Melange (fictional drug)

Melange, often referred to as simply "the spice", is the name of the fictional drug central to the Dune series of science fiction novels by Frank Herbert, and derivative works.
In the series, the most essential and valuable commodity in the universe is melange, a drug that gives the user a longer life span, greater vitality, and heightened awareness; it can also unlock prescience in some humans, depending upon the dosage and the consumer's physiology. This prescience-enhancing property makes safe and accurate interstellar travel possible. Melange comes with a steep price, however: it is addictive, and withdrawal is fatal. Harvesting melange is also hazardous in the extreme, as its only known source is the harsh desert planet Arrakis, and melange deposits are guarded by giant sandworms.


Melange is a drug able to prolong life, bestow heightened vitality and awareness, and can unlock prescience in some humans. This prescience-enhancing property makes safe and accurate interstellar travel possible, as it enables Spacing Guild Navigators to see safe paths through space-time and navigate the gigantic Guild heighliners safely between planets. The massive amount of melange needed to achieve this requires that Navigators be contained in a large tank within a cloud of spice gas. This intense and extended exposure alters their bodies over time. In larger quantities, the spice possesses intense psychotropic effects, and is used as a powerful entheogen by both the Bene Gesserit and Fremen to initiate clairvoyant and precognitive trances, access genetic memory, and heighten other abilities. The Fremen also use the spice to make, among other things, paper, plastics, and chemical explosives, and the existence of "spice-cloth" and "spice-fiber" rugs are noted in Dune Messiah and Children of Dune. Melange can be mixed with food, and it is used to make beverages such as spice coffee, spice beer, and spice liquor.
By the events of Dune, the spice is used all over the universe and is a sign of wealth. Duke Leto Atreides notes that of every valuable commodity known to mankind, "all fades before melange. A handful of spice will buy a home on Tupile." Jon Michaud of The New Yorker wrote, "Imagine a substance with the combined worldwide value of cocaine and petroleum and you will have some idea of the power of melange." Due to the rarity and value of melange and its necessity as a catalyst for interstellar travel, the Padishah Emperor's power at the outset of Dune is secured by his control of Arrakis, which puts him on equal footing with both the assembly of noble families called the Landsraad and the Spacing Guild, which monopolizes interstellar travel. Seizing control of the planet, Paul Atreides intensifies this form of hydraulic despotism by asserting control over both the Landsraad and Spacing Guild, as well as other factions in the universe. Herbert wrote:
Herbert is vague in describing the appearance of the spice. He hints at its color in Dune Messiah when he notes that Guild Navigator Edric "swam in a container of orange gas His tank's vents emitted a pale orange cloud rich with the smell of the geriatric spice, melange." Later in Heretics of Dune, a discovered hoard of melange appears as "mounds of dark reddish brown". Herbert also indicates fluorescence in God Emperor of Dune when the character Moneo notes: "Great bins of melange lay all around in a gigantic room cut from native rock and illuminated by glowglobes The spice had glowed radiant blue in the dim silver light. And the smell—bitter cinnamon, unmistakable." Herbert writes repeatedly, starting in Dune, that melange smells like cinnamon. In Dune, Lady Jessica notes that her first taste of spice "tasted like cinnamon". Dr. Yueh adds that the flavor is "never twice the same It's like life—it presents a different face each time you take it. Some hold that the spice produces a learned-flavor reaction. The body, learning a thing is good for it, interprets the flavor as pleasurable—slightly euphoric. And, like life, never to be truly synthesized."

