The Ancestry of Stilgar: A Critical Essay

The Dune Universe is an original creation of Frank Herbert, copyright by him, all rights reserved. Mention or discussion of copyrighted characters and terms in this critical essay is not intended, nor should be interpreted, as a challenge to those copyrights.

As I was re-reading Dune, I came across some interesting hints about how Frank Herbert may have originally seen the character of Stilgar. (Page numbers refer to the old Berkley paperback edition -- current editions may have different pagination). On page 283, right after Paul and Jessica have met up with the Fremen, Jessica asks if Stilgar can speak for all Fremen, and he answers:

"In time, that may be. But only my brother, Liet, speaks for all Fremen."

The Dune Encyclopedia explains away this as being a sort of sworn brotherhood (and Dune: House Atreides goes so far as to have made Stilgar the wounded Fremen youth that Pardot Kynes saved from the Harkonnens -- unless of course Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Aanderson later decide to have the Stilgar of the original book be named after that character, just as Liet-Kynes was named for Uliet, the "older Liet," whose self-inflicted death in response to Pardot's order of "Remove yourself." was taken as a holy sign by the Fremen).

However, it seems to me that Frank Herbert may have originally considered Stilgar to have been a literal brother to Liet -- in other words, another son of Pardot Kynes and his Fremen wife. This view is supported by his first sentence, if it is interpreted as the possibility that he may well inherit Liet's position as spiritual leader of all the Fremen, even if he can't inherit the position Liet holds in his alter ego of Dr. Kynes, Imperial Planetologist.

A few pages later, on p 293, Jessica wonders at his stature among his people, where he learned his inner strength, asking herself, "What is his ancestry?"... "Whence comes such breeding?"

The original novel tells us very little of the antecedents of Pardot Kynes, only that he was the first Imperial Planetologist on Arrakis and that he saw the potential for using the Fremen to transform its ecology. Presumably he was a member of the upper classes, since he did have learning and a responsible position, so he would have had some background in leadership even if he did tend to be seen as an obsessed, lecturing scientist (Of course we must remember that Liet-Kynes' visions of his father are the product of his near-delirium brought on by wounds and dehydration, and cannot be taken as an accurate view of Pardot Kynes' total personality. And the little appendix on the life and work of Pardot Kynes is necessarily told from a certain point of view, and leaves out far more than it tells). Therefore it might well be possible that he and his Fremen wife may have had more children than Liet, and that those additional sons would take on leadership roles among the Fremen, subordinate to Liet, the (presumably) eldest son.

I've also found one other bit that seems to support this theory -- after the fight with the smugglers, when Paul's quizzing Stilgar as to why he wasn't in the fight, but instead pulled Chani aside, he answers simply, "She's my niece." (p422). The very simplicity of his wording would seem to confirm the idea that the relationship is biological rather than metaphorical or a sworn-brotherhood -- if it were the latter, he'd probably say something more like, "She's the daughter of my sworn-brother Liet."

When I posed this question on the USEnet forum, another reader suggested that it could be interpreted that Stilgar is actually Liet's brother-in-law, that is, the brother of Liet's wife. This would explain his comment that Chani is his niece. It is true that some cultures make only a weak distinction between brothers and brothers-in-law.

Last updated October 19, 2012