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In the Dune series, the Spacing Guild has a monopoly on interstellar/faster-than-light travel, and its Navigators consume massive amounts of spice to fuel the prescience that allows them to plot their FTL jumps safely.

My question is: at the start of the original book, who actually knew about the Guild's dependence on spice, outside of the Guild itself? Was it a complete secret, common knowledge, or something in between?

(I recall seeing arguments on this very website that the use of spice in FTL travel was a closely-held secret until Paul shook up the status quo, but I couldn't find a specific question addressing the matter, so here it is.)

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    I think the confusing thing is that it appears to be common knowledge that the Guild can see the future in limited ways[1], but it's apparently not common knowledge that this power comes from the spice. [1] e.g. early in the book, Paul thinks: "But the idea of living out his life in the mind-groping-ahead-through-possible-futures that guided hurtling spaceships appalled him. "
    – usul
    Commented Apr 25 at 8:42
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    @usul - Interesting...Valorum's answer interprets that as an insight that Paul gains through his own spice vision, and Paul does mentally note that the Guild would supply him with spice if he joined up with them. I think I'd need to see clearer evidence from the text before I buy into your theory.
    – MJ713
    Commented Apr 25 at 19:05
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    There's not a lot of hard evidence to be had...Per DavidW's answer, the Emperor is certainly aware of the Guild's prescience abilities. It also seems to be common knowledge that the Guild navigators are mutated and have strange characteristics. And it's common knowledge that only the Guild navigators can navigate. But is their prescience common knowledge? It seems so to me, but not completely clear.
    – usul
    Commented Apr 26 at 2:10

2 Answers 2

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The Great Houses are unaware. Leto is one of the most powerful people in the Landsraad and hasn't the faintest idea what a Guild Navigator looks like or actually does. All of his interactions are through their agents.

“That’s part of the price you pay for Guild Security. There could be Harkonnen ships right alongside us and we’d have nothing to fear from them. The Harkonnens know better than to endanger their shipping privileges.” “I’m going to watch our screens and try to see a Guildsman.”

“You won’t. Not even their agents ever see a Guildsman. The Guild’s as jealous of its privacy as it is of its monopoly. Don’t do anything to endanger our shipping privileges, Paul.”

“Do you think they hide because they’ve mutated and don’t look…human anymore?”. “Who knows?” The Duke shrugged. “It’s a mystery we’re not likely to solve.

Paul works it out shortly after the death of his father when he has his first spice vision.

And he thought: The Guild—there’d be a way for us, my strangeness accepted as a familiar thing of high value, always with an assured supply of the now-necessary spice.

But the idea of living out his life in the mind-groping-ahead-through-possible-futures that guided hurtling spaceships appalled him. It was a way, though. And in meeting the possible future that contained Guildsmen he recognized his own strangeness.

He shares the secret with Gurney after they're reunited in the desert.

“Arrakis is crawling with Guild agents. They’re buying spice as though it were the most precious thing in the universe. Why else do you think we ventured this far into….”

“It is the most precious thing in the universe,” Paul said. “To them.”

Even the rank and file of the Bene Gesserit were ignorant of this fact.

“What stays the Guild’s hand?” Jessica whispered.

“They’re searching for me,” Paul said. “Think of that! The finest Guild navigators, men who can quest ahead through time to find the safest course for the fastest Heighliners, all of them seeking me…and unable to find me. How they tremble! They know I have their secret here!” Paul held out his cupped hand. “Without the spice they’re blind!”

Although their negotiators and elders apparently had some inkling that the Guild used spice to generate prescience

A few of the Bene Gesserit had long been aware that the Guild could not interfere directly with the vital spice source because Guild navigators already were dealing in their own inept way with higher order dimensions, at least to the point where they recognized that the slightest misstep they made on Arrakis could be catastrophic. It was a known fact that Guild navigators could predict no way to take control of the spice without producing just such a nexus. The obvious conclusion was that someone of higher order powers was taking control of the spice source, yet the Bene Gesserit missed this point entirely

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  • Interesting, these are all details that I'd forgotten; probably because I started reading the books 40 years ago or so. Commented Apr 26 at 15:14
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It was not common knowledge, for Paul exclaimed he had figured out their secret and that was one reason he was a threat to them:

"They're searching for me," Paul said. "Think of that! The finest Guild navigators, men who can quest ahead through time to find the safest course for the fastest Heighliners, all of them seeking me ...and unable to find me. How they tremble! They know I have their secret here!" Paul held out his cupped hand. "Without the spice they're blind!"

Dune, Book Three "Prophet"

The navigators themselves admit this to him, but don't want it widely spread about:

"Ah-h-h," Paul said and nodded to himself. "Guild navigators, both of you, eh?"

"Yes!"

The shorter of the pair said: "You would blind yourself, too, and condemn us all to slow death. Have you any idea what it means to be deprived of the spice liquor once you're addicted?"

"The eye that looks ahead to the safe course is closed forever," Paul said. "The Guild is crippled. Humans become little isolated clusters on their isolated planets. You know, I might do this thing out of pure spite... or out of ennui."

"Let us talk this over privately," the taller Guildsman said. "I'm sure we can come to some compromise that is—"

ibid

The Emperor appears to know, or suspect, because he is unsurprised by the evidence of extreme spice usage by Guild navigators:

The taller of the two, though, held a hand to his left eye. As the Emperor watched, someone jostled the Guildsman's arm, the hand moved, and the eye was revealed. The man had lost one of his masking contact lenses, and the eye stared out a total blue so dark as to be almost black.

The smaller of the pair elbowed his way a step nearer the Emperor, said: "We cannot know how it will go." And the taller companion, hand restored to eye, added in a cold voice: "But this Muad'Dib cannot know, either."

The words shocked the Emperor out of his daze. He checked the scorn on his tongue by a visible effort because it did not take a Guild navigator's single-minded focus on the main chance to see the immediate future out on that plain. Were these two so dependent upon their faculty that they had lost the use of their eyes and their reason? he wondered.

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    He was shocked by their stupid comment, but not about anything else. I thought it pointed to a lack of surprise otherwise to call that out as shocking. It's possible that's just a quirk of how I read it.
    – DavidW
    Commented Apr 24 at 20:23
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    @Valorum Everyone? Even the poor/average Joe? And certainly most people don't use heavily enough to cause that level of eye change. In any case, I think the last sentence shows the Emperor's awareness that Navigators in general rely heavily on their prescience.
    – MJ713
    Commented Apr 25 at 3:14
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    @MJ713 - Spice use in the Empire is endemic. Those that can't afford pure spice are drinking it as spice beer or eating spiced cakes.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 25 at 5:56
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    David Lynch really caused confusion by mutating navigators more than usual and giving the spice addiction away in the first scene where we learn who's boss (not the emperor) then? Commented Apr 25 at 13:21
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    I tend to agree with DavidW here. Even though spice use in the Empire is endemic, consuming it to such a high degree -- as it would turn eyes so dark as to be almost black -- it's only affordable by very wealthy people (or the Fremen, of course!). But note even the Emperor (one of the wealthiest) is not described as having dark blue-on-blue eyes. Yet his total lack of surprise at Guild navigators having spice blue eyes hints at his knowledge of widespread use by the Guild; and Shaddam is a clever guy so adding 2+2 is probably not a big step.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 26 at 17:31

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