5 Dune Characters We Love (& 6 We Don't)
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
We made it! We climbed the sand-covered mountain of Dune and finally reached its summit after 3 long months! If you are one of our awesome listeners (and of course you are), you must already know by now that we have some opinions about the characters. Well, we have a lot of opinions about Dune, but hey, I'm not writing a dissertation over here.
Dune is home to quite literally dozens and dozens of fully-realized three-dimensional characters. But as we open our mind to the spice, we're slowly realizing that some stand head and shoulders over others and others are buried so deep in the sand they might as well just be worm fodder.
Now that the season has ended, it's time to settle once and for all which Dune characters are walking with rhythm and are stumbling with every step. Obviously, our opinions are completely our own and subject to change, and we by no means actually "hate" any of these characters. Still, there are some we found ourselves complaining about more than others.
If you haven't listened to our latest season and would like to hear Steve ramble about how sad sand makes him, check it out here, or find our show on any of your favourite podcatchers! If you want to leave some hate-fuelled comments, please tag your friends so they can hate us, too!
If you haven’t read the book yet, STOP HERE! Everything you’re going to read is riddled with spoilers, so please read at your own risk!
5 Characters We Love
#5. Princess Irulan
Princess Irulan is the one character that sticks with us through every chapter, setting each one up with a (sometimes) short passage that expands lore, explains character motivations, or gives us a little nugget of wisdom.
While some of these passages can be a bit confusing on your first read-through, they become amazing easter eggs to dive back into on your next visit. Now, Irulan isn't actually in the book until the end, but her presence is felt throughout the book. And as the de facto historian and resident mixtape artist for the Dune Universe, Irulan earns herself a spot on our list of favourite characters.
#4. Duke Leto Atreides
What do you get when you cross Thomas Wayne, Napoleon, and a planet-sized load of responsibility? You get yourself a Duke Leto Atreides.
There's not much that hasn't already been said about Our Lord Duke, but that's not going to stop us from repeating it! Duke Leto is the epitome of stoic concentration and brilliant strategy, frequently predicting his opponents' sometimes before they happen. And that's without all that fancy "prescience" his heir has!
Despite the speed of the Harkonnens, Duke Leto might have had a chance to protect himself, his family, and his House from near-total annihilation. Nevertheless, he stands tall among the large cast.
#3. Gurney Halleck
Every great story has a bard (see: Thom Merrigold in “The Wheel of Time”), and this one wouldn't be complete without a swashbuckling musician in the adventure!
Gurney Halleck is the man. As a personal guard for the Atreides and a mentor to young Paul, Gurney is trusted with some of the most sensitive information of the family, and every action he makes is in the service of his Duke. Now, ruthless combat efficiency is one thing; being a beast behind the baliset is something completely different.
We know we've made it clear we're sad that there weren't more sand-chanties in Dune, but the fact that we got one is more than enough to get Gurney a spot in the top 5!
#2. Lady Jessica
Everything in Dune starts with one decision Jessica makes out of love for her Duke, and how she handles the cards she's dealt makes her one of the most formidable players on the sandy chessboard.
That's right, the penultimate character in our top 5 list goes to Lady Jessica herself! After having some time to reflect on her decisions, it's clear to me that everything Jessica does is a massive feat in strength and perseverance. She does wobble in her likeability near the end, but her cold analytical nature is juxtaposed against Paul's equally cold persona as he adopts the mantle of Muad'Dib.
The pressure of being the spiritual guide for the Fremen coupled with her responsibility as a mother is nothing less than exceptional, and the more I think about Jessica, the more I believe Dune wouldn't be the same without her.
#1. Duncan Idaho
I mean, was there anybody else?
Duncan Idaho (or as Steve likes to call him, "Miami Man") is by far the most entertaining and engaging character we meet in Dune. Despite the fact our time with him is cut, there is no doubt his absence is felt by both the reader and our hero Paul.
What makes Duncan so endearing is his willingness to let loose, as seen during his drunken escapade through the Arakeen palace. While he is in complete service to the Atreides, he is first and foremost a friend to Paul and Duke Leto. This ability to earn the trust of some of the most scrutinizing of characters helped him establish a relationship with the Fremen, an act that would go on to serve Paul for the rest of the book.
