In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Dune Series

  • Introduction
  • Biographies and General Overviews
  • Bibliography
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies of Essays

American Literature Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Dune Series
Don Riggs
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0201


Frank Herbert was born on 8 October 1920 in Tacoma, Washington, to Frank Patrick Herbert Sr. and Eileen (McCarthy) Herbert. In 1938 he graduated from high school and moved to Southern California, where he lied about his age to work for the Glendale Star, the first of many newspaper jobs. He married Flora Parkinson in 1940 and they had one daughter, Penny, but they divorced in 1945. He enlisted in the United States Navy in 1941, joining the Seabees, but was given a medical discharge six months later. In 1946 he entered the University of Washington. He met Beverly Ann Stuart in a creative writing class, and they married in June that year. They had two sons, Brian Patrick (1947) and Bruce Calvin (1951). Brian would himself become a writer, continuing his father’s Dune series with sequels and prequels, as well as a 2003 biography, Dreamer of Dune. Bruce would become a photographer and LGBT activist, and died of AIDS in 1993. Herbert published his first story, “Survival of the Cunning,” which was not science fiction, in Esquire in 1945; his first science fiction story, “Looking for Something,” appeared in 1952 in Startling Stories. He published his first science fiction novel in 1956: based on a story titled “Under Pressure,” the 1956 novel was titled The Dragon of the Sea, and was reprinted with the title 21st-Century Sub. Many of the themes from this work would appear in the later Dune novels. During these years, Herbert wrote for various newspapers, but took time off to work on his fiction; his wife Beverly worked as an advertising copywriter. A newspaper assignment to cover the USDA’s effort to reclaim dune lands inspired much background research—over 200 books, according to Brian Herbert’s biography—and resulted in the novel Dune, which was initially published in editor John W. Campbell’s magazine Analog in 1963 and 1964; after twenty rejections, Chilton Books, an auto-repair manual publisher, offered to publish it, which it did in 1965. Dune won the Hugo Award that year, and tied for the Nebula Award in 1966. It became an underground cult classic and ultimately the greatest-selling science fiction novel of all time. Herbert wrote the novel with his wife Beverly’s constant response and comments, and he modeled the Lady Jessica on her. Herbert wrote five sequels, generally regarded as being of lesser quality than Dune itself. However, much of the scholarship analyzes the original novel in the “universe” established within the series of sequels, so Dune appears in relation to the novels from Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune in particular.

Biographies and General Overviews

Herbert’s biography by his son Brian, Herbert 2003, is the most extensive and detailed. O’Reilly’s study of Dune’s origin in research for a newspaper article supplemented with interviews, O’Reilly 1978, and his larger consideration of the career of Herbert’s writing, O’Reilly 1981, link the author’s life with his novel. Toupence 1988 similarly links Herbert’s life with his writing, and attempts an overview of both.

  • Herbert, Brian. Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. New York: Tor, 2003.

    Brian Herbert’s biography of his father discusses many of the sources that went into the writing of Dune, including Frank Herbert’s research on desertification in Oregon, semantics, comparative religions, and his father’s use of a polygraph machine to ascertain whether his boys had misbehaved, a possible source of the Gom Jabbar. Also included is the great influence Herbert’s second wife Bev had on the novel.

  • O’Reilly, Timothy. Frank Herbert. New York: Ungar, 1981.

    This book considers Dune the central achievement of Herbert’s career, and Herbert’s other fiction and essays affirm the theme of adaptation for survival in a constantly changing universe. O’Reilly, who interviewed Herbert and his wife Beverly and read editor John W. Campbell’s correspondence with Herbert, also considers Herbert’s novels Under Pressure, The Santaroga Barrier—with an emphasis on the influence of Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger—and Dune Messiah and Children of Dune.

  • O’Reilly, Timothy. “From Concept to Fable: The Evolution of Frank Herbert’s Dune.” In Critical Encounters: Writers and Themes in Science Fiction. Edited by Dick Riley, 41–55. New York: Ungar, 1978.

    This essay discusses Herbert’s never-published magazine article on reclaiming dunes and the research Herbert did for it. Much of the chapter contains rudimentary thematic analysis of the novel, but O’Reilly draws on an “unpublished interview with Frank and Beverly Herbert” by Willis McNelly in 1969 and another by O’Reilly himself in 1978.

  • Toupence, William F. Frank Herbert. Twayne United States Author Series. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

    Toupence sketches Frank Herbert’s biography, emphasizing environmentalism and developing a sustainable lifestyle on his farm. All six Dune novels are discussed, with a final chapter assessing some of Herbert’s other novels, but the book devotes a chapter to Dune itself, following Herbert’s notes and interviews. Using Bakhtin’s and Herbert’s references to polyphony and improvisation, Toupence calls the work an “ecological fugue” that avoids the closure of the traditional novel.

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