Note: this is about out-of-universe reasons

Throughout the Dune novels, the character of Duncan Idaho stands out as having the most appearances, but being reborn again and again as a ghola, for various purposes. Bringing back dead, beloved characters is a common trope and a form of pleasing the fans, however it is not clear to me why this particular character was chosen.

Duncan doesn't really stand out as a character. In the context of the first novel, Gurney and Thufir are both more interesting and suitable characters to bring back by various Atreides masters. His appearance is very Mary-Sue-like come to think of it: no physical or emotional flaws, gets along with everyone, dies in a blaze of glory.

Is there some particular reason for giving him such special treatment? Did Frank have a special fondness for the character, or was regretful for killing him off so early in the original? I recall reading about how Frank resurrected him in the sequels because the character was a fan favourite, so perhaps that could be a reason, but doesn't quite explain why he was reborn so many times.

  • 3
    Authors do this a lot in stories that span multi-generational lengths of time. Sometimes it's the same character; sometimes it's an Identical Grandson. Just look at the way Raymond Feist must always have some version of Jimmy The Hand hanging around, no matter how many centuries it's been since the death of James, Arutha, and the original crew. :P Mar 17, 2015 at 14:17
  • Easy enough for him to be revived once because he seemed to click with fans, and after that point as a convenient vehicle for the author.
    – Jason
    Mar 17, 2015 at 15:58
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    As a friend of mine who loves Dune remarked to me once: it seems as if Frank Herbert simply fell in love with his character.
    – Andres F.
    Mar 18, 2015 at 0:39
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    Duncan also provided perspective; he was from the first book, but was there thru the rest of them -- he was able to (and frequently did) compare how things had changed, as well as reminding others of how things were. A handy literary device when the author desires attention to be drawn to certain changes, or wants to direct the reader's attention to a specific aspect...
    – K-H-W
    Mar 18, 2015 at 0:40
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    Simply put... Duncan Idaho is the audience. He is the only character to witness the entire franchise from beginning to end, not counting the prequel novels of course.
    – Omegacron
    Nov 7, 2017 at 20:51

5 Answers 5


I can only make an somewhat educated guess about the following, but given the nature of the statement, it’s unlikely that there is anybody who can make a more substantiated claim about this:

First of all, Duncan Idaho was revived due to being a fan favourite. Wikipedia provides a reference for this, which I cannot access to confirm this, but probably somebody here will be able to do so.

Duncan Idaho is a classical example of what TV Tropes classifies as an ensemble dark horse (bold by me):

Generally, it's used to describe a side character making up part of the Ensemble, either a non-lead secondary character or a mere Flat Character, who can sometimes become unexpectedly popular with the fandom […] depending on who and where the Fandom is, as well as what the other characters are like in comparison […]. Often, this can happen because the character has very few character traits, allowing fans to imagine this character to have traits that they like.

So, Duncan Idaho did not become popular despite being “Mary-Sue-like” – he became popular because of it: He is mostly a blank slate that a certain type of reader could fill with his own idealised self, imagine himself to be and from whose viewpoint this type of reader could experience the universe.

There are some other factors which are probably beneficial to this:

  • The properties that Duncan Idaho does have are ones that the aformentioned fan would like to attribute to himself or ones that do apply to himself: He is rather young, loyal, a good swordsman and a renowned womaniser.

  • Duncan Idaho is one of the few characters in Dune that can be regarded as a regular human. All the others have special abilities (Bene Gesserit training, being a mentat, being the Kwisatz Haderach, being pre-born) or a special background (duke/baron or heir to one, Suk conditioning, fremen) that make them difficult to associate with.

  • The only other regular human is Gurney Halleck, who is however less of a blank slate and has less appealing properties: He is described as exceptionally bad looking and he is a bard.

Whether Duncan Idaho’s popularity was sufficient to revive him not only once but many times, is something I cannot say.

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    In addition, Idaho provides a connection between the first and second Dune trilogies. IIRC he is the only major character to appear in all six books. The other main connection between trilogies is the Emperor Leto; between Children and God Emperor Leto has transformed into something almost entirely inhuman, which needless to say makes him difficult for the reader to relate to. Mar 17, 2015 at 9:38
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    It's been a while since I read Dune, so maybe I'm missing something, but what's unappealing about being a bard? Mar 17, 2015 at 14:14
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    In-universe, Leto II stated in "God Emperor of Dune" that he had a fondness for the Idaho gholams and kept replacing them.
    – Omegacron
    Mar 17, 2015 at 15:41
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    @Wrzlprmft: Ah, the old "Spoony Bard" stereotype. In my experience, gamers who hold to this opinion generally have had the misfortune of playing with people who don't know how to play a bard effectively. Heck, even Elan ends up as a powerful, important member of the party once a bit of character development forces him to stop screwing around so much... :P Mar 17, 2015 at 17:50
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    @Lexible: Keep in mind that Duncan Idahos first reincarnation was published in 1969, long before Lynch’s or even Jodorowsky’s Dune and also before fantasy roleplaying, while we are at it. Even God Emperor of Dune predates the Lynch movie.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 17, 2015 at 19:19

Duncan was a dead, non-Fremen, non-royal warrior character beloved by all major protagonists from the original novel. This made him the ideal ghola to tempt Paul in Dune Messiah.

