The Bene Tleilax
are an extremely xenophobic
society in the fictional Dune universe
created by Frank Herbert
. The Bene Tleilax are genetic
manipulators, equivalent in power to a major house in the Imperium. They exclusively control a number of planets in the Imperium, but they are originally connected with the planet Tleilax
, the sole planet of the star Thalim.
Not organized along feudal lines (as most of the rest of the Imperium is), the Tleilaxu are secretive and very little is known about them; however, in Heretics of Dune their society is said to be a meritocracy. They are chiefly known for their biological products, such as artificial eyes, gholas, and Face Dancers. Because they deal in morally-questionable but highly desired products, the Tleilaxu are universally distrusted but still influential.
The use of "Bene" before their name suggests that they are an order of some kind, like the Bene Gesserit; this becomes clear in the last two books of the original series, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune.
Bene Tleilax histories
The original series
(1965), the only mentions of the Tleilaxu are made by Vladimir Harkonnen
, after his twisted mentat Piter De Vries
dies, and in the glossary, in which their planet is noted as the "source of 'twisted' Mentats
. They step into the foreground in 1969's Dune Messiah
, as their Face Dancer Scytale
enters into a conspiracy with the Bene Gesserit
, Spacing Guild
and House Corrino
to topple the rule of Paul Atreides
. The Tleilaxu role in the Empire is illustrated as they provide Paul with a ghola
) of Duncan Idaho
, named Hayt, and artificial eyes for soldiers blinded by a stone burner
. Duncan further ponders the Tleilaxu legacy of his creation in Children of Dune
Over 3,500 years later in God Emperor of Dune (1981), Tleilaxu Face Dancers kill and replace nearly everyone in the Ixian embassy on Arrakis as part of an assassination attempt on Paul's son, Leto Atreides II. The plot fails, in part due to the ingenuity of their own later generation of Duncan Idaho ghola.
Another 1,500 years pass, and in Heretics of Dune (1984) the core of the Tleilaxu is revealed: they are Zensufi, a distant offshoot of Buddhism and Sufism, and are organized along theistic lines. They have spent thousands of years concealing this fact, waiting for their ascendancy, which they believe to be occurring in Heretics of Dune. Their secret holy language is called Islamiyat, an ancient tongue the Bene Gesserit recognize and employ to elicit trust from the Tleilaxu. The Bene Gesserit pretend to share the Tleilaxu "Great Belief, the Sufi-Zensunni ecumenism that had spawned the Bene Tleilax. The Tleilaxu now provide the Sisterhood with Idaho gholas, and in Heretics of Dune it is also revealed that the Tleilaxu have developed the ability to grow the spice melange in the same axlotl tanks they use to grow gholas.
By the events of Chapterhouse: Dune, the Bene Tleilax have been all but eradicated by the fierce Honored Matres save for one Master, Scytale; he is a ghola of the original Scytale of Dune Messiah, somehow having ascended from Face Dancer to Master. Captured by the Bene Gesserit, Scytale's secret bargaining tool is a hidden nullentropy capsule containing cells carefully and secretly collected by the Tleilaxu for millennia, including the cells of Tleilaxu Masters, Face Dancers, Paul Atreides, Lady Jessica, Chani, Gurney Halleck, Thufir Hawat and other legendary figures. He intends to not only grow his own life-sustaining ghola, but to resurrect the rest of his order as well. In the meantime, he has given the Bene Gesserit enough of the axlotl technology to grow their own gholas, in particular a replacement for their military genius Miles Teg.
Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune
In Brian Herbert
and Kevin J. Anderson
's 2006 continuation of the original series, Hunters of Dune
, the Lost Tleilaxu
are introduced; they are descendants of the Tleilaxu and Face Dancers who left the Old Empire
in The Scattering
. However, their leadership is soon overtaken by their own Face Dancers, who have become independent and seek to control the universe themselves. Scytale, still a prisoner of the Bene Gesserit on the wandering no-ship Ithaca
, manages to negotiate permission to grow a ghola of himself. In the series finale, Sandworms of Dune
(2007), it is revealed that the autonomous Face Dancers are creations of the reincarnated thinking machines
, but seek to overthrow their machine "masters" as well.
