book. They’re not really the same, but their essences are, as they send the same message – the spice must be made available at all time and at all costs.

And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we gave you all the information you were looking for! See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!

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