What Is The Lisan Al Gaib In Dune?

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

lisan al gaib

Many viewers flocking to megaplexes and IMAX theaters to see Dune: Part Two, the second installment in Denis Villeneuve’s two-part, sprawling adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, are probably wondering: what is the Lisan Al Gaib? Simply put, the term describes a savior prophesied and revered by the Fremen, the native inhabitants of the desert planet Arrakis. Like a messiah figure in an Abrahamic religion, this figure is foretold to liberate the Arrakis natives and lead them to paradise.

The Real World Roots

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Like much of the Dune universe, Herbert borrowed this evocative term from our world—specifically, the Arabic language. Translated from Arabic, the sci-fi term merges the words for “tongue” and “the hidden” (or “the unseen”), connoting a mythical person who communicates, via supernatural insight, with the unknown. 

Herbert’s Fascinations

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Like many aspects of the Dune franchise—literary or cinematic—the Lisan Al Gaib underscores Herbert’s obsession with language, mysticism, and science fiction, culminating in the Dune universe. Above all, the term relates to a prophet or messiah utterly unique in their otherworldly origin, power, and knowledge. 

The Voice

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In addition to revering the mythic messiah, the Fremen — original inhabitants of the dunes of Arrakis — anticipate them to be an outsider, possessing incredible wisdom and untold ability. Specifically, this liberator will possess the storied, infamous Voice—the power demonstrated by Paul Atreides, his mother, Lady Jessica, and the fearsomely powerful women of the Bene Gesserit–to control others with one’s voice. The Voice is, among other things. mind control. 

Through this incredible power and others, the foretold Lisan Al Gaib will both navigate and master the desolate wastes of Arrakis, surmounting all who oppose them. 

Paul Atreides

lisan al gaib

Generally, both Dune: Part One and Dune: Part Two explore the prophecy surrounding the legendary Lisan. Much of the narrative, whether in the books or movies, concerns Paul Atreides, the scion of House Atreides, emerging as the embodiment of this messianic figure. Young Atreides’s narrative arc, from a young and inexperienced noble to the foretold savior, runs parallel to his integration into Fremen culture. 

Most of all, Paul’s revelation as the Lisan Al Gaib, and difficulties grappling with the role—to the point of even resisting it—significantly shape the impending holy war in the first Dune book. It is no exaggeration to say that this holy war, one Paul sees in increasingly disturbing visions and dreams, threatens the fabric of the universe. 

The Bene Gesserit

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As mentioned above, the Bene Gesserit, a secretive sisterhood wielding immense political and psychic power, features heavily in the prophecy of the Gaib. As part of their fabled Missionaria Protectiva–an effort to ready disparate societies for the arrival of the Messiah–the Gesserit have planted tales of the mythic Lisan Al Gaib across the galaxy. In fact, in a critical twist pivotal to Dune, the Gaib is also the Gesserit’s own Kwisatz Haderach, i.e., a messiah the sisterly order has genetically engineered through centuries of effort.