Vladimir Harkonnen

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Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
Dune character
Baron Harkonnen-John Schoenherr-Illustrated Dune (1978).jpg
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen by John Schoenherr, from The Illustrated Dune (1978)
First appearanceDune (1965)
Last appearanceDune: House Corrino (2001) [2]
Created byFrank Herbert
Portrayed by
FamilyHouse Harkonnen
ChildrenLady Jessica
Kenneth McMillan as Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune (1984)

The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is a fictional character from the Dune franchise created by Frank Herbert. He is primarily featured in the 1965 novel Dune and is also a prominent character in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999–2001) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The character is brought back as a ghola in the Herbert/Anderson sequels which conclude the original series, Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007).

Baron Harkonnen is portrayed by Kenneth McMillan in David Lynch's 1984 film Dune. Ian McNeice plays the role in the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune and its sequel, 2003's Children of Dune. Harkonnen will be portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård in the upcoming Denis Villeneuve film Dune.


Frank Herbert wanted a harsh-sounding name for the antagonistic family opposing House Atreides in Dune. He came across the name "Härkönen" in a California telephone book and thought that it sounded "Soviet", though it is in fact Finnish.[3] In earlier drafts of Dune, the character was called "Valdemar Hoskanner".[4]


Herbert's "Appendix IV: The Almanak en-Ashraf (Selected Excerpts of the Noble Houses)" in Dune says of Harkonnen (in part):

VLADIMIR HARKONNEN (10,110–10,193) Commonly referred to as Baron Harkonnen, his title is officially Siridar (planetary governor) Baron. Vladimir Harkonnen is the direct-line male descendant of the Bashar Abulurd Harkonnen who was banished for cowardice after the Battle of Corrin. The return of House Harkonnen to power generally is ascribed to adroit manipulation of the whale fur market and later consolidation with melange wealth from Arrakis.[5]

In Dune, Herbert writes that the Baron possesses a "basso voice" and is so "grossly and immensely fat" that he requires anti-gravity devices known as suspensors to support his weight.[6] As ruthless and cruel as he is intelligent and cunning, the Baron has a talent for manipulating others and exploiting their weaknesses. His sexual preference for young men is implied in Dune and Children of Dune.[7][8][9] It is noted, however, that he "once permitted himself to be seduced" by a Bene Gesserit in the liaison which produced his secret daughter.[10]


Emily Asher-Perrin of Tor.com explains that "what makes the Baron truly monstrous [is] the fact that he spends all of his time plotting murder, sowing discord, and destroying populations of people to get his way".[11] She also notes:

Dune was written in the 1960s when certain types of coding were common for villainous characters. In the case of the Baron, there are two primary issues at hand, two characteristics that further argue his odiousness on the story's behalf that are rightly seen as contentious today: the Baron is obese, and he is also queer ... the Baron Harkonnen being the only fat and only visibly queer person in the novel continues to be a problem for Dune. When a villain is the sole character to occupy certain characteristics, the reader or viewer is made keenly aware that those characteristics are being tied to their moral vacancy ... The physical appearance of the Baron is particularly noticeable in part because nearly everyone else in Dune is commonly portrayed as lithe and athletic.[11]

Asher-Perrin also writes that while the novel suggests that the Baron's obesity might be the result of a genetic disease, the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson explains that Harkonnen was once a fit, attractive but vain man who is given the incurable disease intentionally by the Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Mohiam after he drugs and rapes her.[11] Asher-Perrin suggests that in this narrative, "the Baron's corpulence is meant to be comeuppance for doing something reprehensible, a physical punishment meant to hurt his vanity by taking away the attractiveness he so prized in himself."[11] She also remarks that this retelling "does nothing to alleviate the connection being drawn between weight and hedonistic sadism".[11]



As Dune begins, a longstanding feud exists between the Harkonnens of Giedi Prime and the Atreides of Caladan. The Baron's intent to exterminate the Atreides line seems close to fruition as Duke Leto Atreides is lured to the desert planet Arrakis on the pretense of taking over the valuable melange operation there. The Baron has an agent in the Atreides household: Leto's own physician, the trusted Suk doctor Wellington Yueh. Though Suk Imperial Conditioning supposedly makes the subject incapable of inflicting harm, the Baron's twisted Mentat Piter De Vries notes:

It's assumed that ultimate conditioning cannot be removed without killing the subject. However, as someone once observed, given the right lever you can move a planet. We found the lever that moved the doctor.

