© Dr. Willis E. McNelly





The figure known to us as "Paul Atreides" is perhaps a more fitting subject for the romancer or the folklorist than for the historians Many of the attributes claimed for him (i.e., that he was prescient, that he survived the explosion of an atomic warhead) are clearly fantastic; others (i.e., that he was a great warrior) are common to virtually all mythic heroes. Yet the legends about him are persistent and far-flung, and some of them have been recorded by ancient historians and biographers whose work in other areas is known to be absolutely accurate. The following report is an attempt not to de-mythologize the figure widely assumed to have been the Messiah; it is an attempt, rather, to account for him, to identify him.




The mythological or legendary history of Paul Atreides runs, in brief, according to the following line. He was born on Caladan in the year 10175, the natural son of Blessed Leto Atreides 1 (10140-10191), the "Red Duke" whose remains are traditionally assumed interred in the long-sought Skull Tomb or Skull Place on Arrakis. His mother was the Lady Jessica Harkonnen (10154-10256), the bastard daughter of Siridar-Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (10110-10193) and herself a Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit. He had one full sister, Alia Atreides-Idaho (10191-10219), and was father of Leto Atreides II, the Summa-Emperor, the Immortal (see genealogy chart).

In his youth on Caladan, Paul was well instructed in all of the martial arts, in voice, in political theory, music, and history. His primary instructors were the family retainers Duncan Idaho1, Gurney Halleck, and Thufir Hawat, a mentat. Others of his teachers included his mother, already a Bene Gesserit herself but not yet a Reverend Mother, and the legendary Bene Gesserit Great Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, who may have been his maternal grandmother. It was the Great Mother who, when he was fifteen years of age, personally subjected him to the test of the gom jabbar and declared him, following the test, to be Kwisatz Haderach (Fulcrum of History).

The Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (see genealogy chart) named Leto I planetary governor of Arrakis, replacing the duke's concubine's father, in 10190. The following year Paul and his mother came to live on the planet with which his story has become so closely identified. In that same year the deposed Siridar-Baron Harkonnen, acting with the tacit approval of the Emperor2, staged a coup d'etat, assassinated the Red Duke, and forced Paul and his now pregnant mother into hiding among the Fremen of Sietch Tabr.

Little is known of Paul's activities during the two years he spent among Fremen in the Great Desert.3 However, in 10193 he emerged from the desert as Usul, at once the leader and symbol of the Arrakis Revolt. He commanded both Fremen and what was left of the Atreides family forces in one of history's few truly masterful military campaigns. In the Battle of Arrakeen he overwhelmingly defeated the combined forces of the Padishah Emperor and the Baron Harkonnen, driving Shaddam IV into exile on Salusa Secundus and effectively assuming control of both Landsraad and CHOAM.

Following the Battle of Arrakeen Paul was pronounced Muad'Dib, or Messiah, by the Fremen who in his name carried the Second Jihad across the worlds. He married Irulan Corrino, daughter of the exiled Emperor, but the marriage was a politically inspired formality. In 10209, the thirteenth and final year of his reign, he sired the twins Leto and Ghanima out of his formal concubine, the Fremen woman Chani Liet-Kynes of Sietch-Tabr, who died in childbed.

The combination of his personal magnetism, capacity for leadership, vision of a green Arrakis, and reputed prescience turned Paul into an object of veneration, a virtual deity.4 It was in his name that the Second Jihad (10196-10208) was carried across the heavens and the ultimately unsuccessful transformation of Arrakis from desert into oasis was begun.

An assassination attempt in 10205 was the result of a conspiracy among several increasingly insecure political factions including the Spacing Guild, the House Corrino, and the Bene Gesserit. The attack itself was unsuccessful in that Paul miraculously survived a stoneburner explosion. He was blinded by it, however; and, apparently following the ancient Fremen custom that the blind he abandoned in the desert, Paul disappeared voluntarily from Arrakeen shortly after the births of his twin children. It is believed by many that he will one day return in triumph from the desert, and by others that he has from time to time and irregularly over the centuries re-appeared as a portent, a nameless prophet of doom.

This, then, is the legendary history of Paul Atreides. It is of no little significance, however, that no conclusive archaeological evidence has been discovered either on Caladan or on Arrakis5 that would prove or disprove either his lineage or, indeed, his very existence. However, such circumstantial evidence as reason, folklore, and "historical" documents made available to the historical anthropological invites some interesting and useful suggestions. This evidence may answer at least some of the more pertinent questions about Paul Atreides, the Kwisatz Haderach, Muad'Dib.



