From the first Dune trailer debuted, moviegoers don’t know Frank Herbert’s acclaimed sci-fi novel Dune may have been confused as to why, in Denis Villeneuve’s book Dune, by Zendaya the eyes are blue. She’s not alone, of course. Many other Fremen on the planet Arrakis are suffering from the strange eye affliction. So why is this happening?
To understand, we need to talk about a key part of Dune mythology: Spice.
[[[[Ed. Remark: This part may contain spoilers for Dune, But mainly
Also known as Blend, Spice was first introduced to the world in Herbert’s first Dune novel in 1965. The substance is produced by the native sand worms of the Arakkis, known to the Fremen as of great Shai-Hulud. Mining is fraught with pitfalls. There’s the harsh weather on the planet, but also the fact that sandworms are attracted to any rhythmic noise – like that produced by machines – and tend to show up and eat mining equipment.
But what does Spice look like? Herbert was pretty vague in the original book. In the years that followed – in books like Messiah of the dunes and Children of Dune – things got a little more specific. It is a powdery substance, tending from orange to dark brown. It smells and tastes of cinnamon, and in the dark it glows blue. It’s also powerfully addicting; withdrawal is fatal.
Prolonged exposure also makes your eyes a deep blue – the iris and the sclera at the same time. In some parts of the empire, drug addicts wear contact lenses to hide their affliction. But, on the planet Arrakis, the Fremen proudly show their blue eyes.
At low doses, Spice tends to induce mild euphoria. Long-term effects – other than overall blue eyes – include increased sensitization and longevity. This is why in the world of Dune people like to put it in their food and drink. It is a popular additive across the galaxy.
But in large doses, it gives you superpowers. Most importantly for galactic society, the Human Navigators of the Spacers Guild immerse themselves in the cloth in order to enter the trance state that allows for safe space travel. As a result, they become horribly mutated. The Bene Gesserit, the Order of Mediums, Powerful Women, and the Fremen both use it to become clairvoyant, to predict the future, or to access the so-called “genetic memories” of their respective peoples.
This makes the Spice blend an incredibly powerful resource. The family that controls Arrakis controls the spice, making them the leaders of the galaxy’s preeminent drug cartel. It also makes it the supplier of the fuel that enables trade and allows the military itself to do its job.
“Whoever controls the spice, controls the universe,” Baron Vladimir Harkonnen said in Herbert’s original book. And, if they get high with their own supply, their eyes will turn blue as well.