The Baron has taken Yueh's wife Wanna prisoner, threatening her with interminable torture unless Yueh complies with his demands. Harkonnen also distracts Leto's Mentat Thufir Hawat from discovering Yueh by guiding Hawat toward another suspect: Leto's Bene Gesserit concubine Lady Jessica, of whom Hawat is already distrustful. The Atreides are soon attacked by Harkonnen forces (secretly supplemented by the seemingly unstoppable Imperial Sardaukar) as Yueh disables the protective shields around the Atreides palace on Arrakis. As instructed, Yueh takes Leto prisoner; however, desiring to slay the Baron, Yueh provides the captive Leto with a fake tooth filled with poisonous gas as a means of simultaneous assassination and suicide. De Vries kills Yueh but he also dies with Leto in the assassination attempt; however Harkonnen survives. The Baron then manipulates Hawat into his service, by convincing Hawat that Lady Jessica was the traitor and using Hawat's desire for revenge on Lady Jessica and the Emperor as motivation to assist House Harkonnen.

Leto and Jessica's son Paul Atreides flee into the desert with Jessica, and both are presumed dead. Paul's prescience helps him determine the identity of Jessica's father, the "maternal grandfather who cannot be named" — the Baron himself.[10] Over the next two years, Harkonnen learns that his nephews Glossu Rabban and Feyd-Rautha are conspiring against him to usurp his throne; he lets them continue to do so, reasoning that they have to somehow learn to organize a conspiracy. As punishment for a failed assassination attempt against him, Harkonnen forces Feyd to single-handedly slaughter all the female slaves who serve as Feyd's lovers. He explains that Feyd has to learn the price of failure.

The Baron's plan to assure Feyd's power is to install him as ruler of Arrakis after a period of tyrannical misrule by Rabban, making Feyd appear to be the savior of the people. However, a crisis on Arrakis begins when the mysterious Muad'Dib emerges as a leader of the native Fremen tribes against the rule of the Harkonnens. Eventually, a series of Fremen victories against Beast Rabban threaten to disrupt the trade of the spice. The Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV decides to intervene himself and arrives on Arrakis along with legions of Sardaukar forces. Shaddam and the Baron are shocked to learn that Muad'Dib is, of course, a very-much-alive Paul Atreides. The Imperial forces fall prey to a surprise attack by the Fremen. Part of the Fremen/Atreides strategy is to wait until a sandstorm shorts out the force field shields of the Harkonnen/Imperial transport ships, disable them with projectile weapons, and then attack with a vast assault force, using sandworms under cover of the severe weather to break the enemy lines. The Sardaukar and Harkonnen forces are trapped on the planet, astonished at the sandworm mounts and vast numbers of their attackers. Their past ruthlessness gives them little hope of quarter from the enraged Fremen.

Rabban dies in the initial part of the battle; the Harkonnen army is massacred to the last man and almost all the Imperial Sardaukar are killed. Baron Harkonnen himself is poisoned with a gom jabbar by Paul's young sister Alia Atreides, his own granddaughter, and dies at the age of 83, with the latter also revealing her direct lineage to him just beforehand. Paul then kills Feyd in ritual combat. House Harkonnen's virtual extermination removes it as a galactic power, but Paul's ascension to the Imperial throne in Shaddam's place guarantees that Vladimir's descendants will long reign as the Imperial House Atreides.

Children of Dune[edit]

Alia had been born with her ancestral memories in the womb, a circumstance the Bene Gesserit refer to as Abomination, because in their experience it is inevitable that the individual will become possessed by the personality of one of their ancestors. In Children of Dune, Alia falls victim to this prediction when she shares control of her body with the ego-memory of the Baron Harkonnen, and eventually falls under his power. Alia eventually commits suicide, realizing that Harkonnen's consciousness has surpassed her abilities to contain him.

