The Dune Encyclopedia: The Controversial, Definitive Guide to the World of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi Masterpiece (1984)

When David Lynch’s Hol­ly­wood ver­sion of Dune opened in the­aters in 1984, Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios dis­trib­uted a print­ed a glos­sary to keep its audi­ences from get­ting con­fused. They got con­fused any­way, in part because of the film’s hav­ing been hol­lowed out in edit­ing, and in part because the sheer elab­o­rate­ness of Frank Her­bert’s alter­nate real­i­ty pos­es poten­tial­ly insur­mount­able chal­lenges to faith­ful adap­ta­tion. Even many of the orig­i­nal Dune nov­els’ read­ers need­ed more help than a cou­ple pages of def­i­n­i­tions could offer. Luck­i­ly for them, the same year that saw the release of Lynch’s Dune also saw the pub­li­ca­tion of The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia, autho­rized by Her­bert him­self.

“Here is a rich back­ground (and fore­ground) for the Dune Chron­i­cles, includ­ing schol­ar­ly bypaths and amus­ing side­lights,” Her­bert writes in the book’s intro­duc­tion. “Some of the con­tri­bu­tions are sure to arouse con­tro­ver­sy, based as they are on ques­tion­able sources.” He could­n’t have known how right he was. Today The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia stands as what Inverse’s Ryan Britt calls “the most con­tro­ver­sial Dune book ever”; long out of print, it may well also be 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.)

Still, The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia has its appre­ci­a­tors, not least the direc­tor of the lat­est (and most suc­cess­ful) cin­e­mat­ic attempt to real­ize Her­bert’s vision. As Brit tells it, “an anony­mous (though pre­vi­ous­ly reli­able) source stat­ed that Denis Vil­leneuve is a big fan of The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia. But when he tried to plant ref­er­ences to the book in the new film, his ‘hand was slapped by the estate.’ ” The rea­son seems to involve the Ency­clo­pe­dia’s con­flicts with the nov­els: not those writ­ten by Her­bert him­self but, accord­ing to the Dune Wiki, “the lat­er two pre­quel trilo­gies and sequel duol­o­gy writ­ten after Frank Her­bert’s death by Bri­an Her­bert (Frank Her­bert’s son) and Kevin J. Ander­son, which they state com­plete the orig­i­nal series.”

Though co-signed by the The Dune Ency­clo­pe­dia’s main author, lit­er­ary schol­ar Willis E. McNel­ly, Bri­an Her­bert and Kevin J. Ander­son­’s let­ter declar­ing the work’s de-can­on­iza­tion omits the fact “that the Ency­clo­pe­dia is and always was a fal­li­ble in-uni­verse doc­u­ment that open­ly mis­rep­re­sents known his­to­ry and adds his­tor­i­cal embell­ish­ments.” It is, in oth­er words, a book about Dune as well as a part of Dune. Not every book in our real­i­ty offers a per­fect­ly true account of his­to­ry, of course, and the same holds for the real­i­ty Frank Her­bert cre­at­ed. This form implies the con­tin­u­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty of expand­ing Dune’s lit­er­ary uni­verse by writ­ing the books that exist with­in it, not just ency­clo­pe­dias and scrip­ture but, say epic sci-fi nov­els as well. What fan, after all, would­n’t want to read the Dune of Dune?

Relat­ed con­tent:

Why You Should Read Dune: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Frank Herbert’s Eco­log­i­cal, Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci-Fi Epic

Rare Book Fea­tur­ing the Con­cept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune Goes Up for Auc­tion (1975)

The Dune Graph­ic Nov­el: Expe­ri­ence Frank Herbert’s Epic Sci-fi Saga as You’ve Nev­er Seen It Before

The Glos­sary Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Gave Out to the First Audi­ences of David Lynch’s Dune (1984)

The Dune Col­or­ing & Activ­i­ty Books: When David Lynch’s 1984 Film Cre­at­ed Count­less Hours of Pecu­liar Fun for Kids

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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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