Cover of Heretics of Dune (1984)
|First appearance||Dune (1965)|
|Created by||Frank Herbert|
Old Father Eternity
Introduced in Dune (1965), sandworms are colossal worm-like creatures that live on the desert planet Arrakis. Arrakis is the only known source in the universe of the fictional spice "melange," a drug highly prized for its medicinal and mystical properties. Melange deposits are found in the sand seas of Arrakis, where the sandworms live and hunt. Sandworms are a routine hazard for melange-harvesting vehicles, which must be airlifted in and out of the sand seas to evade sandworm attacks. The sandworms are tolerated because they are almost indestructible, and melange is a byproduct of their life cycle.
The sandworms in Dune were inspired by the dragons of European mythology that guard some sort of treasure. Favorites of Herbert included the dragon in Beowulf that guarded a hoard of gold, and the dragon of Colchis that guarded the Golden Fleece from Jason. Like these dragons, the sandworms of Arrakis guard the melange deposits and pose a hazard for those who wish to harvest this treasure. In one of the novels, the sandworms are referred to as "dragons of the desert".
In the plot of Herbert's 1965 novel Dune, sandworms provide the danger and mystery of terra incognita, and the transformational experience the protagonist Paul Atreides must go through to triumph over his enemies. Herbert believed great power and knowledge must come at some sort of price, and so Paul must risk being devoured by a sandworm and then madness after consuming sandworm extract (the Water of Life).
The elements of any mythology must grow from something profoundly moving, something which threatens to overwhelm any consciousness which tries to confront the primal mystery. Yet, after the primal confrontation, the roots of this threat must appear as familiar and necessary as your own flesh. For this, I give you the sandworms of Dune. [...] the extension of human lifespan cannot be an unmitigated blessing. Every such acquisition requires a new consciousness. And a new consciousness assumes that you will confront dangerous unknowns — you will go into the deeps.— Frank Herbert
To escape the notice of the sandworms, a traveller in the desert must learn to "walk without rhythm", because sandworms mistake any rhythmic vibrations in the sand for prey. This element comes from Frank Herbert's experiences as a hunter and fisherman. He knew how to mask his presence from prey by techniques such as approaching from downwind and treading lightly.
Novelist Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert's son and biographer, explained that "In Children of Dune, Leto II allowed sandtrout to attach themselves to his body, and this was based in part upon my father’s own experiences as a boy growing up in Washington State, when he rolled up his trousers and waded into a stream or lake, permitting leeches to attach themselves to his legs."
John Schoenherr provided the earliest artwork for the Dune series, including the illustrations in the initial pulp magazine serial and the cover of the first hardcover edition. Frank Herbert was very pleased with Schoenherr's art, and remarked that he was "the only man who has ever visited Dune". Schoenherr gave the sandworm three triangular lobes that form the lips of its mouth. This design was referenced for the sandworm puppets that appeared in the 1984 movie adaptation of Dune.
Sandworms are also known as "Makers" or "Shai-Hulud" by the Fremen. The Fremen see the sandworms as agents of God, and their actions a form of divine intervention. The Bene Gesserit Sheeana calls them "Shaitan".
Sandworms are animals similar in appearance to colossal terrestrial annelids and in other ways to the lamprey. They are cylindrical worm-like creatures with a fearsome array of crystalline teeth which are used primarily for rasping rocks and sand. During his first close encounter with a sandworm in Dune, Paul notes, "Its mouth was some eighty meters in diameter ... crystal teeth with the curved shape of crysknives glinting around the rim ... the bellows breath of cinnamon, subtle aldehydes ... acids ..."
Sandworms grow to hundreds of meters in length, with specimens observed over 400 metres (1,300 ft) long and 40 metres (130 ft) in diameter, although Paul becomes a sandrider by summoning a worm that "appeared to be" around half a league (2,778 meters = 9121 ft) or more in length. These gigantic worms burrow deep in the ground and travel swiftly; "most of the sand on Arrakis is credited to sandworm action".
