The Dune Encyclopedia: The Controversial, Definitive Guide to the World of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Masterpiece (1984)
When the Hollywood version of David Lynch Dunes Opened theatrically in 1984, Universal Studios distributed a printed glossary to keep its audiences from being confused. They got mixed up anyway, partly because the film was hollowed out in editing, and partly because the complexity of Frank Herbert’s alternate reality poses potentially insurmountable challenges to a faithful adaptation. Even a lot of the original Dunes novel readers needed more help than a few pages of definitions could offer. Luckily for them, the same year that saw the release of Lynch’s Dunes also saw the publication of The dune encyclopediaauthorized by Herbert himself.
“Here is a rich background (and foreground) for the Dunes Chronicles, including scholarly crossroads and amusing sidelights,” Herbert writes in the book’s introduction. “Some of the contributions are bound to cause controversy, as they are based on dubious sources.” He couldn’t know how right he was. Today The dune encyclopedia bills itself as what Ryan Britt of Inverse calls “the most controversial Dunes never delivers”; Long out of print, it’s also perhaps the most expensive, with a current Amazon price of $1,300 in hardcover and $833 in paperback. (You can also find it online, at the Internet Archive.)
Always, The dune encyclopedia has his admirers, most notably the director of the last (and most successful) cinematic attempt to realize Herbert’s vision. As Brit recounts, “An anonymous (though previously reliable) source has stated that Denis Villeneuve is a huge fan of The dune encyclopedia. But when he tried to plant references to the book in the new film, his “hand got slapped by the estate.” “The reason seems to involve the Encyclopediaconflicts with the novels: not those written by Herbert himself but, according to the Dune Wiki, “the final two prequel trilogies and the sequel duology written after Frank Herbert’s death by Brian Herbert (Frank Herbert’s son) and Kevin J. Anderson, who they claim completes the original series.
Although co-signed by the The dune encyclopediaThe work’s primary author, literary scholar Willis E. McNelly, the letter from Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson declaring the work’s decanonization omit the fact “that the Encyclopedia is and always has been a fallible in-universe document that overtly distorts known history and adds historical embellishments. It is, in other words, a book about Dunes as well as part of Dunes. Not every book in our reality offers a perfectly true account of the story, of course, and the same goes for the reality created by Frank Herbert. This form implies the continuous possibility of expanding Dunesof the literary universe by writing the books that exist within it, not just encyclopedias and scriptures, but also epic science fiction novels. What fan, after all, wouldn’t want to read the Dunes of Dunes?
Why should you read Dunes: An animated introduction to Frank Herbert’s ecological and psychological sci-fi epic
Rare book featuring concept art by Jodorowsky Dunes Goes to Auction (1975)
the Dunes Graphic Novel: Experience Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi saga like you’ve never seen it before
The Glossary Universal Studios Distributed to David Lynch’s Early Hearings Dunes (1984)
the Dunes Coloring and activity books: When David Lynch’s 1984 film created countless hours of special fun for kids
The Science Fiction Encyclopedia: 17,500 Entries on All Things Science Fiction Now Free Online
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcaststs about cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter city books, the book The Stateless City: A Walk Through 21st Century Los Angeles and the video series The city in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.
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