Jungian Psychology Space
Home       Living places of C.G. Jung       About       Contact

Jungian Psychology Space menu

This site is dedicated to the work founded by Carl Gustav Jung.

The intention of the website is to provide a bridge between the anglophone and francophone Jungian communities in the world.

JPS contains part of the content of Espace Francophone Jungien that has been translated into English.

In addition, it contains anglophone articles, whose French translations have been published on the Francophone mother site.

Dune: Was Frank Herbert inspired by C.G. Jung?

Was Frank Herbert inspired by C.G. Jung? « Dune » and « Whipping Star », two works by this great science fiction author, give us clues. Let’s follow them…

Ariane Callot

French version of this article

Herbert’s work is vast. I have chosen here to limit myself to the Dune series and Whipping Star.

2021, release of the new Dune film

The fall 2021 release of the film Dune, inspired by the work of the brilliant science fiction author Frank Herbert, was quite the event.

Originally the film was to be directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. He conceived a pharaonic project which failed.

Then, in 1984, after many adventures, David Lynch released a version of this epic which aroused such quarrels that, later, he asked to have his name removed from the “improved” version. The film, of baroque beauty, pleased some, but not Dune’s die-hard fans. It was a resounding commercial failure.

A new version, produced by Denis Villeneuve, released in 2021, had a better fate. The reviews are rave.

What caught my attention in the comments is the frequency with which it is said that Frank Herbert, in the novels of the Dune series, was inspired by the unconscious of C.G. Jung. This is said easily but deserves reflection.

Dune and science fiction

Dune brings together all the qualities that one could ask for in great works of science fiction. First of all, it is a great novel beyond any categorization.

The term science fiction is sometimes overused. We often think of incredible stories arising from an incoherent fantasy. This is why, as Maurice Renard did (in the journal « ABC artistique et littéraire »), I prefer to use the term hypothesis novel [roman d’hypothèse]. It is different from the fantastique and from the marvelous because, even if the hypothesis is unbelievable, the author must follow through on its logical consequences. We border on philosophy…

F. Herbert and the thought of C.G. Jung

Frank Herbert was born October 8, 1920 in Tacoma, Washington. In 1944 he began publishing short stories under a pseudonym that remained secret. He then wrote other short stories, under his real name, but they were not science fiction yet.

In 1952, he studied Jungian thought and, after various other professions, he became a « lay analyst » for two years. The same year, he published his first science fiction story in « Startling Stories ».

His first novel, Under Pressure (also called Dragon in the Sea), in which the influence of his study of depth psychology is revealed, appeared in 1956.

After a long maturation process, the Dune saga began in 1965. Herbert won prestigious awards. He died in 1986.

What matters here is what Herbert learned from his study of Jung and his brief practice as an analyst. Was his work influenced by the collective unconscious, and by even more primal forms of the unconscious? To answer these questions, we first need to look at what Jung thinks about the unconscious.

The different parts of the unconscious according to C.G. Jung

Jung does not simply use the word unconscious to designate what is located in the first basement of the conscious. He digs much deeper and distinguishes levels according to the force with which they can rise to the surface. This emergence occurs through the possibilities of archetypal representation to the ego.

Jung retained the Freudian unconscious, but added a collective unconscious, itself composed of several stratifications. He also thinks that the domain of the unconscious is unlimited and that we can only offer points of reference.

The Jungian collective unconscious

The Jungian collective unconscious concerns what does not belong to the personal memory of people. It is archaic, phylogenetic experience which brings out collective material belonging to all of humanity. These are the living roots of the human psyche.

To speak in current language, the collective unconscious would be an immeasurable data bank.

The least deeply buried contents of the collective unconscious can reach consciousness. They then generate behaviors, emotions and affects.

Unity of spirit and matter

Jung hypothesizes that the further one descends into the abyss of the unconscious, the more collective and undifferentiated it becomes. A letter from 1957 shows that this hypothesis has taken on the appearance of a certainty:

« Rather, we have every reason to suppose that there is only one world, where matter and psyche are the same thing, which we discriminate for the purpose of cognition. » (Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, p. 341-343)

Here we fall into the realm of the absolutely unknowable, which Jung calls the Psychoid, which Herbert was perhaps thinking of when, four years after Dune, he wrote Whipping Star, a book that I find even more original than Dune. 

Dune and Dune Messiah

For me, in the Dune series, the two parts which inaugurate this epic are the most remarkable. It is « Dune » and « Messiah of Dune », brought together in a single volume by « les éditions de Robert Laffont » in a first French translation from 1970.

I draw on their summary of the book to briefly give an idea of ​​the theme.

The story takes place in a distant future where men navigate between the stars and have populated a billion worlds. Among these worlds there is a desert planet where water is the most precious commodity.

The planet produces Spice, a miracle drug, source of longevity and prescience. This spice, without which the life of powerful people and space navigators is impossible, is a source of terrible conflicts.

Obviously, as in any good epic, there are heroes. Here, it is Paul Atreides, lord of Arrakis, prophet under the name of Muad’Dib, Emperor and Messiah of Dune.

Dune and its manifestations of the collective unconscious

For Jung, significant events leave a mark in the collective unconscious of humanity. They emerge not only in the mind but in the genes since time immemorial, expressing themselves through archetypes, myths and symbols.

How are these discoveries of Jung reflected in Dune? I offer some non-exhaustive examples.

The Myth of the Hero

It is very present throughout the work, and the character in the first book, which I will call the root book, has all the characteristics. It conveys the great themes of Antiquity. Paul Atreides is precocious, he has charisma and extraordinary powers. He receives premonitory dreams. He becomes blind but retains vision from within. Finally, he disappears into the depths of Dune but his myth remains.

