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Carol Highsmith. Imperial Sand Dunes, Southeastern California, 2012. Prints and Photographs Division.

Dune’s Shai-Hulud and Other Sandworms

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Frank Herbert’s Dune Chronicles series is known as the first major world building science fiction saga. Published in 1965, Dune’s influence is clear in many science fiction novels and movies produced since then. Some of the most obvious examples of Dune’s influence can be found in the stories of large, sand-dwelling creatures of nightmares that resemble the iconic sandworms of the planet Arrakis.

Dune’s Shai-Hulud

Frank Herbert’s early work can be found throughout the Library’s collections. From his early work in newspapers such as the Oregon Statesman, San Francisco Examiner, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, to his stories published in pulp magazines like Startling Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, and Amazing Stories. In fact, the first Dune story written by Herbert was published in the magazine Analog in December 1963.

Two small figures cross over sand dunes in front of a towering rock, behind which a sand storm can be seen.
Cover, Analog, December 1963.

After Dune was published as a book in 1965, it eventually acquired a devoted following and sparked many interpretations, from the 1984 movie Dune to comics and the current film series. You can view the 1985 Dune comic book series in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room and read about Paul Atreides’ life on the planet Arrakis, including his encounters with the great sandworms known as Shai-Hulud.

A large round mouth gapes open out of the sand showing many long, white teeth.
Panel detail, Dune, vol. 1, no.1, April 1985.

After Herbert’s death in 1986, the Dune universe was continued by his son Brian Herbert. Brian went on to author and co-author nearly twenty more books from the Dune universe. The recent graphic novel of Dune: House Atreides can be found in the Library’s general collections.

A person dressed in black with a dark cape billowing behind stands in front of a towering sandworm as it rises up from the sand, mouth open, showing many long white teeth.
Cover, Dune: House Atreides, vol. 3, 2022.

Sarlaccs, Krayt Dragons, and Other References

Fans of both Dune and the Star Wars movies will have no trouble recognizing the similarities between Dune and the planet Tatooine. The year before the 1984 movie of Dune was released, Return of the Jedi hit theaters.  The third installment (and Episode VI) of the Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi featured the desert planet Tatooine where Boba Fett falls into the gaping mouth of the Sarlacc, an enormous sand monster with many teeth. The Sarlacc Pit is located in the “Dune Sea.” It is easy to see the similarities between this giant, monster and the sandworms of Dune.

A man hangs down from a ship, grasping the hands of another man whose leg is caught by a large tentacle coming up from the mouth of the sarlacc monster in the sand pit below.
Panel detail, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, vol. 1, no. 2, November 1983.

Tatooine is also the home of the Krayt Dragons, large reptiles that move beneath the sand, much like the sandworms of Dune move beneath the sands of Arrakis. The Krayt Dragons are featured in the recent television series The Mandelorian, as well as the Mandelorian comics.

The Mandalorian stands in his metal armor with a smaller person in armor to the side, the long-eared green character Grogu behind him, and the spiky-scaled Krayt Dragon in front with its mouth open, showing off large teeth.
Cover detail, Star Wars: The Mandalorian Season 2, no. 1, August 2023. Unprocessed comic book collections, Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room.

Four years after the release of the movie Dune and five years after Return of the Jedi, sandworms appeared in a much different world through puppetry in the move Beetlejuice. In 1990 we were treated to the comedic-horror movie Tremors, which centers around Kevin Bacon (as Val McKee) fighting off more people-eating sandworms. References to Dune and sandworms continue to appear throughout popular culture, movies, television, and comic books.

Several panels of a comic book show two characters fighting a sandworm.
Vanessa Satone. Internal panel detail, When Sandworms Attack, 2007. Small Press Expo collection, Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room.

Additional Resources:

Comments

  1. New to me! I am an Amazon Author of four books and have used The Library of Congress in my research for both my fiction and nonfiction books. I didn’t know about Herbert’s early writing in the Seattle Pi, or the San Francisco Examiner until I read the LCB BLOG. I enjoyed “Dune” and have been an Indagator for many years but this was new information for me. Thank You!
    William (Maxon) Johnson, Ph.D.

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