Sandworms are described as "incredibly tough" by Liet-Kynes, who further notes that "high-voltage electrical shock applied separately to each ring segment" is the only known way to kill and preserve them; atomics are the only explosive powerful enough to kill an entire worm, with conventional explosives being unfeasible as "each ring segment has a life of its own". Water is poisonous to the worms, but it is in too short supply on Arrakis to be of use against any but the smallest of them.
Herbert notes in Dune that microscopic creatures called sand plankton feed upon traces of melange scattered by sandworms on the Arrakeen sands. The sand plankton are food for the giant sandworms, but also grow and burrow to become what the Fremen call Little Makers, "the half-plant-half-animal deep-sand vector of the Arrakis sandworm".
Their leathery remains previously having "been ascribed to a fictional 'sandtrout' in Fremen folk stories", Imperial Planetologist Pardot Kynes had discovered the Little Makers during his ecological investigations of the planet, deducing their existence before he actually found one. Kynes determines that these "sandtrout" block off water "into fertile pockets within the porous lower strata below the 280° (absolute) line", and Alia Atreides notes in Children of Dune that the "sandtrout, when linked edge to edge against the planet's bedrock, formed living cisterns". The Fremen themselves protect their water supplies with "predator fish" that attack invading sandtrout. Sandtrout can be lured by small traces of water, and Fremen children catch and play with them; smoothing one over the hand forms a "living glove" until the creature is repelled by something in the "blood's water" and falls off.
The sandtrout ... was introduced here from some other place. This was a wet planet then. They proliferated beyond the capability of existing ecosystems to deal with them. Sandtrout encysted the available free water, made this a desert planet ... and they did it to survive. In a planet sufficiently dry, they could move to their sandworm phase.
The sandtrout are described as "flat and leathery" in Children of Dune, with Leto II Atreides noting that they are "roughly diamond-shaped" with "no head, no extremities, no eyes" and "coarse interlacings of extruded cilia". They can find water unerringly, and squeezing the sandtrout yields a "sweet green syrup". When water is flooded into the sandtrout's excretions, a pre-spice mass is formed; at this "stage of fungusoid wild growth", gases are produced which result in "a characteristic 'blow', exchanging the material from deep underground for the matter on the surface above it". After exposure to sun and air, this mass becomes melange.
Kynes' "water stealers" die "by the millions in each spice blow" and may be killed by even a "five-degree change in temperature". He notes that "the few survivors entered a semidormant cyst-hibernation to emerge in six years as small (about three meters long) sandworms". A small number of these then emerge into maturity as giant sandworms, to whom water is poisonous. A "stunted worm" is a "primitive form ... that reaches a length of only about nine meters". Their drowning by the Fremen makes them expel the awareness-spectrum narcotic known as the Water of Life.
While sandworms are capable of eating humans, the latter do contain a level of water beyond the preferred tolerances of the worms. They routinely devour melange-harvesting equipment—mistaking the mechanical rhythm for prey—but they seem to derive actual nutrition only from sand plankton and smaller sandworms. Sandworms will not attack sandtrout.
In Children of Dune, Leto II's prescient visions illuminate his Golden Path, his plan for the continued survival of mankind and the sandworms. After consuming massive amounts of spice, he allows many sandtrout to cover his body, the concentration of spice in his blood fooling the creatures:
The sandtrout squirmed on his hand, elongating, stretching ... becoming thin, covering more and more of his hand. No sandtrout had ever before encountered a hand such as this one, every cell supersaturated with spice ... Delicately Leto adjusted his enzyme balance ... The knowledge from those uncounted lifetimes which blended themselves within him provided the certainty through which he chose the precise adjustments, staving off the death from an overdose which would engulf him if he relaxed his watchfulness for only a heartbeat. And at the same time he blended himself with the sandtrout, feeding on it, feeding it, learning it ... He located another, placed it over the first one ... Their cilia locked and they became a single membrane which enclosed him to the elbow ... This was no longer sandtrout; it was tougher, stronger. And it would grow stronger and stronger ... With a terrible singleness of concentration he achieved the union of his new skin with his body, preventing rejection ... They were all over his body now. He could feel the pulse of his blood against the living membrane ... My skin is not my own. — Children of Dune
This layer gives Leto tremendous strength, speed, and protection from mature sandworms, which mistake his sandtrout-covered body for a lethal mass of water. He calls it a "living, self-repairing stillsuit of a sandtrout membrane", and soon notes that he is "no longer human".