An occult order

It is that of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. They have the power to access what Herbert calls “Other Memory”. They are responsible for the conservation and transmission of what closely resembles Jung’s collective unconscious.

This sorority, which has sought unlimited access to the memory of ancestors for centuries, has great underground influence. The Bene Gesserit also know how to manipulate unconscious forces by implanting legends which, centuries later, will facilitate conquests. This is a real manipulation of opinion…

Time has little importance for them, because they know that everything is part of the collective memory.

The Bene Gesserit have another power which still evokes what Herbert was able to borrow from Jung: that of the Great Voice which is so important in dreams.

The Monstrous Worm

It represents, in my eyes, the legendary animal, the dragon.

It is a gigantic, monstrous worm that is the terror of those who seek Spice on Dune. It measures hundreds of meters, its mouth can swallow up enormous machines along with the humans who use them. These mythical animals are the guardians of man’s objects of desire. This is Jung’s treasure hard to attain.

The relationship with the Other and the Absolute or Totally Other

We can only speak of the different, the unknown, the inadmissible, by bringing it back to the known.

The Other, in a book like Dune, does not resemble us, they have evolved over millennia.

Herbert’s saga offers a world that is very distant from ours in time and space. There we find strange customs, extravagant appearances, and a different vocabulary.

The writer immerses us in a universe of Others. They no longer look like us but we can still make comparisons of differences. We can even say that the feelings of certain protagonists are comparable to those of ancient or Shakespearean heroes.

What if there were no more points of reference?

In a hypothesis novel the writer can ask himself what would happen if the partition with absolute strangeness cracked. If there were no longer any points of reference.

Herbert, certainly inspired by Jung and his hypothesis of one world (unus mundus), where the separation between matter and psyche disappears and where a fundamental order reigns, took the leap into this unknown. He tackled the problem of communicating with the Absolute or Totally Other in his book Whipping Star.

Whipping Star

Whipping Star was published in English in 1969, four years after Dune. It was translated into French by Robert Laffont in 1973.

Herbert must have thought that, after the success of Dune, he could write a more difficult novel and that readers would follow. He must have been disappointed because he forever remained the author of Dune and we know much less about Whipping Star.

The story takes place in a society where:

« government had become a great destructive wheel without a governor, whirling with such frantic speed that it spread chaos wherever it touched. »

The Bureau of Sabotage (BuSab) was created to fight, quite officially, against this deadly administration. The « hero » of the story is himself a member of this Bureau.

The importance of certain themes

It is impossible to summarize Whipping Star, but I retain here the themes which reflect the influence that Jung may have had on Herbert.

The most important is the theme of the difficulty of communicating with a being who will ultimately turn out to be a star, itself coming from the Totality of the universe. We are beyond human concepts, in absolute or total otherness.

The hero who is supposed to establish an essential contact for the survival of humanity, finds himself in the domain of “extreme sensations” and the search for “universal convergence”. 

The Absolute Other being , according to Herbert, occupies a space located between the physical and the mental.

In this universe of otherness, two things remain and this is what makes it possible for there to be a book and a story: Love which transcends everything, and emotion, because, according to Herbert, “pure emotion makes the universe work”.

Jungian themes found in Frank Herbert’s work

The historical unconscious

It seems to me that Dune, in the majority of its narrative, is located at one of the first levels of the collective unconscious: the historical unconscious.

The historical unconscious remains, in what we could call its upper part, in the domain of the archaic residues of Freud taken up by Jung.

It includes the historical stages which preceded contemporary consciousness, the vestiges of the spirit of antiquity, science, religions, folklore, mythology, primitive psychology.

The natural history of human beings

The “historical” knowledge present in the collective unconscious generates symbols. But where Jung already goes further than Freud is that he also includes the entire “natural” history of humanity, that is to say the phylogenesis of his accession to consciousness. It is the thread of this evolution that the Bene Gesserit want to trace.

The symbolism of Dune remains understandable

The heroes of Dune are strange but we can still compare them to the great heroes, from Antiquity to Shakespeare. We are in the realm of the new, the very strange, but the symbolism remains understandable.

The appendices to « Dune » and « Dune Messiah » provide reports on the ecology of Dune, the religion of Dune, and the goals and motivations of the Bene Gesserit. On the whole a very different world is described: one which is located in the distant future but which remains coherent. We are in the universe of the Other, but not of the absolutely or totally Other.

Frank Herbert assimilated Jung’s borderline concepts

Whipping Star shows that Herbert’s study of Jung was not superficial and that he assimilated his most daring concepts. He wonders if we can communicate with a « radically other » belonging to a universe where we can no longer compare anything with our usual sense and concepts.

In the world invented by Herbert, the great convergence took place that Jung thought of when he wrote in « On the Nature of the Psyche »:

« Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. » (Jung, CW8, 418)

A work that resonates

Frank Herbert’s conscious and unconscious were certainly stimulated by the study of C.G. Jung. He found materials there that can be seen in his books.

The fact that this work has had immense success, going beyond the limits of simple novels, shows that it is part of the great myths that emerge from the collective unconscious.

Ariane Callot – May 2024

Ariane Callot

Ariane Callot is a doctor of philosophy. She defended a thesis oriented on Jung in France in 2000. She is the co-founder of the association Espace Francophone Jungien and has published numerous articles on this platform.



Jungian Psychology Space - cgjung.net
Jungian Psychology Space - cgjung.net
Living places of C.G. Jung

cgjung.net © 1998 - Top of page