Prelude to Dune[edit]

In the Prelude to Dune prequel series by Brian Herbert and Anderson, it is established that Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is the son and heir of Dmitri Harkonnen and his wife Victoria. Harkonnen's father had been the head of House Harkonnen and ruled the planet Giedi Prime. Trained since youth as a possible successor, Vladimir had been eventually chosen over his half-brother Abulurd (namesake of the original). Unhappy with his brother's doings, Abulurd eventually marries Emmi Rabban and renounces the family name and his rights to the title. Under the name Abulurd Rabban, he reigns as governor of the secondary Harkonnen planet Lankiveil. Abulurd and his wife have two sons: Glossu Rabban (later nicknamed "Beast Rabban" after he murders his own father) and Feyd-Rautha; Vladimir later adopts the boys back into House Harkonnen, and Feyd becomes his designated heir. The Baron's most prominent political rival is Duke Leto Atreides; the Harkonnens and the Atreides have been bitter enemies for millennia, since the Battle of Corrin that ended the Butlerian Jihad. When Emperor Shaddam IV orchestrates a plot to destroy the "Red Duke" Leto, the Baron eagerly lends his aid.

The young Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is described as an exceedingly handsome man, possessing red hair and a near-perfect physique. The Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is instructed by the Sisterhood to collect his genetic material (through conception) for their breeding program. As the Baron's homosexuality is something of an open secret, Mohiam blackmails him into having sexual relations with her and conceives his child. When that daughter proves genetically undesirable, Mohiam kills her and returns to Harkonnen for a second try; at this point he drugs and viciously rapes her. She exacts her retribution by infecting him with a rare, incurable disease that later causes his obesity. Mohiam's second child with the Baron is Jessica.[12] In Dune: House Harkonnen, the deteriorating Baron at first walks with the assistance of a cane, then relies on belt-mounted suspensors to retain mobility. He consults numerous doctors in the expanse of time between the Dune: House Atreides and Dune: House Harkonnen, up to and including his future instrument Dr. Yueh, all of whom are ultimately no help. To conceal this debilitation, he pretends that his obesity is due to intentional overindulgence, lest the Landsraad remove him from power. When he determines that Mohiam inflicted him with the disease, he attempts to coerce her into revealing the cure, but soon discovers that there is none. The Baron, Duke Leto, and Jessica herself are unaware that Jessica is secretly the Baron's daughter or that he has even fathered one; in the year 10,176, the Baron's grandson Paul is born to Leto and Jessica.

Hunters of Dune[edit]

In Hunters of Dune (2006), the continuation of the original series by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, the Baron is resurrected as a ghola (5,029 years after the death of Alia) by the Lost Tleilaxu Uxtal, acting on orders from the Face Dancer Khrone. Khrone intends to use the Baron ghola to manipulate a ghola of Paul Atreides, named Paolo. Khrone tries various torture techniques for three years to awaken the 12-year-old Baron's genetic memories; these methods fail due to the Baron's sadomasochistic nature. Khrone is successful when he imprisons the Baron in a sensory deprivation tank for a prolonged period; the Baron's memories of his former life return. The reincarnated Baron is soon haunted by the voice of Alia in his mind; the source of this inner Alia is never explained.

In adaptations[edit]

Ian McNeice as Vladimir Harkonnen in the Dune miniseries (2000)

1984 film[edit]

Baron Harkonnen is portrayed by Kenneth McMillan in David Lynch's 1984 film.[13] The obese and disheveled Baron is overtly unstable, and covered in oozing pustules. Emily Asher-Perrin of Tor.com writes that "Lynch's attempt is infamous for really leaning on [the] codified aspects of the Baron, to the point where his sore-ridden appearance has been called out as a likely connection to the AIDs epidemic, which was a prevalent health crisis while the film was in production."[11] Asher-Perrin adds, "Lynch also makes a point of connecting the Baron's desire for men to deviancy and violence, deliberately juxtaposing his assault of a young man with a tender love scene between Duke Leto and Lady Jessica Atreides."[11]

2000 miniseries[edit]

Ian McNeice plays the Baron in the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune,[14] and its sequel, 2003's Children of Dune.[15] Asher-Perrin notes that the miniseries played down the negative aspects emphasized by the Lynch film, and writes, "[The Baron's] appearance was not altered to make him seem ill, he never physically attacks anyone, and the miniseries paid more attention to the fact that the Baron was a rapist, his preference for men being incidental."[11] She also praises McNeice as a standout among the cast, writing that he "manages to make the Baron Harkonnen—easily one of the most despicable characters in science fiction literature—every bit as conniving and vicious as he needs to be...and every bit as fascinating. McNiece has a superb sense of how to make the baron mesmerizing to watch no matter how odiously he behaves".[16]

Upcoming film[edit]