Gradually over the next 3,500 years, Leto not only survives, but also is transformed into a hybrid of human and giant sandworm. By the time of God Emperor of Dune, he has exterminated all other sandworms, and his own transformation has modified his component sandtrout. When Leto allows himself to be assassinated, the sandtrout release themselves to begin the sandworm lifecycle anew; subsequent offspring are tougher and more adaptable than their predecessors, allowing them to ultimately be more easily settled on other worlds, thus ensuring the survival of the sandworm species. Each one, according to Leto, carries in it a tiny pearl of his consciousness, trapped forever in an unending prescient dream.
Over the next 1500 years, Arrakis (now called Rakis) is returned to a desert by the thriving sandworm cycle. Bene Gesserit Mother Superior Taraza becomes aware in Heretics of Dune that humanity is being limited by the prescient dream of Leto, and controlled by him through his worm remnants. She engineers the destruction of Rakis by the Honored Matres to free humanity, leaving one remaining worm to start the cycle anew. Taraza is killed; her successor Darwi Odrade takes the worm to Chapterhouse. She submerges it in a spice bath to generate sandtrout, with the goal of populating Chapterhouse, and later other planets, with new worms and infinite potential for gathering spice.
Prequels and sequels
In the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (1999–2004), the Tleilaxu initiate Project Amal, an early attempt to create synthetic melange to eliminate dependence upon Arrakis. They are fundamentally unaware, however, that melange production is part of the sandworm lifecycle, and the project is an abysmal failure.
In Sandworms of Dune, Brian Herbert and Anderson's 2007 conclusion to the original series, the Spacing Guild is manipulated into replacing its Navigators with Ixian navigation devices and cutting off the Navigators' supply of melange. Sure to die should they be without the spice, a group of Navigators commissions Waff, an imperfectly awakened Tleilaxu ghola, to create "advanced" sandworms able to produce the melange they so desperately require. He accomplishes this by altering the DNA of the sandtrout stage and creating an aquatic form of the worms, which are then released into the oceans of Buzzell. Adapting to their new environment, these seaworms quickly flourish, eventually producing a highly concentrated form of spice, dubbed "ultraspice". Meanwhile, sandworms are revealed to have survived the devastation of Rakis after all, by burrowing deep under the surface.
Connection to the spice
In Dune, the desert of Arrakis is the only known source of the spice melange, the most essential and valuable commodity in the universe. Melange is a geriatric drug that gives the user a longer life span, greater vitality, and heightened awareness; it can also unlock prescience in some subjects, depending upon the dosage and the consumer's physiology. This prescience-enhancing property makes interstellar travel ("folding space") possible. Melange comes with a steep price however: it is highly addictive, and withdrawal is a fatal process.
A by-product of the sandworm life cycle, sandtrout excretions exposed to water become a pre-spice mass, which is then brought to the surface by a buildup of gases and develops into melange through exposure to sun and air. Liet-Kynes describes such a "spice blow" in Dune:
Then he heard the sand rumbling. Every Fremen knew the sound, could distinguish it immediately from the noises of worms or other desert life. Somewhere beneath him, the pre-spice mass had accumulated enough water and organic matter from the little makers, had reached the critical stage of wild growth. A gigantic bubble of carbon dioxide was forming deep in the sand, heaving upward in an enormous "blow" with a dust whirlpool at its center. It would exchange what had been formed deep in the sand for whatever lay on the surface.
