D is for Duncan Idaho

DOne of my favorite characters ever, and one I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about. I think the short post format of the A to Z Challenge gives me my solution: let’s start small with this character, hit the major points. Start in the beginning, which is such a difficult time, as it points out in Dune.

Duncan Idaho almost exists as a throw-away character in the novel Dune, and was effectively treated as such in the movie and mini-series. He exists far more in the main character’s mind, reminding him of lessons, than he does actually on the page as a character. And like so many characters in Dune, he dies in the first act. So what is it about this character that grows in the imagination, that makes him larger than life? Well, I’m trying to avoid spoilers at least a little bit in this introduction, so follow on for Duncan Idaho: the most lived man in history!

Knowing There’s a Trap is the First Step in Evading It

Because they bring him back. That’s the first place where Duncan Idaho is brought to our attention. They clone him, program him, and set him as a trap for our hero. Paul Atreides is so intrigued – but cautious – about having his old mentor back.

But the memory isn’t there. He isn’t the same person. Not in his mind. The problem with clones.

And the trap is sprung – and he is to kill Paul – and he can’t. Something deep in his genetic makeup remembers who he was, is imprinted with that knowledge. And in the critical moment, he can’t do something that was so against what Duncan Idaho is and was. And he wakes up. His memories rush back.

The portrayal of this is really good in the first part of the Children of Dune mini-series, which covers the novel Dune Messiah.

Swordmaster of the Ginaz

Another place where I found more of Duncan Idaho, and came to love his character, was in the Dune prequels. This trilogy explored a number of the characters important before the birth of Paul Atreides.

Meaning part of it is the life of Duncan Idaho, escaping the Harkonnens, being taken in by the Atreides – giving him absolute loyalty to them – and then training as a Swordmaster of the Ginaz. This weapon-master training is some of my thought that goes into developing roleplaying game characters ever since…

They breathe life into Duncan Idaho, and it was surprising to me when I re-read Dune and found out how early it was that Duncan dies. And how little he is a part of that book, for the amount that I love his character.

The Many Lives of Duncan Idaho

So flash-forward to the later Dune books. And after successfully cloning Duncan – and then awakening his memories – they try again. Again and again. He lives, as Leto II’s right-hand man, over and over, throughout Leto’s life. With the original Duncan’s memories.

And then again, in the future after that. Over and over. Duncan lived so many lives, not by his own choice, not for his own purposes. They take advantage of his strong sense of service, and loyalty, to use him as a perfect sort of person to bring back.

Until they bring him back and successfully awaken all of his memories – from all of those lives. And then he is a story of history, but a story of himself. Millennia of life.

I think I’m going to leave it there for now. Duncan Idaho – the man who is interesting because he has lived so many times. The man who is used as a trap, over and over, throughout history. Used as a servant, over and over, throughout history.

The man they never just let die. Duncan Idaho.


7 responses to “D is for Duncan Idaho

  1. Oh sweet, Duncan.

    I had an awesome thought while I was reading this. You know those memes that go around Facebook – who would you want on your team in the zombie apocalypse/outer space/desert island/whatever?

    Would you rather have the Doctor, or Duncan?

    I am still working that out in my head.


  2. On a more substantive note, I think you’re capturing the essence here. When I think of Duncan, I think of that long string of clones in the middle of the series that are always getting killed off for various reasons of state. Duncan – if he can even be viewed as a single character – is a tragic hero of sorts.


  3. I was a big Duncan Idaho fan when I was reading the first Dune book, and was so bummed when he died. You might say I “Hayt”ed him dying.

    I named my car Duncan. (Wife wouldn’t let me name our other cat Jessica.)

    Hey! I’m now going to spoil something from the first season of Game of Thrones (or if you prefer, the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire: A Game of Thrones)

    Spoiler Space…

    Until I read your article just now, I hadn’t realized why the death of Jory Cassel really hit me emotionally: it was because I was reliving the death of Duncan Idaho while reading Jory’s demise. I had grown really attached to Jory and had not realized why (in part…)


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