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I remember reading that Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is a mentat or some result of the BG breeding program.

What exactly is he?

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2 Answers 2

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The Baron was never depicted as a Mentat, and, in fact, had Pietr De Vries (a twisted Mentat) serving him, initially, then made some use of Thufir Hawat, later.

That being said, I think I know where you are getting the idea from; mental disciplines have improved in the post butlerian jihad times, and even the debauched Baron has more intelligence than the movie version would suggest.

From Dune:

Precisely,” the Baron said. “You are on display. Now, be silent.” He glanced at Feyd-Rautha, noting his nephew’s lips, the full and pouting look of them, the Harkonnen genetic marker, now twisted slightly in amusement. “This is a Mentat, Feyd. It has been trained and conditioned to perform certain duties. The fact that it’s encased in a human body, however, must not be overlooked. A serious drawback, that. I sometimes think the ancients with their thinking machines had the right idea.”

They were toys compared to me,” Piter snarled. “You yourself, Baron, could outperform those machines.”

Perhaps,” the Baron said. “Ah, well....” He took a deep breath, belched. “Now, Piter, outline for my nephew the salient features of our campaign against the House of Atreides. Function as a Mentat for us, if you please.

[Emphasis added by me]
Thinking back on this discussion, I could easily see it leaving you with an impression that the Baron could be a mentat, but reading it carefully, I think it's clear that he is not one.

As to being part of the BG breeding program, you are correct.

Jessica (Paul's mother) is the Baron's daughter (although she doesn't know this at first) making Paul his grandson. Had things gone to BG plan, and Jessica had a girl, instead of Paul,... well, let's let Gaius Helen Mohiam say it:

“You thought only of your Duke’s desire for a son,” the old woman snapped. “And his desires don’t figure in this. An Atreides daughter could’ve been wed to a Harkonnen heir and sealed the breach. You’ve hopelessly complicated matters. We may lose both bloodlines now.”

The expanded stories are.. of questionable canon status, but also go into a bit of this. Regardless, even just the first book 'Dune' (where all of these quotes are from) makes it clear that the Baron's line was part of the BG plans for a Kwisatz Haderach.

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    Nice work, K-H-W. :-)
    – Praxis
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 16:20
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    Expanded stories? What are you talking about? There were no expanded stories. Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:00
  • @Praxis -- thanks. Dune was one of my early fictional loves, so I tend to be a little obsessive about it :) I'm glad you referenced the David Lynch version in your answer; the SciFi channel ones.. ugh Paul as a whiny bitch, Irulan vamping everyone from the opening.. Gah... I couldn't even watch more than 5 min..
    – K-H-W
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:44
  • @mikeTheLiar -- I'd say that is a totally valid interpretation :) They are INTERESTING, but I like to think of them as an interpretation of what it's THOUGHT that Frank Herbert would have done, rather than a fleshing out of his notes. Incidentally, isn't your name spelled M'aiq?
    – K-H-W
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:45
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    @K-H-W Some say Dune has expanded stories, some say Mike is a liar. You shouldn't believe either of those things. Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:53
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No evidence that he is a mentat master

Apart from having to rely on a mentat advisor — namely Pietr De Vries — for his scheming and forecasting, Harkonnen lacks one obvious feature of anyone who has spent time training as a mentat: purple stains of the juice of Sapho around the lips, as seen on De Vries below:

enter image description here

While there seems to be various things going on with Harkonnen's face, they seem mostly to be warts and scar tissue, not Sapho stains. Also, we never read in canon or otherwise of the Baron taking the juice. As the juice is the primary tool used by mentats to reach a higher plane of thought, it is doubtful that Harkonnen is a mentat.

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    Paul had been trained as a Mentat but shows no sappho staining. Perhaps it's only used under certain circumstances?
    – Valorum
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 14:10
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    @Richard : Doubtful that it would only be used in certain circumstances, as the mentat mantra makes explicit reference to the general importance of Sapho juice and to the inevitability of the stains: It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It's more that Paul is the odd man out.
    – Praxis
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 14:16
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    @Praxis -- Don't forget; although the juice is in the books, that mantra was an invention for the movie; the implication (given by the mantra) that it identifies a Mentat is not in the books.. Sapho is a tool, but not required for Mentat performance. SAPHO: high-energy liquid extracted from barrier roots of Ecaz. Commonly used by Mentats who claim it amplifies mental powers. Users develop deep ruby stains on mouth and lips. -- I agree that the Baron was not a Mentat, but I don't think Sapho use itself proves or disproves that; it was just a common, but not mandatory, tool.
    – K-H-W
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 14:46
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    Mentat training is something that anybody can undergo, and to varying degrees. There are benefits to even "introductory" mentat training - military commanders can make better/wiser tactical decisions, for instance. There are even references to Paul having some mentat training. However, if your entire purpose in life is to be a Mentat, you also take Sapho to be a better Mentat. From a computer standpoint, think of it as overclocking. You don't need it, unless you're trying to be the best Mentat you can be.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 15:31
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    -1 for not having a hand-drawn red circle.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 16:20

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