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Yesterday's Oglaf (link, since this particular comic is SFW, although most are not) featured a gargantuan worm bursting out of the earth—a gargantuan worm that looks a lot like the sand worms for the 1984 David Lynch Dune film, particularly around the mouthparts, with their triangular flaps and three- (or four-)fold radial symmetry.

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Worm from Dune (1984)

Had it not been for the recent Dune films, it would not really have occurred to me that the mouth structure of a sand worm did not have to look like this. Actually, when I first read the book, I had a different view in my head, but since 1984, Lynch's version has been the default. That I had a toy worm (named George) from the toy collection based on the films probably had something to do with this.

Dune Toys

However, there have been other appearance of worms with the same mouths and ridges in the intervening years. One that immediately sprang to mind was the first death in the 1990 video game The Immortal.

I think the imagery from Lynch's film was pretty influential. There is some information available online about the concept art and visual designs that were developed for the movie. For example, this is a concept model for the movie's sand worms, which has notably smaller and less symmetric jaws (?) than the final version.

Worm concept model

Was this influential depiction of the worm mouthparts completely original to Lynch's production, or were there older influences that the filmmakers were drawing on?

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  • All of Schoenherr's drawings for the original publication are great. Love the ornithopters. Commented May 28 at 3:26
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    @OrganicMarble Schoenherr's ornithopters actually look like ornithopters, unlike those weird bricks that Lynch had in his movie...
    – DavidW
    Commented May 28 at 3:43
  • IMO, these drawings were originally inspired by the mouthparts of real microscopic worms. Commented May 28 at 12:35
  • Alien's eggs had a similar 4-flap opening. But they're not worms, not mouths.
    – jcaron
    Commented May 28 at 13:53
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    Don't forget the Sarlacc from Empire Strikes Back (1983), notably also found on a desert planet. Now in the original release, we didn't see the (2-jawed) worm-mouth on this, that was added in the Special Edition decades later. But the multiple rows of teeth were there in the original, and given it was only a year before Dune, it must have been fresh in the memory when making that design. Commented May 29 at 16:38

1 Answer 1

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The first depiction of a sandworm with 3 radially-symmetrical mouth flaps I can find is an illustration by John Schoenherr for the first part of the serialized "The Prophet of Dune" in Analog, January 1965.

Sandworm (black and white) interior illustration

The same idea was used as the cover art for the third part in March of the same year:

Cover of March 1965 Analog showing a sandworm above the sand with tiny human figures around it

Schoenherr refined this concept and the version of a sandworm shown on the 1978 Dune calendar was very similar to later depictions, including a ring of many inward-pointing teeth:

Cover of "Frank Herbert's Dune Calendar 1978" showing a sandworm rising from the sand

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  • 3
    The calendar illustration was also used on the cover of The Illustrated Dune. Commented May 28 at 11:35
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    The Illustrated Dune also has a quote from Herbert on the back: "I can envision no more perfect visual representation of my Dune world than John Schoenherr's careful and accurate illustrations".
    – Dan C
    Commented May 28 at 14:24
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    @DanC Ian Schoenherr, John's son, has blogged a bit about his father's work, including a post specifically about Dune. It includes a couple other laudatory quotes about Schoenherr's work from Herbert and Campbell.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 28 at 14:34
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    The Analog cover is really wonderful. Commented May 28 at 17:49
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    @Danc: Out of curiousity, did John Schoenherr indicate what about the book made him think that Sandworms should be depicted this way? I've not read the books in full, so I was curious if a description in the book details them out in a way that seems to make the 3 radially-symmetrical mouth flaps a likely choice. Commented May 28 at 21:49

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