Physiological side effects

Extensive use of the drug tints the sclera, cornea, and iris of the user to a dark shade of blue, called "blue-in-blue" or "the Eyes of Ibad", which is something of a source of pride among the Fremen and a symbol of their tribal bond. In Dune, Paul initially has green eyes, but after several years on Arrakis they begin to take on the deep, uniform blue of the Fremen. On other planets, the addicted often use tinted contact lenses to hide this discoloration. In Dune, Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV notes of two Guildsmen:
Melange is also highly addictive, and withdrawal means certain death, though the exact method of death is unmentioned. Paul Atreides notes in Dune that the spice is " poison—so subtle, so irreversible. It won't even kill you unless you stop taking it." When aerosolized and used as an inhalant in extremely high dosages—the standard practice for Guild Navigators—the drug alters the physiology of its user. In the first chapter of Dune Messiah, Guild Navigator Edric is described in his tank of spice gas as "an elongated figure, vaguely humanoid with finned feet and hugely fanned membranous hands—a fish in a strange sea."
In Children of Dune, the term "spice trance" is used to describe the effects of an overdose of spice. Alia had previously subjected herself to such an overdose late in Dune Messiah, hoping to enhance her prescient visions. She achieves some success, but in Children of Dune, Leto II and Ghanima blame the trance for Alia's descent into Abomination. Fearful of the same fate, they resist Alia's urgings to undergo the spice trance themselves. The trial is later forced upon Leto at Jacurutu when it is suspected that he too is an Abomination. Leto survives the challenge and escapes, but is left changed. Unlike Alia, however, he remains in control, and the spice trance opens his eyes to the Golden Path that will ultimately save humanity.

Prequels and sequels

Project Amal

In the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, Project Amal is an early attempt by the Bene Tleilax to create synthetic melange in order to eliminate dependence upon Arrakis. Upon presenting their idea to the Padishah Emperor Elrood Corrino IX, in 10,154 A.G. the Tleilaxu are granted the right to occupy the planet Ix by force and remake it into a laboratory station for the project. The old Emperor wants to remove the spice monopoly by making sure that he has the only access to it, thus controlling the Spacing Guild. The Tleilaxu subsequently rename Ix "Xuttuh" after their founder. In the year 10,156 A.G., Elrood IX is assassinated by Count Hasimir Fenring at the behest of Crown Prince Shaddam. Shaddam, now under the name of Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, gives Fenring the title of Imperial Spice Minister and orders him to supervise the project.
Although Tleilaxu Master Hidar Fen Ajidica manages to create an artificial melange that seems to have the original's properties, it does not work properly. Test-sandtrout explode when exposed to it, and Fenring's test of its use by Guild Navigators ends in catastrophe as one heighliner and its passengers are destroyed and the Navigator of a second heighliner dies. When Duke Leto Atreides invades Xuttuh in 10,175 A.G. and reestablishes Prince Rhombur of House Vernius as ruler of Ix, all the records of Project Amal are destroyed by Fenring. When the news hits the Landsraad, Shaddam denies all participation, claiming never to have heard of it. He maintains that it had probably been something his senile father Elrood had done in his last days. The Tleilaxu Masters involved are ultimately executed. Ajidica himself dies from the side effects of ajidamal: his body literally falls apart as the synthetic melange had eaten it away from the inside out.


In Sandworms of Dune, Brian Herbert and Anderson's 2007 conclusion to the original series, the Spacing Guild is manipulated into replacing its Navigators with Ixian navigation devices and cutting off the Navigators' supply of melange. Sure to die should they be without the spice, a group of Navigators commission Waff, an imperfectly awakened Tleilaxu ghola, to create "advanced" sandworms able to produce the melange they so desperately require. He accomplishes this by altering the DNA of the worm's sandtrout stage and creating an aquatic form of the worms, which are then released into the oceans of Buzzell. Adapting to their new environment, these "seaworms" quickly flourish, eventually producing a highly concentrated form of spice, dubbed ultraspice. This new form of spice is so powerful that a relatively small dose causes a potential Kwisatz Haderach to descend into a complete and unbreakable coma through perfect prescience.


In Mycelium Running, mycologist Paul Stamets argues that Herbert's creation of melange was related in part to his own personal experiences with psilocybin mushrooms. Carol Hart analyzes the concept of the drug in the essay "Melange" in The Science of Dune.