Melange [mey-lahnj] from French ‘mélange’ (‘set of diverse elements’) – also called 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 geriatric drug that gives the user a longer life span, greater vitality, and heightened awareness; it can also unlock prescience (foreknowledge of events) 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.

Herbert is vague in describing the appearance of the spice. He hints at its color 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, a discovered hoard of melange appears as ‘mounds of dark reddish brown.’ Herbert also indicates fluorescence when the character Moneo notes, ‘Great bins of melange lay all around in a gigantic room cut from native rock and illuminated by glowglobes of an ancient design with arabesques of metal scrollwork upon them. The spice had glowed radiant blue in the dim silver light. And the smell – bitter cinnamon, unmistakable.’ Herbert writes repeatedly that melange possesses the odor of cinnamon. 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.’

In ‘Dune,’ there is only one source of melange: the sands of the planet Arrakis, colloquially known as Dune and millennia later called simply ‘Rakis.’ Herbert notes in ‘Dune’ that a ‘pre-spice mass’ is ‘the stage of fungusoid wild growth achieved when water is flooded into the excretions of ‘Little Makers,’ the ‘half-plant–half-animal deep-sand vector of the Arrakis sandworm.’ Gases are produced which result in ‘a characteristic ‘blow,’ exchanging the material from deep underground for the matter on the surface above it.’ This blow is explosive in nature, erupting with enough force to kill anyone in the vicinity of it. Frank Herbert describes such a spice blow in the following passage from ‘Dune’: ‘Then he heard the sand rumbling. Every Fremen knew the sound, could distinguish it immediately from the noises of worms or other desert life. Somewhere beneath him, the pre-spice mass had accumulated enough water and organic matter from the little makers, had reached the critical stage of wild growth. A gigantic bubble of carbon dioxide was forming deep in the sand, heaving upward in an enormous ‘blow’ with a dust whirlpool at its center. It would exchange what had been formed deep in the sand for whatever lay on the surface. Herbert writes that the pre-spice mass, ‘after exposure to sun and air, becomes melange.’ He later indicates its color, when Leto II passes ‘the leprous blotches of violet sand where a spiceblow had erupted.’

Collecting the melange is hazardous in the extreme, since rhythmic activity on the desert surface of Arrakis attracts the worms, which can be up to four hundred meters (1,300 feet) in length, and very dangerous, capable of swallowing a mining crawler whole. Thus, the mining operation essentially consists of vacuuming it off the surface with a vehicle called a Harvester until a worm comes, at which time an aircraft known as a Carryall lifts the mining vehicle to safety. The Fremen, who have learned to co-exist with the sandworms in the desert, harvest the spice manually for their own use and for smuggling off-planet. The Tleilaxu eventually discover an artificial method of producing the spice in their axlotl tanks, previously only used to create gholas. It is noted that ‘For every milligram of melange produced on Rakis, the Bene Tleilax tanks produced long tons.’ The technology ‘had broken the Rakian monopoly on the spice’ but is not fully successful in pushing natural melange out of the marketplace.

Herbert notes that the geriatric properties of melange had been ‘first noted by Yanshuph Ashkoko, royal chemist in reign of Shakkad the Wise.’ 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.’ 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.

According to Alia Atredies, ‘Not without reason was the spice often called ‘the secret coinage.’ Without melange, the Spacing Guild’s heighliners could not move. Melange precipitated the ‘navigation trance’ by which a translight pathway could be ‘seen’ before it was traveled. Without melange and its amplification of the human immunogenic system, life expectancy for the very rich degenerated by a factor of at least four. Even the vast middle class of the Imperium ate diluted melange in small sprinklings with at least one meal a day.’ Referred to as “the spice,” melange can be mixed with food, and it is used to make beverages such as ‘spice coffee,’ ‘spice beer,’ and ‘spice liquor.’ Melange is in fact a drug in the clinical sense, and daily use can extend human life spans by hundreds of years. In larger quantities it 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. But melange is highly addictive, and withdrawal means certain death; Paul Atreides notes in ‘Dune’ that the spice is ‘A poison — so subtle, so insidious . . . so irreversible. It wont even kill you unless you stop taking it.’

The Navigators of the Spacing Guild depend upon melange for the heightened awareness and the prescient ability to see safe paths through space-time, allowing them to navigate the gigantic Guild heighliners between planets. The Navigators must exist within a cloud of spice gas in a tank; this intense and extended exposure mutates their bodies over time. In ‘Dune,’ Jessica says to Fremen leader Stilgar, ‘I see you do much working with the spice… you make paper… plastics… and isn’t that chemical explosives?’ The existence of ‘spice-cloth’ and ‘spice-fiber’ rugs are noted.

‘Water of Life,’ a substance related to Melange, is used for ‘spice agony,’ a ritual performed in different ways by the Fremen and the Bene Gesserit. It involves an ‘illuminating poison’ used to elevate consciousness and unlock genetic memory. Bene Gesserit survivors of the deadly ordeal are then known as ‘Reverend Mothers.’ In the original novel, ‘Dune,’ Lady Jessica refers to the ritual as ‘the Reverend Mother ordeal’ as she experiences it. Jessica realizes that although the Fremen and Bene Gesserit rituals are different, the results are the same. When attempting it himself later in the novel, Paul says, ‘We will see now whether I’m the Kwisatz Haderach who can survive the test that the Reverend Mothers have survived.’

The term ‘spice trance’ is used to describe the effects of an overdose of spice. Alia had previously subjected herself to such an overdose, hoping to enhance her prescient visions; she achieves some success, 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.

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,’ The Emperor is with two Guildsmen and notes: ‘The taller of the two, though, held a hand to his left eye. As the Emperor watched, someone jostled the Guildsman’s arm, the hand moved, and the eye was revealed. The man had lost one of his masking contact lenses, and the eye stared out a total blue so dark as to be almost black.’ When aerosolized and used as an inhalant in extremely high dosages — the standard practice for Guild Navigators — the drug acts as a mutagen. 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.’


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