Baron Harkonnen will be portrayed by Stellan Skarsgård in the upcoming Denis Villeneuve film Dune.[17] Discussing the film in its early stages, Asher-Perrin writes that "Baron Harkonnen needn't be obese for the sole purpose of making misguided points."[11] She suggests that the film find "a different way to highlight the Baron's obsession with excess", and argues that the character's iconic suspensors could be presented as "an affectation of laziness rather than a physical necessity."[11]

Other media[edit]

The video game Emperor: Battle for Dune, whose in-game cut scenes are visually inspired by David Lynch's film, features a character named Baron Rakan Harkonnen, portrayed by Mike McShane. This Harkonnen is nearly identical to the film's version of Vladimir in both appearance (minus the belt-mounted suspensors) and personality, and also dies by poisoning.

H. R. Giger's Harkonnen Capo Chair is a chair originally designed by the artist as set dressing for an unrealized 1970s adaptation of Dune by Alejandro Jodorowsky.[18][19]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Established in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999-2001) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
  2. ^ A ghola of Baron Harkonnen is created in Hunters of Dune (2006) and also appears in Sandworms of Dune (2007); these may or may not be considered appearances of the original character.
  3. ^ Brian Herbert (2003). Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert. Macmillan. ISBN 9781429958448.
  4. ^ Herbert, Brian; Anderson, Kevin J. (2005). "Spice Planet". The Road to Dune. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton.
  5. ^ Herbert, Frank (1965). "Appendix IV: The Almanak en-Ashraf (Selected Excerpts of the Noble Houses): VLADIMIR HARKONNEN". Dune. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0441172719.
  6. ^ Herbert, Frank (1965). Dune. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0441172719. As [Baron Vladimir Harkonnen] emerged from the shadows, his figure took on dimension — grossly and immensely fat. And with subtle bulges beneath folds of his dark robes to reveal that all this fat was sustained partly by portable suspensors harnessed to his flesh. He might weigh two hundred Standard kilos in actuality, but his feet would carry no more than fifty of them.
  7. ^ From Dune: "I'll be in my sleeping chambers," the Baron said. "Bring me that young fellow we bought on Gamont, the one with the lovely eyes. Drug him well. I don't feel like wrestling."
  8. ^ From Dune: "Why haven't you ever bought a Bene Gesserit, Uncle?" Feyd-Rautha asked. "With a Truthsayer at your side —" "You know my tastes!" the Baron snapped.
  9. ^ The Baron says to Feyd in Dune: "This old fool saw through the shielded needle you'd planted in that slave boy's thigh. Right where I'd put my hand on it, eh?"
  10. ^ a b Paul says to Jessica in Dune, "And, mother mine, there's a thing you don't know and should—we are Harkonnens ... take my word for it ... I have all the data. We're Harkonnens ... You're the Baron's own daughter," he said, and watched the way she pressed her hands to her mouth. "The Baron sampled many pleasures in his youth, and once permitted himself to be seduced. But it was for the genetic purposes of the Bene Gesserit, by one of you."
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Asher-Perrin, Emily (February 5, 2019). "How to Handle the Baron Harkonnen in a Modern Dune Adaptation". Tor.com. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  12. ^ According to the authors, the revelation that Mohiam is Jessica's mother was pulled directly from Frank Herbert's working notes for the original Dune series. "Chat with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson: Dune: House Harkonnen". Sci-Fi Channel. 2000. Archived from the original on November 5, 2007. Retrieved February 7, 2019 – via SciFi.com.
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 14, 1984). "Movie Review: Dune (1984)". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2010.
  14. ^ Stasio, Marilyn (December 3, 2000). "Cover Story: Future Myths, Adrift in the Sands of Time". The New York Times. Retrieved August 21, 2015.
  15. ^ Wertheimer, Ron (March 15, 2003). "Television Review: A Stormy Family on a Sandy Planet". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  16. ^ Asher-Perrin, Emily (May 9, 2017). "Syfy's Dune Miniseries is the Most Okay Adaptation of the Book to Date". Tor.com. Retrieved February 20, 2019.
  17. ^ McNary, Dave (January 9, 2019). "Stellan Skarsgard to Play Villain in Dune Movie". Variety. Retrieved January 11, 2019.
  18. ^ Giger, H. R. (1996). H.R.Giger's Film Design. London, England: Titan Books. ISBN 9781852867195.
  19. ^ "H.R. Giger's Harkonnen Chairs". HRGiger.com. Retrieved 23 August 2015.

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