Needless to say, we can't wait to see him get some Sardaukar blood in the new movie coming out this year! And yes, I'm also biased because I am a total Jason Momoa fanboy, but Aquaman is great and you can't tell me otherwise.
5 Characters Who Are Full of Sand
#6. Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen
Okay, I'll be the first one to admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for our "lovely boy" Feyd-Rautha. But, once a snivelling entitled brat, always a snivelling entitled brat no matter how much character development he gets.
Feyd doesn't get a lot to do in the first two-thirds of the book, but he is plotting and planning with the best of them by the end. While I, for one, can appreciate his ambition and his hatred for the old Baron, I still can't get past the Sting loincloth in the David Lynch movie. Man… that was something else.
This has nothing to do with me and has everything to do with Steve and his comfort levels. As we all know, Steve drew a line in the sand when it came to the preborn Alia. The walking, talking, philosophizing spawn of the late Duke Leto and Lady Jessica is the thing nightmares are made of, and Steve had a hard time accepting Alia as an important player in the Dune chess game.
My issue with Alia is much more specific, and it's a gripe that she shares with Paul: her sense of entitlement. Being preborn is something not a lot of people get to experience, even in the Dune universe, and Alia wastes no time trying to get involved with some of the more complex plans her brother and mother are making for the planet. Nevertheless, the thought of having a hyper-intelligent baby in your war room is unsettling, to say the least.
#3. Baron Harkonnen
I spent a good amount of time early in our Dune season praising Baron Harkonnen's brilliant strategic mind, but reading the book made me realize that he is much less powerful than those early chapters led me to believe.
Baron Harkonnen starts off the book acting like a complete genius. His plan to destroy the Atreides is sound, and how he conducts himself in a way that makes him an obvious choice as the leader of his family. However, it becomes clear that Baron is all bark and no bite. His cowardice in front of the Emperor and his complete refusal to acknowledge Muad'Dib set him on a course for ruin, and towards this spot on our list.
#3. The Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV
Coming in as our second full of sand character is The Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV. Shaddam spends much of the book shrouded in mystery, and the only time we get to see him in action is near the end. And against the backdrop of the huge worm-filled battle going on and Paul's ascendence to Godhood, his arrival is less than satisfying.
I would have liked to see his role in managing the rest of the Landsraad, and what he did to keep his attack on the Atreides secret from them. I feel like there is a lot of room to really expand the story of The Emperor, but in a book that is already 800+ pages long, there's only so much more time you can spend with a character. Unfortunately for Shaddam, his rank on our list has little to do with his character and more to do with how he was handled.
#2. Yueh Wellington
Part of me wants to feel bad for Yueh, as everything he does is out of love for his wife, but we all knew that the Baron had something else under his sleeve from miles away. Yueh does have his merits, though. He is a valuable teacher for Paul, and he ensured the safety of both Jessica and Paul by setting up the emergency kit for them in the 'thopter (remember tweedle dee and teedle dum?).
Unfortunately for him, however, that is not enough to redeem him. In a way, we have him to blame for everything that happens in Dune, even more than Jessica. I mean, it's possible that Paul would have become prescient even without his time with the Fremen and starting his galactic jihad, but Yueh definitely sped up the process. Poor Yueh. Poor, dumb, ignorant Yueh.
#1. Paul Atreides
I know, I know, I know, hot take right here. But hear me out for a second: Paul Atreides starts off the story driven towards helping his fellow man and serving his family. As the book goes on his prescience ends up not just saving his family but also starting a plan to save the universe.
Until his second or third spice-trip, Paul keeps a semblance of kindness that’s easy to latch on to as a reader. After that point, though, he takes on a hardened persona that borders on being a complete edge-lord. This is where I begin to fall out of love with Paul and his "I'm going to murder gajillions" ramblings and instead think grander Dune universe.
Speaking of stoned ramblings, Herbert's prose becomes harder to follow as Paul becomes more prescient, creating a large barrier for first-time readers to get through. If you didn't like the initial mountain of exposition, you're not going to enjoy how much you will have to discern from a character who is, quite literally, high as balls.
Paul is still the hero, but Herbert makes sure that it is harder to love him by the end. I guess that's the book's point, but this doesn't change that he’s our top spot in our list of Full of Sand characters.