Collecting the melange is very hazardous, since rhythmic activity such as normal walking on the desert surface of Arrakis attracts the territorial worms, which are capable of swallowing even the largest mining equipment whole. They are an accepted obstacle to spice mining, as any attempt to exterminate them would be prohibitively expensive, if not entirely futile. Harvesting is done by a gigantic machine called a Harvester, which is carried to and from a spice blow by a larger craft called a Carryall. The Harvester on the ground has four scouting ornithopters patrolling around it watching for wormsign: the motions of sand which indicate that a worm is coming. Melange is collected from the open sand until a worm is close, at which time the Carryall lifts the Harvester to safety. The Fremen, who base their entire industry around the sale of spice and the manufacture of materials out of spice, have learned to co-exist with the sandworms in the desert and harvest the spice manually for their own use and for smuggling off-planet.
Later in the series, an artificial method of producing the spice is discovered by the Bene Tleilax, who develop in secret the technology to produce melange in axlotl tanks. Still, the technology is not fully successful in pushing natural melange out of the marketplace.
Due to the value of melange, attempts have been made to transplant production onto other planets. However, placing either adult sandworms or sandtrout into existing deserts always meets with failure. The large salt flats of Arrakis indicate it was not always a desert, but once had oceans. As spice production relies on the existence of a complete sandworm cycle, transplanting adult worms prevents the spice cycle from beginning anew with sandtrout, and transplanting sandtrout alone into existing desert denies them the necessary water to begin the cycle. Thus, placing sandtrout on a water-rich planet would allow them to start the complete spice cycle, at the cost of turning the planet into a desert, another Dune.
In Heretics of Dune, the Honored Matres destroy Arrakis and the Tleilaxu, in part to eliminate spice production and thus irrevocably damage the Old Empire. However, they are thwarted by the Bene Gesserit, who escape with a single sandworm. Mimicking the devolvement of the God Emperor Leto II, they submerge the worm in spice-rich water, causing it to fission into its component sandtrout. The Bene Gesserit soon use the sandtrout to terraform their own planet Chapterhouse into another Dune, and send countless others out into space to colonize other planets.
Association with the Fremen
Due to their size and territorial nature, sandworms can be extremely dangerous even to Fremen. The worms are attracted to—and maddened by—the presence of Holtzman force fields used as personal defense shields, and as a result these force fields are of little use on Arrakis. In Children of Dune it is noted that a weapon has been developed on Arrakis called a "pseudo-shield". This device will attract and enrage any nearby sandworm, which will destroy anything in its vicinity.
The Fremen manage to develop a unique relationship with the sandworms. They learn to avoid most worm attacks by mimicking the motions of desert animals, moving with the natural sounds of the desert rather than rhythmic vibrations. However, they also develop a device known as a thumper with the express purpose of generating a rhythmic vibration to attract a sandworm (see worm charming). This can be used either as a diversion or to summon a worm to ride.
The Fremen have secretly mastered a way to ride sandworms across the desert. First, a worm is lured by the vibrations of a thumper device. When it surfaces, the lead worm-rider runs alongside it and snares one of its ring-segments with a special "maker hook". The hook is used to pry open the segment, exposing the soft inner tissue to the abrasive sand. To avoid irritation, the worm will rotate its body so the exposed flesh faces upwards, carrying the rider with it. Other Fremen may then plant additional hooks for steering, or act as "beaters", hitting the worm's tail to make it increase speed. A worm can be ridden for several hundred kilometers and for about half a day, at which point it will become exhausted and sit on the open desert until the hooks are released, whereupon it will burrow back down to rest. Worm-riding is used as a coming-of-age ritual among the Fremen, and Paul's riding and controlling a giant sandworm cements him as a Fremen leader. Paul also uses worms for troop transport into the city during the Battle of Arrakeen after using atomic weapons to blow a hole in the Shield Wall.
After the reign of Leto II, sandworms become un-rideable, for reasons elaborated above. The one remarkable exception is a young girl named Sheeana, an Atreides descendant who possesses a unique ability to control the worms and safely move around them.
Fremen use the sharp teeth of dead sandworms to produce the sacred knives they call crysknives. Approximately 20 centimeters long, these hand-to-hand weapons are either "fixed" or "unfixed". An unfixed knife requires proximity to a human body's electrical field to prevent its eventual disintegration, while fixed knives are treated for storage.
