At the end of Dune Messiah, after Paul walks into the desert, Alia and Duncan/Hayt have this exchange, starting with Alia:

"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."

"You trust her?"

"She reeks of trustworthiness!"

"Ahhh," Idaho murmured ... The defection of the Princess Irulan was the last step. It left the Bene Gesserit with no remaining lever against the Atreides heirs.

Dune Messiah pg. 328. Emphasis in original.

Indeed, this is quite fortuitous for the Atreides children, but I don't see why this would happen. Throughout the novel, Irulan administers contraceptives to Chani and, admittedly reluctantly, joins the plot against Paul.

Is there something I am missing in Dune Messiah that would cause this change of heart? Failing that, is it explained in any later materials?

  • 4
    ...other than the obvious "I didn't know what I had until it was gone" trope?
    – NKCampbell
    Aug 19, 2019 at 16:00
  • @NKCampbell Well, there is that, but it's basically stated in one paragraph in the novel without explanation as to why she'd feel that way. I was wondering if there was something more, such as indications of that feeling beforehand or an in-depth explanation in later works.
    – anon
    Aug 19, 2019 at 16:23
  • 8
    As far back as the final pages of Dune, Irulan was saying to her father: "But here's a man fit to be your son." So right there, when she and Paul had just met, Frank Herbert was suggesting that Irulan saw Paul as a rare bird; a young man who could compare favorably to her father as a leader and potential mate, instead of making her feel she'd be "marrying an inferior" to serve a political or genetic agenda. That's not "love at first sight," but it is certainly respect at first sight. So I wouldn't say she completely changed her opinion of him during Dune Messiah.
    – Lorendiac
    Aug 20, 2019 at 3:04
  • @Lorendiac You are right. I do think her emotional relationship with Paul does change fairly drastically, but she definitely respects him and how formidable he can be. I edited the question.
    – anon
    Aug 21, 2019 at 17:20

1 Answer 1


It's perhaps important to note that at this point in the novel, Irulan's loyalty has been stretched tight like the skin of a drum. She's always been aware of her own limitations as a Bene Gesserit but she thought that she was at least valuable to them as a result of her position, initially as Shaddam's daughter and latterly as Paul's wife and their woman 'on the inside' of the Royal Court.

On the other hand she's developed a grudging admiration for Paul. Starved of affection, she still harbours fantasies of being his 'real' wife and bearing his children even though she knows that this is unlikely while Chani lives.

The Bene Gesserit's decision to "spend" her by using her as a tool to deny Paul an heir appears to have been the final straw. The likely penalty for her actions will be her death and she's horrified that they're willing to kill her simply to achieve this extremely limited end.

Angered, Irulan signaled that she knew her value as an agent in the royal household. Did the conspiracy wish to waste such a valuable agent? Was she to be thrown away? In what other way could they keep this close a watch on the Emperor? Or had they introduced another agent into the household? Was that it? Was she to be used now, desperately, and for the last time?

Her loyalty, already divided between her husband Paul (who's offered her kindness and respect, albeit not the physical affection of a marital relationship) and the Bene Gesserit (who've offered her nothing but unveiled contempt), now snaps.

Her final step on the road to Damascus happens off-screen, but I think we can assume wasn't until Paul died that she realised her true feelings for him. She evidently makes the decision to go full throttle in support of Paul and his children. If she can't ever now be the mother of the Emperor's children, then she can certainly be their mother-surrogate which is almost as good.


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