Frank Herbert’s Dune is often described as the science fiction genre’s most popular novel. With nearly 20 million copies sold, it inspired an enormous fanbase and a massive franchise that continues today. The success of Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of Herbert’s novel was one of cinema’s great success stories in 2021, capturing the imagination of a new generation of fans and securing a franchise at Legendary Pictures.
The Dune saga began with the culmination of a fight between two Great Houses of humanity some 20,000 years in the future. The main protagonist, Paul Atreides, undertakes a hero’s journey amid the political intrigue that sees the destruction of his House and the emergence of a new balance of power in the universe. Paul’s journey is compelling, enhanced by rich mythology and universe building.
At the heart of the story is Dune, formally known as Arrakis, a planet of sand and the only source of the transformative spice Melange. Malange is a drug that has corrupted, elevated, and split humanity over thousands of years. It has enabled interstellar travel, unlocked prescience, and helped humanity internalize computer functions. That’s just the beginning. It’s in this future of technological progress, superstitious tradition, feudal rule, and prophecy that Paul realizes his destiny.
“A beginning is a very delicate time.”
The epic story that began in one book with a four-letter title reached a new level of popularity in 2021, but it was a different story in the mid-1960s. Frank Herbert spent five years researching and writing Dune only to see 20 publishers turn the book down. It finally reached the presses when an editor at Chilton Books, a publisher better known for printing books on auto repair, saw promise in the manuscript. That decision cost the editor his job when the critical and sales responses to the novel weren’t good, but his conviction was proven right. Dune steadily won over critics and reader word-of-mouth boosted sales to the point that Herbert could work full-time on sequels.
Jump forward five decades and the Dune saga spans 21 books and nearly 35,000 years of internal chronology. Naturally, the page couldn’t contain this storyline. It’s also found its way into comic books, video games, and movie theaters.
By the time the first movie adaptation of Dune arrived in movie theaters in 1984, Herbert had just completed the fifth novel of his saga. While he’d extended the story even further into the future, David Lynch’s film caused confusion in the present. The notorious adaptation was imaginative and brilliantly cast. The score from Brian Eno and Toto was awe-inspiring, as were the special effects. But its attempt to fit the original novel into two hours made it difficult to understand for anyone unfamiliar with the source material.
Lynch’s Dune collapse at movie theaters helped promote the idea that Herbert’s story was unfilmable, especially on the back of the earlier failed attempt to bring the novel to the screen in an even more extreme form by visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The intervening years and subsequent adaptations have seen Herbert’s novel tamed for the big screen. At the turn of the century, the Sci-Fi Channel scored success with two miniseries that adapted the first trilogy of the cycle. In 2021, Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of Herbert’s original book finally delivered Dune cinematic success. Villeneuve’s vision isn’t as out-there as Lynch’s or Jodorowsky’s, but a faithful piece that concentrates on its characters, simple storytelling, and a gigantic scale. A sequel has been confirmed, and fans new and old hope it marks the start of a major franchise that will draw on the immense wealth of the Dune mythology.
That mythology is still growing despite Frank Herbert’s death in 1986. The series has been diligently continued in novels co-authored by his son Brian Herbert and prolific science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson. If the latest cinematic vision of Dune has inspired you to catch up on the story that’s still growing on the page, here’s how you can read the monumental storyline.
The Dune saga reading order by publication date
Frank Herbert died six books into the sequence, leaving several plotlines unresolved at the end of Chapterhouse: Dune. These were picked up by his son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson over a decade later.
Working from Frank Herbert’s notes, the pair completed the sequence with the addition of two books. Subsequently, they have continued to expand the Dune mythos with sequels and prequels, grouped into series.
Dune Messiah (1969)
Children of Dune (1976)
God Emperor of Dune (1981)
Heretics of Dune (1984)
Chapterhouse: Dune (1985)
Prelude to Dune series:
House Atreides (1999)
House Harkonnen (2000)
House Corrino (2001)
Legends of Dune series:
The Butlerian Jihad (2002)
The Machine Crusade (2003)
The Battle of Corrin (2004)
Hunters of Dune (2006)
Sandworms of Dune (2007)
Heroes of Dune series:
Paul of Dune (2008)
The Winds of Dune (2009)
Great Schools of Dune series:
Sisterhood of Dune (2012)
Mentats of Dune (2014)
Navigators of Dune (2016)
The Caladan Trilogy:
Dune: The Duke of Caladan (2020)
Dune: The Lady of Caladan (2021)
Dune: The Heir of Caladan (Scheduled for Oct. 2022)
Dune saga reading order by internal chronology
You may also want to follow the saga chronologically. After completing the original sequence with Sandworms of Dune, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson concentrated on filling in the build-up to the original novel and the Paul Atreides saga to the point that most Dune novels now take place before the original story.
The first two trilogies in the sequence take place thousands of years before House Atreides takes control of the planet Arrakis. If you choose this route, you’ll have to run through a considerable amount of pages before you reach Frank Herbert’s definitive work.
The story in chronological order:
The Butlerian Jihad
The Machine Crusade
The Battle of Corrin
Sisterhood of Dune
Mentats of Dune
Navigators of Dune
Paul of Dune (Parts II, IV, and VI, then throughout the chronology)
The Winds of Dune (Part II, then throughout the chronology)
Dune: The Duke of Caladan
Dune: The Lady of Caladan
Dune: The Heir of Caladan
Children of Dune
God Emperor of Dune
Heretics of Dune
Hunters of Dune
Sandworms of Dune
While this completes the list of current novels in the saga, the Dune mythology has been supplemented by additional materials. Short stories and novellas by Brian Herbert and Anderson have been collected in the books Road to Dune, Sands of Dune, and Tales of Dune.