Fremen tradition dictates that once a crysknife is drawn, it must not be sheathed until it has drawn blood.
In the 1984 David Lynch film Dune, the sandworms were designed by special effects modeler Carlo Rambaldi for a budgeted $2 million. Rambaldi had previously created the titular alien for the 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The blue screen constructed for Dune's special effects was thirty-five feet (11 m) high and 108 feet (33 m) wide, the largest at that time. The sandworms were achieved using practical effect models, miniature sets and blue screens. Several scales of sandworm models were created, operated by "worm wranglers" and pulled with cables to simulate motion. The largest models, which were approximately 20 feet (7 m) long, allowed for wranglers to open the worms' mouths and crane their bodies up and down and from side to side. The smaller versions were used for other movements, and for background action.
Critics were generally not impressed with the film's effects. Roger Ebert called Lynch's sandworms "striking", but noted, "the movie's special effects don't stand up to scrutiny. The heads of the sand worms begin to look more and more as if they came out of the same factory that produced Kermit the Frog (they have the same mouths)." Entertainment Weekly's Sandra P. Angulo called the sandworms "embarrassingly phallic looking". Daniel D. Snyder of The Atlantic was impressed by the "gargantuan" appearance of the sandworms thanks to the "staggering sense of scale" achieved by the miniature sets created by Emilio Ruiz del Río. Though panning the film overall, Janet Maslin of The New York Times noted the "nice worm-fight at the end of the story."
Dune (2000) and Children of Dune (2003)
The 2000 Sci Fi Channel miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune, and the 2003 sequel miniseries Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, employed computer-generated visual effects to create sandworms onscreen, under the guidance of special effects supervisor Ernest Farino.
Critics praised the visual effects in both miniseries, each of which won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special. Deborah D. McAdams of Broadcasting & Cable suggested that the images of "gigantic computer-generated sandworms munching down huge machines and people like popcorn" contributed to the 2000 miniseries' record-breaking ratings.
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Besides film and television adaptations, the Dune franchise has been adapted into a series of computer and video games in which sandworms play a part.
Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty
Through each Great House's campaign in Dune II, sandworms will make their presence known from the third battle, generally two or three per scenario. Roaming under the surface of Dune, they are attracted to vibrations, and thus the movement of units, and will actually pursue and devour the victim immediately when they reach it. This can be fatal when the sandworms consume all the player's Harvesters; as there is no "Sell buildings" option in Dune II, having no credits whatsoever and being unable to replace devoured Harvesters is a straight defeat. However, Sandworms cannot (and will not) distinguish between friendly and enemy units, so they will also devour enemy infantry and vehicles, even Fremen. In Dune II, their movement speed is medium, light vehicles and Combat Tanks can escape, but Harvesters, heavy vehicles and infantry are in constant danger. Sandworms, however, will remain idle and harmless until the player discovers them. If there are no units on sand, the Sandworm will come to a standstill and will wait until someone sets foot on sand.
Getting rid of sandworms is possible, but tricky. First, they can only be fought from rocks. The sandworm lures the attacking units into a great desert, and then turns against them, so chasing them down is futile. Apart from that, sandworms are extremely resilient for most types of weapons, and immune to Deviator and spice mounds. It requires a combined fire of several heavy vehicles to make a sandworm go away. Units and base defensive turrets will automatically fire at the sandworm when it moves within range (except the Atreides in the early version of Dune II). Eventually, after the sandworm has eaten enough vehicles, or its energy is drained to yellow, it will disappear and never emerge again. The radar marks them as a pulsating white dot.
Sand worms behave differently in Dune 2000 than in its predecessor. They can not be selected, nor is their health displayed. Their movement sight is more grainy rather than vibrating, and lightning bolts can be seen where the worm is. Their appearance is constant from the very first mission to the very end, and every multiplayer/practice map has three or more Sand worms (they can be turned off in multiplayer and practice).
