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(Spoilers for various Dune books)

In the Dune Encyclopedia entry for

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

it is said that she infects

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

with a degenerative disease which can be covered up by

eating excessively

What was the disease?

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1 Answer 1

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The Baron's 'disease' isn't adressed in the original novels (beyond mentioning that he's very fat) but it was in the prequel novel co-written by his son. Note that the specific disease isn't mentioned, nor does it fit the description of any contemporary plague. Clearly it's something either very rare or something that's arisen in the human population in the next 10-15000 years.

"That was when Mohiam selected the particular disease, an oh-so-gradual vengeance, a neurological disorder that would destroy his beautiful body. The Baron’s physique obviously brought him much pleasure, was a source of great pride. She could have infected him with any number of fatal, suppurating plagues— but this affliction would be a deeper blow to him, much slower in its course. She would make the Baron face his own appearance every day as he grew fatter and weaker. His muscles would degenerate, his metabolism would go haywire. In a few years, he wouldn’t even be able to walk by himself"

Dune: House Atreides

What's most find interesting is that this idea (e.g. that the Baron's condition was given to him by the BG) wasn't in the original Dune series of books, but was included in the prequels co-written by Herbert's son, which means that either the author of the encyclopaedia had inside knowledge of genesis of the Baron's condition or that Brian Herbert took the idea from the encyclopaedia.

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  • Another choice has been Brian and Herbert estate’s company line: Brian continued the prequel (and sequel) books like House Harkonnen where we learn this in canon based solely off notes of Frank Herbert and have specifically and affirmatively refuted the Dune Encyclopedia was considered by Brian & KJA. Also, with House Harkonnen written in 2000, they just could have played on idea of Lynch’s 1984 film Baron’s various afflictions and given them backstory perhaps as easily as they could 1984’s Dune Encyclopedia. Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 17:30
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    @SillybutTrue Even if the disease was in Frank Herbert's notes - as I recall the David Lynch depiction of Navigators inspired Frank Herbert to add Navigator "stages" to the book canon. The disease may be a similar synergy. Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 17:46
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    @SillybutTrue - either way I find it quite interesting. It is either a case of the tail wagging the dog or a peculiar coincidence that they both came up with the same idea (or somehow the encyclopaedia writer got the idea from Frank Herbert).
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 18:48
  • But what about the part where gluttony covers up for the disease?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 18:50
  • @einpoklum - The encyclopaedia is full of mild contradictions and inaccuracies. Much like a real encyclopedia, tbh
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 18:57

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