This December, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic novel Dune will introduce a new generation of moviegoers and science fiction fans to one of the most important literary works of the 20th century. Through Villeneuve’s vision, fans will follow young Paul Atreides on an incredible adventure that begins with his family’s arrival on the desert planet Arrakis, otherwise known as Dune.
Paul and the other members of House Atreides are the focal point within the first part of the story of Dune. So what is House Atreides? Where do they come from and who are they? Allow me to introduce you.
The ancestral home of House Atreides, Caladan was a lush oceanic world that experienced 26 generations of Atreides rule prior to their move to the desert planet Arrakis. Both Duke Leto Atreides and his son Paul Atreides were born on Caladan and ruled over the planet from Castle Caladan. As a fiefdom of House Atreides, the planet was their family’s home for more than 10,000 years.
Caladan was the antithesis to Arrakis in every possible way. Unlike the desert planet, the historic seat of Atreides power was covered in mostly water; vast oceans and rivers along with fairly constant rain created a lush world with an incredibly complex ecosystem supporting a myriad of different plant and animal species. Unlike Arrakis, which produced the most valuable commodity in the known universe, Caladan’s main exports were agricultural — pundi rice and fine wines.
While the inhabitants of Arrakis were extremely hostile, the people of Caladan were a happy, friendly people that enjoyed peaceful lives under House Atreides’ rule. The Atreides’ ancient enemy, House Harkonnen, ruled through fear, subterfuge, and betrayal, while House Atreides ruled through love and kindness, and treated their subjects like family. This difference in leadership provided the Atreides with an fiercely loyal army and citizenship, which made infiltration by external forces extremely difficult.
Duke Leto Atreides
Leto turned a hard stare at Kynes. And Kynes, returning the stare, found himself troubled by a fact he had observed here: This Duke was concerned more over the men than he was over the spice. He risked his own life, and that of his son to save the men. He passed off the loss of a spice crawler with a gesture. The threat to men’s lives had him in a rage. A leader such as that would command fanatic loyalty. He would be difficult to defeat. Against his own will and all previous judgements, Kynes admitted to himself: I like this Duke.
Duke Leto Atreides I, ruler of Caladan and later Arrakis, was a man defined by his love of his son Paul Atreides, his Bene Gesserit concubine the Lady Jessica, and his unwavering commitment to rule through compassion, integrity, and honor.
The Duke’s staunch defense of House Vernius of the planet Ix, combined with his conduct and honesty in front of the the Lansraad council of ruling great houses during the War of Assassins, earned him the title of “Leto the Just.” Leto’s commitment to his people and love of his troops provided him with fiercely loyal subjects committed to protecting their Duke and doing everything possible to see him happy.
Leto met and fell in love with the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica. She would go on to become his official concubine, the love of his life, and the mother of his son, the ducal heir, Paul Atreides. Along with Jessica, a brilliant warrior and strategist in her own right, Leto surrounded himself with the Ginaz Swordmaster Duncan Idaho, the Mentat Master of Assassins Thufir Hawat, and the lethal Warmaster and minstrel, Gurney Halleck.
Leto and his close circle of advisors secretly developed an Atreides battle language and trained a small force of their soldiers to the point that they were capable of rivaling the Emperor’s dreaded elite Sardaukar troops. This coupled with the Padishah Emperor’s growing respect and fear for Leto led to the Duke being assigned the fiefdom of the planet Arrakis, otherwise known as Dune.
The central character that Dune revolves around, Paul Atreides is the son of Duke Leto Atreides and his Bene Gesserit concubine, the Lady Jessica. The young Atreides is unaware of the awesome destiny that awaits him on Arrakis, but he has dreamt many dreams of the desert world and a mysterious girl possessing blue within blue eyes.
Little does Paul know that he would not exist if his mother the Lady Jessica did as she was instructed to by her superiors in the Bene Gesserit sisterhood and bore Duke Leto a female child. This choice by the Lady Jessica, made out of her love for Duke Leto, will eventually send shock waves throughout the entire universe.
Paul grew up surrounded by some of the best military minds and teachers in the known universe. By the young age of 15, Paul’s training from the legendary Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck had turned him into a fierce warrior capable of easily killing most foes. His mother’s Bene Gesserit training, provided to him in secret, granted him superior control control over his body and mind, beyond what most humans would believe possible. It was recently revealed to Paul that the old Mentat assassin Thufir Hawat, a servant of three generations of Atreides, has been training Paul to become a Mentat, a human with a mind able to make computations only the most powerful of computers are capable of.
The young ducal heir feels destiny on the wind and knows a great change is coming, but he could never imagine what awaits him on the sands of Dune.
The Lady Jessica was the official concubine of Duke Leto Atreides I, mother to his son the ducal heir, Paul Atreides, and a member of the powerful Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. Jessica’s past and parents are a mystery to her, all she has known is the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood who raised her from birth.
