Dune 2 Will Finally Deliver a Piece of Princess Irulan’s Story Missing From the Book
Florence Pugh's Princess Irulan seems poised to change our understanding of one of Frank Herbert's most important Dune characters.
A beginning is a most delicate time — especially if you’re about to become the most famous historian in all of galactic history. Dune: Part Two will feature several characters who did not appear in Dune: Part One, and perhaps the most prominent is the person who will make sure that the story of Muad’Dib survives for all time. As Princess Irulan, Florence Pugh will make her mark on what is possibly the most complicated and pivotal character in all of Dune. It’s been 20 years since we’ve seen Princess Irulan preparing to do the thing she’s so good at — writing actual books in the Dune universe.
In the new trailer for Dune: Part Two, we see Irulan recording her notes about whether or not Paul Atreides is still alive on Arrakis. What we don’t see in the trailer are the two things that will define her future — she’ll become the legal wife of Paul, and, more importantly, the chronicler of his entire story. As far as the canon of the original novels is concerned, Irulan eventually writes at least 15 books, and many of those are about the events of the first novel.
Of course, these are books that exist within the Dune universe, and are published after the fact, at some unseen time, and (presumably) read by citizens in the far future, beyond the timeframe of the first two novels. These books include titles like The Irulan Report, The Humanity of Maud’Dib, A Child’s History of Muad’Dib, a play called Shadows of Dune, a personal memoir called In My Father’s House, and several, several other works. If there are any budding writers out there looking for their hero within Dune, look no further than Princess Irulan.
This isn’t to say that Irulan is the narrator outright of Dune (or its sequels), but the reason that David Lynch began his 1984 Dune movie with a memorable narration from Irulan (Virginia Madsen) is that one of her epigraphs opens the first book. And the better, more memorable epigraphs throughout the first novel come from her, too.
Pugh is the third actress to play Irulan, following Madsen in 1984, and Julie Cox, who played the character in both the 2000 miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune and the sequel miniseries Children of Dune. Cox was, without a doubt, the most fleshed-out version of Irulan, and certainly, granted a larger role than the character has in the book. This isn’t to say Frank Herbert denies Irulan agency. That’s not the case.
Instead, what’s odd about Irulan in the first three novels (Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune) is that most of the cool stuff Irulan does is “off camera,” so to speak. We don’t see her writing her books in the first novel because those come from later in her life. In Dune Messiah, her best moment — when she turns from being a conspirator against Paul to actually loving him – happens off-stage, mentioned by Alia to Duncan.
In 2000 and 2003, Cox imbued Irulan with a much more present-tense role rather than the past-tense (or future tense?) that she tends to occupy in our minds. But with Pugh’s take, Dune: Part Two can do something with this pivotal character that we never really thought possible: Demonstrate Irulan’s agency prior to her actually meeting Paul. In the 2000 Dune miniseries, this issue of Irulan coming out of nowhere later in the book was solved by having her arrive on Arrakis in person for the famous banquet scene — a place she did not appear in the book, though perhaps should have.
But Dune: Part Two seems to be playing a more clever game. Because so little is known about what Irulan was doing on Kaitain prior to her meeting Paul, the trailer hints at the idea that she’s become a kind of investigative journalist covering the film’s events. Although Irulan is technically Bene Gesserit-trained, she’s not regarded well among that group. As the slightly apocryphal Dune Encyclopedia puts it: “The Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers came to regard Irulan as one of the weakest links in their power structure; Irulan remained an independent thinker.”
This is who Irulan is throughout the first Dune book trilogy: a kind of intellectual renegade. The thing is, we rarely get to see her actually doing the kind of research and journalism that she would have had to have done in order to create such a huge body of work later in life. Yes, Irulan marries Paul because of politics, and yes, she later is fully in love with him. But, before that, and arguably, after that, there is Irulan, the scholar and researcher. And now, with her recorder in hand, Irulan is about to conquer the universe and literally change its history forever.
Dune: Part Two hits theaters on Nov. 3.