Princess Irulan
Princess irulan wallpaper
Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan in Dune (1984)
Gender Female
Spouse Paul Atreides
Parents Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV
Siblings Chalice
Relatives Farad'n Corrino (nephew)
Affiliation House Corrino
Bene Gesserit
House Atreides
First appearance Dune
Final appearance Children of Dune
Portrayed by Virginia Madsen (1984 film)
Julie Cox (2000 series/2003 series)
Julie Cox as Princess Irulan in Frank Herbert's Dune (2000)

Princess Irulan /ˈɪrəlɑːn/[1] is a fictional character and member of House Corrino in the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. She first appears in 1965's Dune, and is later featured in Dune Messiah (1969) and Children of Dune (1976). The character's birth and early childhood are touched upon in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999–2001) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, and she is a principal character in the Herbert/Anderson series Heroes of Dune.[2] Irulan has also appeared in all film and television adaptations of Herbert's Dune works.

As established in Dune, Irulan is the eldest daughter of the 81st Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV and Anirul, a Bene Gesserit of Hidden Rank.[3][4] Irulan has four younger sisters named Chalice, Wensicia, Josifa and Rugi, and no brothers.[3][5]

The non-canon Dune Encyclopedia (1984) by Willis E. McNelly invents an extensive, alternate biography for Irulan.[6]


In Dune, Irulan is described through Paul Atreides' eyes:

Paul's attention came at last to a tall blonde woman, green-eyed, a face of patrician beauty, classic in its hauteur, untouched by tears, completely undefeated. Without being told it, Paul knew her — Princess Royal, Bene Gesserit-trained, a face that time vision had shown him in many aspects: Irulan. There's my key, he thought.[7]

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen later notes that Irulan had eyes "that looked past and through him."[7] In Dune Messiah, the Tleilaxu Face Dancer Scytale refers to Irulan as "a tall blond beauty ... she carried herself with an aristocrat's hauteur, but something in the absorbed smoothness of her features betrayed the controls of her Bene Gesserit background."[8]

Though she is noted to have been "trained in the deepest of the Bene Gesserit ways, destined to be a Reverend Mother,"[7] in the series Irulan never undergoes the dangerous ritual spice agony to achieve this. In Dune Messiah she is noted to have been "well trained for a task at which she had failed, a flawed Bene Gesserit creation."[8] Of Irulan Lady Jessica says in Children of Dune, "Irulan had never been the most accomplished adept in the Bene Gesserit — valuable more for the fact that she was a daughter of Shaddam IV than for any other reason; often too proud to exert herself in extending her capabilities." [9]



Irulan is essentially the narrator of the novel Dune, with excerpts from her later writings used as epigraphs[7][10] (which also appear to a much lesser extent in subsequent novels in the series). The character appears in person only at the end of the novel.[7]

Prior to Dune, Duke Leto Atreides' power and influence had grown in the Landsraad, making him a threat to Shaddam. Irulan writes:

My father, the Padishah Emperor, took me by the hand one day and I sensed in the ways my mother had taught me that he was disturbed. He led me down the Hall of Portraits to the ego-likeness of the Duke Leto Atreides. I marked the strong resemblance between them — my father and this man in the portrait — both with thin, elegant faces and sharp features dominated by cold eyes. Princess-daughter, my father said, I would that you'd been older when it came time for this man to choose a woman. My father was 71 at the time and looking no older than the man in the portrait, and I was but 14, yet I remember deducing in that instant that my father secretly wished the Duke had been his son, and disliked the political necessities that made them enemies.
In My Father's House by the Princess Irulan [7]

Subsequently in Dune, Shaddam orchestrates a plot to destroy the Duke Leto, with the eager aid of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and his twisted Mentat Piter De Vries; House Harkonnen and House Atreides have been bitter enemies for millennia, since the Battle of Corrin that ended the Butlerian Jihad. The plot against the Atreides is executed: lured to the desert planet Arrakis on the pretense of taking over the valuable melange operation there, the Atreides are soon attacked by Harkonnen forces (secretly supplemented by Shaddam's seemingly unstoppable Imperial Sardaukar). Leto is killed, and Paul and his Bene Gesserit mother Jessica flee into the desert and are presumed dead. A crisis on Arrakis begins when the mysterious Muad'Dib, in actuality Paul Atreides, emerges as a leader of the native Fremen tribes against the rule of the Harkonnens.

