The History Behind Dune: Arab Nationalism, Magic Mushrooms & The Cold War - Deepstash

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Frank Herbert's Dune

Frank Herbert's Dune

Dune is the best-selling SF novel of all time. Created by Frank Herbert in the 1960s, it changed SF forever with its deeply philosophical flavor of science fiction. The story takes place in a distant future where humanity is divided into a feudal system, ruled by an emperor and armies that fight using blades. There is no technology except for a magical drug called "spice" that can only be found on the planet Arrakis, home of the giant sand worms.

Paul is a prince from House Atreides who leads the Fremen, the natives of Arrakis, against the enemies of his house and then the empire at large.


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The Inspiration Behind Dune

The Inspiration Behind Dune

Frank Herbert's Sources of Inspiration:

  • Studying sand dunes for work
  • Experimentation with psychedelic drugs in the 60s
  • Basing Paul on historical figures like Alexander the Great or Lawrence of Arabia
  • Comparing the fremen to Arab bedouins and the Harkonens to Soviets

In Dune, Herbert weaves historical lessons through an allegorical tale that is both complex and intriguing.


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Where Does the Spice Come From?

Where Does the Spice Come From?

Arrakis is the only planet in the Dune Universe where the spice is produced. The spice is essential for interstellar travel, as the operators of spaceships need it to plot courses & for the religion in the empire as a conscience-enhancing drug.

  • Frank Herbert consumed both magic mushrooms & LSD during the hippie revolution and came to believe that expanding our consciousness is a better path forward for humanity than technology.
  • During his time, the importance of oil became obvious, which at that time came from the Middle East.

Herbert thus combined these two magical ingredients into one.


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The Messiah

The Messiah

Paul's history is Greek. Atreides, Leto, and all are Greek names. Leto's banner was a bull, an ancient Greek symbol. Like Alexander the Great, Paul had a great dad, a powerful mom who belonged to a religious sect & had to blend with the desert people to rule over them.

But Paul's story is also that of T. E. Lawrence, a famous Englishman who led the Arabs against the Ottoman occupation during WW1. Like Paul, Lawrence adopted the culture of the Arab population and was a big advocate for Arab nationalism.

However, Paul is not a good guy. His accession serves as a warning against prophets.


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The Houses

The Houses

Feudalism is the system of government in "Dune," similar to the Middle Ages or "Game of Thrones." This is because Frank Herbert believed feudalism was the natural political order. He believed most people want to be led and that freedom was a burden for most. So, in "Dune," society is divided into houses:

  • The Atreides represent the civilized West.
  • The Harkonnen are the Soviets, which Herbert despised (he was related to Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. anti-communist).
  • The Corrinos, the house of the Emperor, are the Ottomans who created the modern standing army (like the Sardaukar in "Dune").


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The Fremen

The Fremen

The Fremen are the Arabs, conquered by the Ottomans and ruled by the British and the French. Arabs became the model for the Fremen, the native population of Arrakis.

Like the Arabs sitting on piles of oil, the Fremen's planet is the only planet producing spice. And like the Arabs, their religion is heavily dependent on prophecies. 

Frank Herbert believed that the Arabs could form a new superpower if they managed to unite under one banner. A unification that has to be religious in nature, just like in his book. 


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The Ban on Technology

The Ban on Technology

There are no computers in Dune. The interstellar ships are operated by humans and the fighting is done with blades, not lasers. Before the events in the books, Herbert imagined a war between humans and AI, after which technology became banned. Personal shields, immune to projectile weapons, elevated the use of swords.

Herbert was distrustful of technology. After experimenting with psychedelic drugs, he became convinced that our progress relied more on the expansion of our consciousness. That's why the spice plays such a key role in his books.


133 reads



Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.


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