To tempt Paul, it had to be someone he loved or could not stand to send away. Paul would likely have refused (or killed) anyone who wasn't dear to him in some way.

To be a ghola, you must first be dead. This rules out Gurney Halleck and Jessica.

The body also needed to retrievable. This rules out Liet Kynes, who died alone in the deep desert. Paul did not love Kynes, but as Chani's father, he might have been unable to send him away.

The ghola needed to be able to kill Paul. This rules out Thufir Hawat, who would stand no chance against Paul.

The ghola could not be Fremen either. Too much about gholas was heretical to them - the metallic eyes, a corpse not rendered for water, etc.

The above reasons make Duncan the ideal assassin ghola he was intended to be, in-universe.

Out-of-universe, Duncan was also the ideal character for who the ghola(s) would go on to be.

He loved Leto I, he loved Jessica, and he loved Paul. This set him up perfectly to experience intense mental trauma when triggered to kill Paul. His love for Jessica also set him up to fall for her daughter, Alia.

As a non-royal, there would be no legal complications from resurrection. Duke Leto I fits a lot of the necessary criteria so far, but it would add unnecessary legal drama to the book. With all of the "plots within plots", there would have to be a number of sidebars about the legality of Paul's rule and whether Leto I could seize power in such-and-such situation. There was enough of this with Wensicia Corrino in Children of Dune.

Leto I could also never leave Arrakis, like the Duncans could do whenever it was necessary. "Here I am, here I remain!" - Leto I, II the Elder, Paul, Alia, and Leto II all never left the planet after they arrived on it (we don't know if Ghanima ever did).

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    Not much was said about Thufir's martial prowess, but he was known as a warrior-mentat, and that other one, Miles Teg, was formidable. Mar 18, 2015 at 1:10
  • A fair point. However, Thufir's body was not very retrievable. He killed himself in front of Paul at the big showdown in Arakeen. What happened to his remains is not stated, but it would be very unlikely that the Corrinos were in any position to sneak off with any corpses at that time.
    – friggle
    Mar 18, 2015 at 14:33
  • The original book has a great deal of emotional trauma. Paul is uprooted from his birth world, is almost assassinated, loses his father, must flee into a frightening desert to avoid being killed again, has to face the emotional consequences of killing for the first time, becomes increasingly isolated as the freman and close friends start to view him, not as a person, but as a religious icon. Each of these are part of his transformation from a teenage boy into the complex figure he becomes at the end of the novel. Mar 9, 2016 at 15:12
  • I agree, I don't recall why I wrote that line about physical trauma. I have written it out.
    – friggle
    Mar 16, 2016 at 19:45

The original reason Duncan was brought back was because he was simply a bad ass. Before he was initially killed by a craven use of a hunter seeker, Duncan Killed 19 imperial Sardaukar single handedly (mentioned during the plotting on Salusa Secundus in Children of Dune). Think about that for a second. The Sardaukar were the elite of the elite fighting force of that universe. Each Indivually badasses in their own right and yet Duncan is able to tear through them like butter thus allowing Paul and Jessica to escape.

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    This seems like an in-universe reason, and the question is specifically asking for authorial/editorial reasons.
    – DavidW
    Jan 18, 2019 at 22:01

It has been a long time since I read the works of Frank Herbert and his son, nevertheless, it appears to me that Duncan was brought back repeatedly with the ultimate goal of making him the "Kwisatz Haderach".

This is born out in the "final" novel authored by his son and co-writer culminating with the syntheses of Duncan's mind to the machine, Erasmus, in order to bring peace between man and A.I. and to rule them benevolently.

It seems to me that the Duncan thread that runs through the stories is the purely human link (as others suggest) that Herbert sought to retain, to preserve as a kind of hope for all humanity, that we might learn from the past and make a better future for mankind instead of one devoted to self destruction. Duncan, I believe, was Herbert's hero in that he represented qualities of devotion, loyalty, duty, honor, as well as a kind self reliance, independence, an uncompromising inner core, and an unfailing desire to make oneself better.


I think Leto keeps a Duncan around for the qualities he displays: leadership, loyalty, technical skill. These properties may not be much use to Leto directly but Leto knew that he would be killed/deposed/die eventually and wanted to make sure that a Duncan was around to help shape the future.

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    This is an in-universe answer to an out-of-universe question. Moreover, it is explicitly stated that Leto uses the Duncans for breeding.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 17, 2015 at 18:20

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