Dune: What Is “The Spice” – Melange Drug Explained

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Dune’s space drug melange, popularly known as “spice,” is one of the novel’s most recognizable inventions, but what is it, exactly?

At the center of the plot of Frank Herbert’s Dune lies the space drug Melange – a mysterious, psychedelic substance. The story of Dune is a unique, genre-bending beauty, a science fiction epic that is celebrated for its strange but richly sociological exploration of human behavior. The spice is a precious commodity in Dune due to its ability to enhance interstellar travel, as well as its recreational uses, and the control and acquisition of the spice drives the action in Herbert’s novel.

Arrakis, the near-uninhabitable desert planet, is the universe’s only source of melange, or “spice”. Despite the planet’s harsh and deadly conditions, control over Arrakis is the path to immense power and wealth, and the houses of the Landsraad who claim fiefdom over the land have developed advanced industrial technology to mine the spice. The Fremen, natives of Arrakis, use the drug to induce spiritual rituals and craft materials, while the secretive and conspiratorial Bene Gesserit religious order uses melange to enhance their superhuman powers of perception.


Related: Dune: Why The Emperor Hates House Atreides, Not Harkonnen

Melange is so important in the world of Dune that the universe’s political structure revolves around the spice trade. The Padishah Emperor, who controls the Imperial army, reigns as the head of the Landsraad noble houses, who, in turn, control and often battle for economic influence through shares of the CHOAM company. It’s a feudal system that also contains elements of modern global capitalism. This is especially evident in the actions of the Spacing Guild, another body of power that has perfected space travel and thereby has a stranglehold on the transport of valuable commodities, including the valuable spice Melange.

What is Dune‘s “Spice?”

Dune 2020 sandworms

Melange may seem like a trippy narcotic on a tertiary level, but in Dune it is also a necessary resource within a complex empire that relies on its production to fuel its economy. This is why the Landsraad goes through such painstaking efforts to extract the spice and contend with its guardian sandworms, the gigantic beasts that are the visual icon of the Dune series and who constantly threaten to attack the mining equipment. Sandworms are essential to spice production, as their larvae excrete material that combines with underground water deposits to literally explode above the surface.

Despite its immense importance, the spice can be dangerous when consumed in large doses. Addiction leads to physical mutations, and once fully hooked on spice, withdrawals will lead to inevitable and painful death. The Fremen can be identified by their blue eyes, a side effect of exposure to the spice, while the Navigators who control the Spacing Guild barely resemble human beings in appearance due to their prolonged contact with the Melange. The Guild Navigators submerge themselves in Melange gas chambers in order to predict the location of their hyperspace jumps without the use of mathematical computers, but the consistent exposure transforms them into fish-looking creatures.

Spice is Herbert’s most ingenious way of bridging the world between sci-fi, fantasy, and contemporary culture, with the substance acting as both a futuristic energy source and a mystical substance with magical properties. Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated Dune adaptation expertly conveys these real-world parallels, with the spice acting as an allegory for controlling valuable materials such as oil and gold by dominant political powers. Dune is undoubtedly a dazzling world filled with fascinating plots, characters, and landmarks, but Dune‘s Melange may be the most ingenious narrative driver across the entirety of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic.

Next: Dune 2021 Finally Understands That Paul’s Not The Hero

  • Dune 2 (2023)Release date: Oct 20, 2023

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