Every Wednesday, I focus on a character from adventure fiction (film, comics & prose) that I simply adore. This week we’re talking about: Princess Irulan. Irulan is a character in the Dune novels written by Frank Herbert and I’ve always felt like she got the short end of the stick! She was the eldest daughter of Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV and Anirul, a Bene Gesserit of Hidden Rank. She was the bride of Paul Atreides, part of a political maneuvering that would ensure Paul had an uncontested claim to the throne after seizing it from her father. Because Paul (as Muad’dib) was in love with a Fremen woman named Chani, Paul swore to never take Irulan to his bed. This badly wounded Irulan and rumors of their unconsummated marriage haunted her in the royal court. Denied the chance to continue the royal lineage, Irulan fell prey to jealousy and sought to sabotage Paul’s efforts to have a child with Chani.
Essentially the narrator of the Dune series, Irulan’s writings about Paul are fascinating, as her quotes reveal not only her reverence for her husband but also her jealousy, spite and confusion. She never fully understands him but she struggles to find a role in this government where she’s been reduced to a figurehead. Though she does some things that are, at best, spiteful and, at worst, outright treasonous, I always respected Irulan a lot. In a different world, she could have been a great wife to Paul — she understood the ways of the Imperium in ways that he never grasped. Unfortunately, she was too tightly tied to the rhythms of the past and the presence of Chani denied her any chance to ever win the heart of the new Emperor.
This is how she’s described when Paul met her:
Paul’s attention came at last to a tall blonde woman, green-eyed, a face of patrician beauty, classic in its hauteur, untouched by tears, completely undefeated. Without being told it, Paul knew her — Princess Royal, Bene Gesserit-trained, a face that time vision had shown him in many aspects: Irulan.
There are so many wonderfully vivid characters in the Dune universe and almost all of them carry some measure of tragedy. Irulan’s role as the wife who stands alone, forever apart from the husband who has claimed her as the spoils of war, is a particularly haunting one. While she could never compare to my absolute favorite Dune character, Duncan Idaho, she is one of those that I always think about when my mind turns to the classic saga that has meant so much to me and to many, many others.
Our image today comes from the DeviantArt page of the talented Llyssa. Go and check out the rest of her work and adore her.
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