Was Paul Atreides an historical personage?

This, obviously, is the most important question. The answer is that almost certainly he was; and the answer is based on a number of considerations. In the first place, Paul is the pivotal character both in noble and in Fremen folklore. This is particular significant. These two pools of folklore material, though possibly springing from a single pre-First Jihad source, were absolutely independent of each other at the beginning of the Second Jihad. Different motifs, different qualities praised in their gods and heroes, different moral orientations, different modes of existence both before and after the Second Jihad-yet Paul Atreides is at the center of both. The situation is unique.6 It seems much more likely that an actual, immensely popular and culture-catalyzing hero was adopted by the story tellers and balladeers of both groups than that two unrelated bodies of folk material happened to posit the same fictional, mythological hero at the same time.

Second, his legend is persistent, and many parts of it are consistent with known history. The Second Jihad, for example, would have required a single, immensely powerful focusing element, probably the lens of one man's visionary eye. A jihad will always acquire its own momentum soon after its launching, becoming as it grows an ungovernable whirlwind which must spend its fury before it will dissipate. But a jihad always, too, requires its impetus from the spiritual force of one man's charisma. The Second Jihad developed almost immediately after the Battle of Arrakeen and very likely had as its center the same genius who had crushed House Harkonnen and the Imperium together with a rag-tag band of desert nomads.7 This genius would have been of heroic proportion; indeed, it is easy to visualize a superstitious people naming him Messiah. The name of Paul Atreides would have suited him as well as any.8

Finally, the House Corrino quickly and deliberately attached itself to the man it called Paul Atreides. Virtually every surviving document whose author purports to have seen Paul in the flesh was written by a direct-line member of the House Corrino. It is not uncommon, of course, for a ruling or aspiring family to claim mythological descent. But none of the plethora of documents and fragments of documents still existing that are supposed to have been written by the Princess Irulan Corrino-Atreides claims that her family is genealogically tied to Paul's. Rather, they seem to indicate, somewhat haughtily, that she was his virgin wife; similarly, the writings of her nephew, Harq al-Ada, indicate no blood kinship between House Corrino and Paul Atreides.9 This :Is a very interesting revelation. In combination with the reasonable assumption that the Corrinos, like anyone, would have been able to claim lineal descent from a purely fictional god-hero, and for political purposes would have claimed it, leads to the conclusions, first, that Paul Atreides existed; and, second, that he was powerful enough for the Corrinos to have wished kinship ties with him.10

Granting, then, that Paul Atreides lived, what was his lineage?

The legendary lineage claimed for him (see genealogy chart) is clearly fantastic. It absolutely cannot be accurate; it should be dismissed out of hand. Even the Harkonnen-influenced histories11 leave no doubt that his purported grandsire, the Siridar-Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, was impotent, could not conceivably have fathered the woman known to us as "Lady Jessica Harkonnen," Paul's mother. In fact, the Baron, having no direct heirs of either sex, was in the process of dividing Arrakis's governmental responsibilities between his nephews when the Fremen forces overran Arrakeen in 10193. Nor is there much more likelihood that Paul was in truth connected to the Atreides family by blood, as the Red Duke was, together with all members of his immediate family then on Arrakis, assassinated in the 10191 coup.12 The Atreides retainers who escaped that coup were swallowed up into the general population and in fact fought against Paul's Fremen in the ensuing general revolt. Significantly, not until the revolt had gained some measure of success and some hope of ultimate victory did the scattered Atreides join it. Such a waiting is completely uncharacteristic of retainers whose blood Lord is engaged in guerrilla fighting and in obvious need of assistance.

Finally, the idea that a fifteen-year-old off-worlder who is the scion of a privileged class could galvanize Fremen will, direct Fremen resistance, and, especially, lead Fremen forces in battle is considerably13 beyond the capacity of reasonable men to believe. To believe that such a thing were possible is to be(ray ignorance of Fremen custom, of Fremen law, of Fremen mythology, and of Fremen reason.