The situation finally breaks on Arrakis and Shaddam is forced to personally intervene. Irulan accompanies her father and his army to the desert planet as he seeks to restore order and the disrupted production of the all-important spice melange. After Shaddam's Sardaukar are disastrously defeated by the Fremen assault, Paul sets his terms: the Imperial armada will leave Arrakis, Shaddam will step down and Paul will marry Irulan — or he will destroy all spice production. Shaddam is furious; Irulan says: "But here's a man fit to be your son."[7] Once Paul defeats the Baron's treacherous heir Feyd-Rautha in single combat, and Count Fenring refuses the Emperor's order to kill Paul, it is done — Paul will ascend the throne in Shaddam's place, assuming power of the Empire in Irulan's name. Jessica sums it up thus:

"See that princess standing there, so haughty and confident. They say she has pretensions of a literary nature. Let us hope she finds solace in such things; she'll have little else." A bitter laugh escaped Jessica. "Think on it, Chani: that princess will have the name, yet she'll live as less than a concubine — never to know a moment of tenderness from the man to whom she's bound. While we, Chani, we who carry the name of concubine — history will call us wives."[7]

Dune Messiah

Dune Messiah rejoins the story 12 years later. Though Irulan is Imperial Consort, she is Paul's wife in name only, as he intends his beloved concubine Chani to bear his children and heirs apparent. Any hope Irulan has of bearing a new Atreides-Corrino royal bloodline with Paul and retaining the Imperial House Corrino's influence in some form has been lost. She is also under pressure from the Bene Gesserit, who seek to preserve the Atreides bloodline, if not subvert Paul's rule entirely.[8]


Princess Irulan from Frank Herbert's 1985 work of short fiction "The Road to Dune"[11]

This resentment, coupled with Bene Gesserit orders that Paul not be allowed to father an heir with Chani, has driven Irulan to secretly drug the Fremen woman with dangerous contraceptives for years. As a result, the new Emperor and his concubine are without children. When Chani begins a special Fremen fertility diet high in melange, Irulan loses her access to administer the contraceptives; though urged by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Mohiam to chemically abort any potential fetus, Irulan protests. Irulan does, however, become part of a conspiracy against the Emperor involving the Bene Gesserit, Tleilaxu, and Spacing Guild. Paul says of her at this time:

That's a real princess down the hall. She was raised in all the nasty intrigues of an Imperial Court. Plotting is as natural to her as writing her stupid histories![8]

Despite her ties to both the Bene Gesserit and her deposed father, Paul values Irulan as an advisor and has made her a member of his high council. Chani ultimately discovers not only Irulan's role in her infertility but the fact that the contraceptives have caused permanent damage and will jeopardize her current pregnancy. Chani seeks to kill Irulan, but Paul forbids it; he is secretly somewhat grateful to Irulan, as he has seen though his prescience that childbirth will bring Chani's death, and so Irulan has unwittingly extended Chani's life. Chani dies after giving birth to Paul's twin children, Leto II and Ghanima, and a newly-blinded Paul soon thereafter wanders alone into the desert to die, as is Fremen custom for the blind. Subsequently Paul's sister Alia notes, "Do you know what I must do for [Paul]? I must save the life of the Princess Irulan. That one! You should hear her grief. Wailing, giving moisture to the dead; she swears she loved him and knew it not. She reviles her Sisterhood, says she'll spend her life teaching Paul's children ... She reeks of trustworthiness!" Duncan Idaho realizes that the defection of Irulan leaves the Bene Gesserit with "no remaining lever against the Atreides heirs."[8]

Children of Dune

Deserting the Bene Gesserit, Irulan subsequently devotes herself to House Atreides and helping to raise Paul and Chani's orphaned twins. She also serves as chief advisor to Alia, who reigns as Holy Regent for young Leto and Ghanima. During the events of Children of Dune, Irulan attempts to serve as a guide and confidante to Ghanima, but is often flustered by the adult consciousness the twins possess as a result of being pre-born and having access to Other Memory. Ghanima cares for Irulan, but Alia never trusts the Princess, due to Irulan's Corrino heritage and Alia's own increasing paranoia. This distrust proves to be well-placed, as Irulan follows Ghanima and Stilgar into the desert during the Fremen rebellion against Alia's tyranny. Though the other rebels are massacred, Irulan and Stilgar are imprisoned upon their capture, and presumably freed when Leto deposes Alia.[9]

Works attributed to Irulan

Excerpts from the following fictional works written by Irulan appear in the form of epigraphs in Dune, as well as (to a lesser extent) other novels in the series:

  • A Child's History of Muad'Dib
  • Analysis: The Arakeen Crisis
  • Arrakis Awakening
  • Collected Legends of Arrakis
  • Collected Sayings of Muad'Dib
  • Conversations with Muad'Dib
  • Count Fenring: A Profile
  • Dictionary of Muad'Dib
  • The Humanity of Muad'Dib
  • In My Father's House
  • Lecture to the Arrakeen War College
  • The Lens of Time
  • Lessons of the Great Revolt
  • Manual of Muad'Dib
  • Muad'Dib: Conversations
  • Muad'Dib, Family Commentaries
  • Muad'Dib: The Ninety-Nine Wonders of the Universe
  • Muad'Dib: The Religious Issues
  • Paul of Dune
  • Private Reflections on Muad'Dib
  • Songs of Muad'Dib
  • The Wisdom of Muad'Dib
  • Words of Muad'Dib

It is interesting to note that in Paul of Dune, it is first explained that Irulan takes liberties with the truth in her written works in an attempt to create the myth of Muad'Dib. This indicates she may be considered an unreliable narrator, casting some doubt on the veracity of numerous quotes she has provided for epigraphs in nearly all of the Dune books.