When she was 21 years old she was presented to Duke Leto Atreides I as a bound concubine by the headmistress of the Bene Gesserit school, Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, one of Jessica’s teachers at the school on Wallach IX. As part of the Bene Gesserit’s top secret millennia spanning breeding program, the Reverend Mother instructed Jessica to bear the Duke a daughter, but Jessica disobeyed her orders out of love for the Duke and bore him the son she knew he prayed for.
Jessica loved the Duke immensely and wanted to be his wife, but she never asked for marriage out of loyalty to house Atreides. Marrying a concubine was within the Duke’s rights, but to do so would close the door on a potential powerful alliance with another Great House through marriage. In spite of her title of concubine, Jessica was held in extremely high regard by the people of Caladan and the members of the Duke’s inner circle. Her complete devotion to Paul’s education and the protection of her Duke was evident to every member of House Atreides.
Duncan Idaho was a Ginaz Swordmaster in service to Duke Leto I and House Atreides. As one of the Duke’s most trusted men, Duncan was responsible for training Atreides troops, special top secret assignments, and teaching Paul Atreides the art of warfare.
Unlike most members of House Atreides, Duncan was born on Giedi Prime, the home world of House Harkonnen, the ancestral enemies of the Atreides. Duncan’s family were murdered by Glossu Rabban Harkonnen when he was just a young boy, and he was then hunted for sport by Rabban and the other Harkonnen officers. After barely escaping his hunters with his life, the young Idaho managed to escape Giedi Prime and make his way to Caladan.
On Caladan Duncan took up service with the Atreides and quickly rose within their ranks thanks to his undying determination and fierce love of Duke Paulus Atreides. After uncovering an assassination plot against Duke Paulus, the young Idaho swore loyalty to the newly installed Duke Leto and was sent to train with the Swordmasters of Ginaz, a legendary school of warriors, swordsmen, and warmasters. After returning from Ginaz, Idaho took up the position of Warmaster with the Atreides and is currently their advanced agent on the planet Arrakis, helping prepare the planet for their arrival.
“He could be killing you while he was singing and never miss a note.”
Duncan Idaho on Gurney Halleck
Gurney Halleck was the head Warmaster for House Atreides under Duke Leto and later Paul Atreides, and one of the most trusted members of the Atreides inner circle. Halleck was in charge of the Duke’s fighting men and military operations, as well as training his son in combat and warfare. He was renowned as both a minstrel and warrior.
Like Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck was born on Geidi Prime under Harkonnen rule, and like nearly every citizen on the planet, Halleck was brutalized by members of House Harkonnen. As a slave Halleck was tortured and beat by the Beast Rabban, as a result he received a permanent scar on his jawline from Rabban’s inkvine whip. Eventually he escaped Geidi Prime and the Harkonnens, finding his way into the service of Duke Leto on Caladan. Where like many others before him, he fell in love with the Atreides family and became utterly loyal to them.
Unlike Duncan Idaho, Gurney received no special training from the Ginaz or any other military organization. Halleck’s lessons were from his life experiences, which made it all the more remarkable that he was acknowledged as being one of the deadliest fighters in the Imperium and the most skilled weapons wielder in the Duke’s household. In addition to being a ruthless and deadly warrior, the gruff Halleck was also a talented musician and singer. He was famous across Caladan, especially among his troops, for his singing and trusty baliset.
Thufir Hawat was a Mentat and Master of Assassins in service to House Atreides for three generations; serving Dukes Paulus, Leto, and Paul. Throughout the Imperium Hawat was acknowledged as being the greatest Mentat of his age, and was a cause of great envy among many of the Great Houses.
Under Paul’s grandfather Duke Paulus, Hawat assisted the Duke with expanding the Atreides holdings, hiring experts in agriculture, viticulture, animal husbandry, and mining, which all greatly enriched the Great House’s fortune. Thufir also saved the Duke’s life and for his troubles received a scar on his leg and the occasional limp.
After Paulus passed the Mentat transferred his loyalty to Duke Leto and devoted himself as fully to the son as he had the father. Hawat helped Leto turn the Atreides fighting men into one of the most well respected in the Imperium, and secretly assisted with training Paul Atreides as a Mentat. Thanks largely in part to the lessons from the greatest Mentat of the age, Paul became a both a legendary fighter and Mentat.
Doctor Wellington Yueh
Dr. Wellington Yueh was a Suk doctor who served the Atreides as the personal physician of Leto Atreides I. As a member of the Suk school, Yueh was easily identified by the black diamond tattoo on his forehead and his long ponytail bound by a silver Suk ring signifying his completion of Suk conditioning.
Suk school graduates like Yueh were highly sought after by members of the Great Houses and anyone else with the money to afford them. Suk doctors were the best trained scientists, researchers, and doctors that money could buy. Besides being incredibly talented in the field of medicine and science, Suk doctors were also renowned for never betraying their patients. There was no price high enough to buy a Suk’s loyalty out from under their patient.
Yueh is part of House Atreides and besides the medical care of the family his primary responsibility is the education of Paul Atreides in medicine, science, and history.