Paul was in all likelihood Fremen-born, probably native to Sietch Tabr. He may have been the son of Stilgar, then Sietch Naib, but there is no firm evidence to support this contention.14 He must have distinguished him- self early in the areas of military planning and tactics, of political theory, and of both on- and off-world history. Under the name of Usul and still in his teens, he had by the time of the Harkonnen coup in 10191 amassed a large contingency of Fremen warriors under his immediate command. When, in 10193, the Atreides retainers collected around him and proclaimed him their Duke, he immediately saw value in being so proclaimed; for without Great House support of some kind the Fremen revolt must assuredly have been doomed. He consolidated Fremen and Atreides supporters and attacked, gaining at Arrakeen one of history's few truly decisive victories. After the Battle of Arrakeen he was named Muad'Dib by the Fremen, Kwisatz Haderach by the Bene Gesserit, and Emperor by the nobility. At this point a suitable, that is to say fabulous, genealogy was constructed for him.

If he was Fremen born, why did the Atreides retainers gather around Paul?

There are several ways that Paul's Atreides support may be accounted for. Obviously, he was the only likely candidate for their support on Arrakis, the royal family itself having been exterminated. If one understands anything, of the completeness and depth of the enmity existing between Houses Harkonnen and Atreides,15 and then reflects on the fact that at the beginning of the Fremen revolt the Atreides retainers were fighting as though to prove fealty to the Harkonnens, he must conclude that the leaderless Atreides were in complete disarray, their spirit crushed. They must have seen Paul not only as a rallying point but also as something of a savior.16 The Atreides surely would have realized that by switching allegiance to the Fremen they stood a better chance of defeating the Harkonnens than they would have had standing alone; and in any case they would hold the balance of power.17

Too, with the arrival of Imperial Sardaukar to fight with the Harkonnens on Arrakis the Atreides must have seen their hoped-for value to the Siridar-Baron evaporate. Their choice at that point would seem to have been to ally themselves with the Fremen or be annihilated.

Finally, it is assumed that the gift of Paul's fourteen-year-old sister Alia to the Atreides leader, the reputed ghola Duncan Idaho, had something to do with the insurance of Atreides recognition of Paul's legitimacy as well.18

What was Paul's role in the Second Jihad?

The Second Jihad was carried out in the name of Paul Atreides, and with his voiced approval. Now, Paul's military and political genius has already been pointed out; and one of the lessons history has to offer any revolutionary leader who would he immortalized is that he must not attempt to control his own people in their victory.19 If one is the leader of a revolution, one is leader only so long as there is revolution. Paul did not himself physically lead any contingent of warring parties in the Jihad. He seems, rather, to have contented himself to remain on Arrakis and consolidate his power, astutely allowing his followers-Fremen and off-worlders alike-to conquer in his name. At the same time he was cultivating his own charisma, building himself a legend, fostering belief that he was prescient and Messianic, and prophesying.20 His role in the Jihad was essentially that of a figurehead; but, unlike most figureheads, he did not allow himself to be manipulated by his hordes. Instead, he manipulated them as he consolidated, centralized, and practically immortalized his reign.

What of Paul's history after the Second Jihad?

Substantially better circumstantial evidence remains concerning the answer to this question than answering any of the others posed here. For one thing, the historians recording the events21 were witnesses to them, independent of rumor and legend. There is no reason to believe that at least in regard to the demonstrable22 they had reason either to lie or themselves to be misled. For another, after the jihad the history of Paul begins to coincide with the history of Leto II; and the latter has, of course, been well and often recorded.

An assassination attempt by a conspiracy of Spacing Guild, House Corrino, and Bene Gesserit confederates was staged in 10205.23 Paul survived the attack, but was blinded in it; and, as well he knew, to be a blind Fremen was to be condemned to the desert. Paul, as Emperor, could not be banished into the desert to perish; but he must have sensed that his blindness must inevitably lead to a weakening of his position both in the eyes of his Fremen, to whom blindness is anathema, and in those of his off-world disciples, to whom his blindness must have appeared as proof of his vulnerability. Therefore, shortly after the birth of his twin children, Leto II and Ghanima, Paul voluntarily vanished into the desert where he undoubtedly perished. This disappearance was arguably the masterstroke of Paul Atreides' genius. It precluded the possibility of a witnessed death, and so kept alive the rumor of his immortality and assured the accession of his son.24