Irulan in adaptations

Irulan is played by Virginia Madsen in the 1984 film Dune, and by Julie Cox in the 2000 TV miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune and its 2003 sequel, Frank Herbert's Children of Dune.

Dune (1984)

David Lynch's 1984 film recreates Irulan's narrative function literally; Irulan only appears briefly in person at the beginning and very end, but narrates an introduction to the Dune universe.

Frank Herbert's Dune (2000)

The 2000 miniseries, however, invents an extensive subplot for Irulan.[12] Director John Harrison has said that he felt the need to expand Irulan's role because she plays such an important part in later books, and her epigraphs make her a significant presence in the novel.[12] Additionally, the character gave him a window into House Corrino.[12] Actress Cox noted that Harrison made Irulan "more of a love interest and to offset the weirdness of Paul marrying a stranger at the end."[13]

In the miniseries, Irulan is sent to Arrakis to confirm Duke Leto's position, and there strikes up a friendship with his son, Paul. After the attack on the Atreides, she immediately realizes that her father is the only one who could have possibly helped the Harkonnens. Irulan spies on Mohiam's clandestine meeting with a Spacing Guild operative; realizing that something big is afoot, she heads for the Harkonnen homeworld of Giedi Prime and coyly coerces Feyd into confirming her suspicions. As the Fremen uprising grows worse, Irulan joins her father's planning councils and offers valuable advice. She is the only one to realize the connection between Muad'Dib and Paul Atreides (which she dramatically reveals after Alia's capture), and she sees and accepts her role in Paul's unavoidable ascension to the throne.

Besides the final scene in which Irulan is betrothed to Paul, her only appearance in the miniseries based on an actual excerpt from the novel is her visit to Feyd. However, in the book it is a different Bene Gesserit, Margot Fenring, who visits the Harkonnen heir, on assignment from the Sisterhood to retrieve his genetic material (through conception) for their breeding program. The miniseries does not suggest this as Irulan's motive.


  1. "Audio excerpts from a reading of Dune by Frank Herbert". Retrieved October 6, 2010. 
  2. Kevin J. Anderson, interview in Russian magazine Mir Fantastiki, 2004 (published Russian version)"Half of the story is set in the Jihad between Dune and Dune Messiah, when Princess Irulan decides to become Paul’s official biographer, and she will tell the other half of the story, chronicling Paul’s younger years (between House Corrino and Dune)."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Herbert, Frank (1965). "Appendix IV: The Almanak en-Ashraf (Selected Excerpts of the Noble Houses): SHADDAM IV". Dune. 
  4. The Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999-2001) establishes that the former Anirul Sadow-Tonkin is a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, Proctor Superior of the Hidden Noble Rank and Kwisatz Mother.
  5. Herbert, Frank (1965). "In My Father's House (Epigraph, Princess Irulan)". Dune. "But we denied [Shaddam] a legal son ... My mother obeyed her Sister Superiors where the Lady Jessica disobeyed." 
  6. McNelly, Willis E. (June 1, 1984). "ATREIDES-CORRINO, PRINCESS IRULAN". The Dune Encyclopedia. pp. 103–106. ISBN 0-425-06813-7 (US edition). 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Herbert, Frank (1965). Dune. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Herbert, Frank (1969). Dune Messiah. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Herbert, Frank (1976). Children of Dune. 
  10. "Collected Sayings of Princess Irulan". Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  11. Herbert, Frank (1985). "[[The Road to Dune (short story)|]]". Eye. pp. 206. ISBN 0-7434-3479-X (2001 US reprint). "This authentic visage of the Princess Irulan, Muad'Dib's virgin consort, should be committed to memory before your walking tour of Arrakis. The pilgrim should beware of false images. You will be beset by tradesmen hawking such mementoes. Irulan authorized only this portrait for official sale to pilgrims." 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Fritz, Steve (December 4, 2000). "DUNE: Remaking the Classic Novel". Retrieved November 9, 2008. 
  13. Paterson, Robert (November 30, 2000). "Dune's Princess Irulan Speaks". Retrieved November 9, 2008. 

External links

es:Irulan Corrino

fr:Irulan it:Irulan Corrino

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