Just like in Dune II, they have a voracious appetite, and will swallow vehicles, regardless of if it's the player's or the enemy's, and after swallowing five or so units, they will disappear for a short time. They are immune to spice mounds and Deviator gas as well. However, unlike in Dune II, they will re-emerge sooner or later, and will continue to roam the sands of Dune (yet, they will be a lot less aggressive). Dune 2000 Sand worms will not consume infantry, has significantly slower movement speed, and don't need to be alerted by the player. The radar shows the worm as a single white dot.
Taking a Sandworm out in Dune 2000 is simpler. In multiplayer mode, a certain type of infantry (Thumper infantry) can distract the worms' attention by deploying his thumper on the sand, attracting the worms, who will start circling around him. These worms are deadly to approach. Killing the Sand worm is time-consuming, it requires armor-piercing weapons. Troopers, Missile tanks and Devastators can nullify a Sandworm, as well as Rocket turrets.
Emperor: Battle for Dune
Towards the end of the real-time strategy game Emperor: Battle for Dune, it is revealed that both the Tleilaxu and the Spacing Guild have been secretly experimenting with the sandworms of Arrakis in a remote research facility in the desert as the three great Houses of the Landsraad, the Atreides, Ordos and Harkonnen, are busy waging the War of Assassins amongst each other. It appears the Tleilaxu have discovered the link between the Spice Melange and the sandworms as mentioned above. They plot to seize the Golden Lion Throne by breeding a man-worm, known as the Emperor Worm, and then fusing it with the Water of Life, mercilessly taken from the Lady Elara — who was held prisoner by the Reverend Mother (in truth a Tleilaxu Face Dancer) since the beginning of the game — giving the Worm almost god-like powers.
All three Houses fight against the Guild in a race against time to destroy the Emperor Worm before it awakens, with a different ending for each House depicting their units destroying the Worm. One such ending reveals that, from the wreckage of the Emperor Worm's scaffold, red eyes are glowing in the dark, which perhaps suggests that the Worm survives. Should the player fail to defeat the Emperor Worm, then it becomes crowned as the new leader of the Empire of Man.
William Touponce suggests that Herbert's depiction of larval sandworms (or sandtrout), which hold back water in the desert to maintain the arid conditions their sandworm vector requires to thrive, is "an analogy for a stage of consciousness [Paul's sister] Alia can feel. Some of the ancestral voices within her mind hold back dangerous forces that could destroy her." Touponce also describes "the archetypal terrors of confronting Shai-Hulud, the giant sandworm guarding the treasure".
- From Arabic: شَؾْء خُلُود (shay' khulūd), which means "a thing of eternity"
- "Unpublished interview with Frank Herbert and Professor Willis E. McNelly". February 3, 1969. Retrieved March 21, 2019 – via sinanvural.com.
FH: And I made it, classically, the archetypal black beast, the one who lives underground in the cavern, with the gold. WM: I see. OK., right. Well, this is the dragon of Beowulf, who lives in the cave. FH: Yes.
- Brian Herbert (2003). Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. Macmillan. ISBN 9781429958448.
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'My vision', he said. 'Unless we restore the dance of life here on Dune, the dragon on the floor of the desert will be no more.' Because he'd used the Old Fremen name for the great worm, she was a moment understanding him. Then: 'The worms?'
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You can imagine my surprise to learn that John Schoenherr, one of the world's most foremost wildlife artists and illustrators, had been living in my head with the same images. People find it difficult to believe that John and I had no consultations prior to his painting of the Dune illustrations. I assure you that the paintings were a wonderful surprise to me.
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It [the sandworm] appeared to be more than half a league long, and the rise of the sandwave at its cresting head was like the approach of a mountain.
- Herbert, Frank. Dune. "High voltage electrical shock applied separately to each ring segment is the only known way of killing and preserving an entire worm," Kynes said. "They can be stunned and shattered by explosives, but each ring segment has a life of its own. Barring atomics, I know of no explosive powerful enough to destroy a large worm entirely. They're incredibly tough."
- Herbert, Frank. Dune, Appendix I: The Ecology of Dune.
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