Paul Atreides in fact lived. He was charismatic and a military and political genius; whether he might be termed a "Kwisatz Haderach" or a "Muad'Dib" depends on what those terms are assumed to mean.25 He was not a deity. He was Fremen, born of desert parents whose identities are now unrecoverable. He saw political advantage in assuming a House Atreides identity, and so he assumed one. After his victory in the Battle of Arrakeen he astutely allowed his Fremen followers to spend their centuries of pent fury on the universe in the Second Jihad, leaving him on Arrakis to rule in relative quiet. An attempt on his life in 10205 resulted in his blindness; he died shortly thereafter, having, voluntarily exiled himself into the desert.26 For a century or more after Paul's disappearance it was not uncommon for sun-crazed blind Fremen, banished from one sietch or another, to stumble into the city claiming to be the returned Muad'Dib. Some of these "blind seers" even attracted cult followers and had much made of themselves. Such occurrences have grown increasingly rare over the centuries; still, the quickest way for any pitiful desert prophet to gain an appreciative audience even today is to pronounce himself Paul Atreides resurrected.



1A ghola to whom Paul eventually gave his fourteen-year-old sister, Alia, as a reward for fealty!-j.b.
2That part would have to be in the myth, wouldn't it?-j.b.
3This is because there is not room enough in two years for him to have done and learned all of the things he would have to have done and learned.-j.b.
4Mese qualities together with his position as unchallenged ruler of the single vital planet in all the inhabited universe, the planet which was and is the sole source of melange...-j.b.
5Archaeologists have for centuries searched for the Skull Place, the legendary burial place of Leto Atreides. They've not found it. It confounds the mind to reflect upon what might be discovered if such a place ever comes to light!-t.d.f.
6I wonder whether it is.-t.d.f.
7House Atreides had for all practical purposes ceased to exist with the assassination of its leader on Arrakis in 10191. None of its scattered retainers seems to have joined the Fremen in their revolt until the final, triumphant stages of it in 10193. In fact, it seems that Atreides retainers fought against the Fremen in the initial stages of the revolt. It is certainly reasonable to assume that leaderless nobles of that time would have attached themselves to others of the noble class and so gain Imperial pleasure rather than fight alongside insurgent Fremen.-e.d.
8And better than most...-j. b.
9This rationale is based on the assumption that Irulan C-A and Harq al-Ada are in fact authors of the mss. they are purported to have written. The assumption is questionable.-t.d.f.
10It also suggests that Paul was base born, for the Corrinos apparently did not wish to have their line connected to his by blood, but only by official marriage. Nor did they claim a common ancestor with him.-j.b.
11Which are?-t.d.f.
12It has been suggested that Leto I kept a Fremen concubine, and that Paul was his natural son by this woman. This is an intriguing suggestion, and one which, if true. would justify Paul's claim of Atreides kinship. Unfortunately, no evidence exists to suggest that Leto Atreides was on Arrakis before 10190-when Paul was already a young man. -e.d. 13"Insultingly" is a better word.-j.b.
14Much has been made of his "noble features." If his actual facial features were in any way remarkable it must be attributed to genetic chance. No child of half off-world parentage would have been allowed to live. It is just possible that his mother was herself an off-worlder formally adopted into the sietch sometime during her own childhood. Such a situation is rare, but not unheard of.-e.d.
15If one understands the depths of this enmity one must also scoff at the notion that the Red Duke kept a Harkonnen concubine!-j.b.
16Certainly they'd recognized his formidability as an enemy quickly enough.-j.b.
17Neither the ghola nor the other one-Halleck-is reputed to have been stupid. . .-j.b -
18Nor were the Corrinos likely to have admitted publicly to base blood in Paul, their Princess Irulan having been part of his price for peace.-t.d.f.
19Cynical, aren't we?-j.b.
20It is easy to prophesy the decapitation of an enemy when one holds a sword and the enemy lies bound at one's feet.-j.b.
21If, indeed, the historians are to be trusted-t.d.f.
22What on earth does that mean?-j.b.
23According to legend, the method of assassination was to have been stoneburner. Obviously Paul could not in actuality have survived such an attack.* -t.d.f.
*Nor could Arrakis have. . .-j.b.
24It also assured the retention of his honor among the Fremen, kept him from becoming merely an object of pity, and staved off the inevitable next attempt on his life.-e.d.
25A]so on the fervor of the user.-j.b.
26According to Fremen custom. If he had in fact been nobility he would simply have had Tleilaxu eyes installed in his head. That he chose to die instead suggests Fremen, not Atreides instincts.*-t.d.f.
*I'd not thought of that.-j.b.