I finished the first book recently, and am watching the movie. It threw me that the navigators look like they do in the movie.

I don't remember them being non-humanoid, and if they were I missed it.

So, in the novels, are they? And if so, where is it first mentioned? Please avoid spoilers.

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    you get some explanations in the main series and a far more in depth explanation throughout the novels by his son.
    – Himarm
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:14
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    i dont believe they actually describe what a navigator looks like in the first dune? but in the second book i remember them clearly. or rather, they dont interact in the first book, where as they do in subsequent books
    – Himarm
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:15
  • There is no way to give your an answer without quoting the books that follow the first of this wonderfull series :)
    – user43540
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:39

4 Answers 4


The appearance from the movie (assuming you are talking about the David Lynch version; I haven't seen the others) is not inconsistent with the books.

They are human, or, rather, they were. But they don't look it now, and you would be hard pressed to prove it to anyone who didn't know their history. Keep reading, it's explained in the later books.

As far as I can tell, it's only alluded to in Dune (Paul mentions his intent to spot a Navigator, only to be scolded by Leto); but in Dune Messiah, it's made quite clear.

In Dune:

“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.”

Then, in Dune Messiah, right at the beginning:

Scytale looked at the Guild envoy. Edric swam in a container of orange gas only a few paces away. His container sat in the center of the transparent dome which the Bene Gesserit had built for this meeting. The Guildsman was an elongated figure, vaguely humanoid with finned feet and hugely fanned membranous hands—a fish in a strange sea. His tank’s vents emitted a pale orange cloud rich with the smell of the geriatric spice, melange.

  • 2
    I've only read the first book but I've always interpreted them as human anyway; a possibility I must admit is that I tend to mix them up with King-Emperor Huon from Moorcock's Runestaff books!
    – user8719
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 0:15
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    I found Lynch's depiction of the guild quite compelling. The "translation" device really highlighted how they were well on the way to post-human. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 4:24
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    The depiction in the Children of Dune miniseries seems to closely match the description from the books.
    – user31178
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 5:12
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    I love the design from the Lynch film, personally, but Wayne Barlowe has done a visual design based on the description from the later novels that's also interesting: waynebarlowe.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/…
    – recognizer
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 19:40
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    I'm surprised Scytale's tank is venting precious spice into the outside air, or did I misread that? Shouldn't the spice be completely contained inside the tank?
    – RobertF
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 21:38

In the first book (Dune), the only description we have is of two of their agents, who're described as "men" with no indication of non-humanoid features:

He and his companion pushed through to the barrier lances, which were raised at a nod from Paul. The two men stepped out and the taller leveled an arm at Paul, said: “You may very well be under embargo for your—”
“If I hear any more nonsense from either of you,” Paul said, “I’ll give the order that’ll destroy all spice production on Arrakis … forever.”
“Are you mad?” the tall Guildsman demanded. He fell back half a step.
“You grant that I have the power to do this thing, then?” Paul asked.
The Guildsman seemed to stare into space for a moment, then: “Yes, you could do it, but you must not.”
“Ah-h-h,” Paul said and nodded to himself. “Guild navigators, both of you, eh?”

It's not until the second book (Dune Messiah) that finally we meet a true Steersman, one of those capable of piloting a heighliner;

Scytale shifted his gaze from Irulan to the tank, inviting the Princess to share his viewpoint. She would, Scytale knew, see Edric as a repellent figure: the bold stare, those monstrous feet and hands moving softly in the gas, the smoky swirling of orange eddies around him. She would wonder about his sex habits, thinking how odd it would be to mate with such a one. Even the field-force generator which recreated for Edric the weightlessness of space would set him apart from her now.


“You know what is said of Alia?” Scytale asked, probing.
“What do you mean?” Again, the fish-man was agitated.

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    While you are providing all the relevant quotes, I would like to add to this that it never seemed to me that Herbert actually wanted to distinguish between steersmen and navigators, and if he did it was just cheap and ineffective retconning that caused more confusion than it solved. Instead, he just forgot or did not care that he mentioned navigators to be humanoid in Dune (given that the “navigators” from your first quote have no resaon to lie) and decided that he wanted them to look different in Dune Messiah. It’s one of the most blatant changes to the universe comitted by Herbert.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 6:58
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    @wrzlpmft - I always assumed that it was because the guild had groundside and airside staff. In the first novel we only see their agents.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 8:33
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    But then why would the agents have all-black eyes, which is linked to a heavy spice consumption (IIRC) and usually concealed by them by wearing glasses, contact lenses or similar? Also, if I recall correctly, the proposed distinction in terminology is not made in the later novels.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 8:58
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    If you take the later novels into consideration, the "agents" are still very heavily spice-addicted but haven't undergone the same spontaneous mutation that the steersmen go through.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 12:27
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    The difference in agents and navigators, I guess, is what has confused me. Their appearance in the first novel is what I assumed to be the navigators. Thank you for pointing that out. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 15:32

The other answers covered the original Frank Herbert books.

But the prequels (by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson) expand that information significantly and very explicitly show that Navigators are simply spice-mutated humans.

  • Origin

    The very first Navigator was Norma Cenva, and the details are covered in The Battle of Corrin:

    Her direct physical senses were deadened, and Norma no longer cared about taste, touch, or smell ... She found it remarkable to see webbing between her fingers and toes. Her face, once blunt-featured and later flawlessly beautiful, now had a small mouth and tiny eyes surrounded by smooth folds. Her head was immense, while the rest of her body atrophied to a useless appendage

  • Dune times

    More contemporary storyline close to Paul Atreides' time was the story of how D'murr Pilru became a Navigator (he was a human from Ix) in Prelude to Dune trilogy.

  • I don't have the D'murr books now, but will try to find the quotes later Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 15:18

I don't have a ton of quotes handy, but as you probably recall towards the end of the first book, the guild navigators have the blue eyes indicating an addiction to spice. As others have indicated, Dune Messiah (second book) is really the first description of a steersman (Edric) who is described as a fish-like being who constantly hovers in a tank filled with spice gas.

enter image description here

In my mind, I always pictured navigators being smaller than the image above. I am currently reading the second book, so I may (probably am) wrong in my guess, but I assume that a navigator's fish-like body is some mutation/side-effect of super-serious spice addiction, since the navigator essentially is 24/7 suffocated with spice.

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    For what it's worth, that illustration looks almost identical to the depiction in David Lynch's Dune film: youtu.be/AGqdE1NdMTg?t=20s It may be concept art for the film, or fan art based on it.
    – user41830
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 17:12
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    Entertainingly, those black suits worn by the Guild memebers? Body bags.. Not only that, USED body bags.. a detail kept from the cast until after shooting was over.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:14
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    @K-H-W "Ah-h-h!" Given the circumstances, then, I suspect it was indeed created as concept art for the film, then reused for the introduction in the shorter cut. Either way, the film is essentially a separate story which shares some plot points; it's irreconcilable with the written canon.
    – user41830
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 21:17
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    @K-H-W: References?
    – Hydra119
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 20:58
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    @Hydra119 - If you are asking about the body bags, I don't have any canon sources. It's a very common detail in 'did you know' type articles about the movie, and IMDB lists "The suits worn by the Guild members were body bags that were found in a disused fire station dating back to the early 1920s. The bags had actually been used several times, something that was kept from the cast members until after shooting was completed. " as do several other sites. I find it credible, but have no solid proof.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 1:59

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