Prelude to Dune
In the Prelude to Dune
(1999-2001) prequel trilogy
by Brian Herbert and Anderson, it is noted that the founder of the Bene Tleilax had been a Master named Xuttuh
. Intending an eventual Tleilaxu takeover of the universe, Master Ajidica
sends "improved" Face Dancers off to unexplored systems.
Legends of Dune
The ancestors of the Bene Tleilax are featured in the Legends of Dune
(2002-2004) prequel series by Brian Herbert and Anderson. They are a civilization of human merchants known as the "Tlulaxa", who specialize in slaves and replacement organs. They claim that the organs are grown artificially in organ farms; in reality, the vast majority of the organs are harvested from slaves. The Tlulaxa do have working organ farms, but they are used mainly as a front for the slave harvesting operations and provide only a small fraction of the replacement organs.
Bene Tleilax technologies
The Bene Tleilax are masters of biological science and control the secrets of a number of important technologies in the Dune
An axlotl tank is essentially a brain-dead woman whose womb is used as a tank to create gholas. The Bene Tleilax's use of their women in this capacity explains why no one has ever seen a Tleilaxu female.
In Heretics of Dune, it is revealed that the Tleilaxu have developed the ability to grow the spice melange in axlotl tanks, breaking the monopoly on spice that Arrakis held for thousands of years which strongly controlled the economics and the politics of the Imperium.
In Chapterhouse Dune, the Bene Gesserit have acquired axlotl tank technology and are able to use it to make gholas for their own purposes, but not spice. They are revealed not to be tanks at all, but dramatically altered women.
The axlotl tank is similar to the reproductive "stumps" in Herbert's Hellstrom's Hive.
Another of the most profitable and widely used creations of the Tleilaxu, chairdogs
are alive and partially sentient creatures used for seating. They possess the ability to shape themselves to fit their occupant.
Chairdogs are also featured in Herbert's Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment. Neither of these books is connected with the Dune series.
Face Dancers are sterile creatures, with full sentience, but with a genetically programmed loyalty to the Tleilaxu Masters. They are able to physiologically change their appearance to impersonate other people. They are used by the Tleilaxu throughout the universe to replace people whom the Tleilaxu find useful (the originals are usually killed). In this way they may infiltrate and control various groups in the universe.
Over the course of the series, as the Tleilaxu try to create more perfect mimics, the Face Dancers gain the ability to even absorb the consciousness of their subject, with the potential unintended side effect of gradually becoming that person, and passing beyond the control of the Tleilaxu Masters, rendering them useless for any purpose other than living out the rest of their subject's life just as they would have on their own.
is a clone, grown in an axlotl tank from the DNA
from a dead body of another person. At the time of Dune
, gholas have no access to the lives of the person from whom they were cloned, but after Dune Messiah
, the Tleilaxu discover that a ghola can recover his or her genetic memory during a carefully staged moment of extreme stress. Much later in the series, it is revealed that the masters of the Tleilaxu have been using this knowledge gained in Dune Messiah
as an improvised device for immortality: at their death, they are cloned; their clone recovers its memories, and the masters, in their serial incarnations, have memories stretching back thousands of years. The surviving Masters of Heretics of Dune
are clearly the longest-lived characters in the saga, after Duncan Idaho
who is the first ghola to recover its memories. Scytale himself by the events of Chapterhouse Dune
would be over 5,000 years old through his serial incarnations.
One of the earliest successes of Tleilaxu genetic engineering, the slig is a hybrid livestock animal — a cross between a large slug
and a Terran pig
— first mentioned in Heretics of Dune
and considered a delicacy: 'The sweetest meat this side of heaven.' Most people had thought that they were "tank-bred mutations", "ugly creatures who excreted slimy, foul-smelling residue, and whose multiple mouths ground incessantly on garbage", even though they enjoy devouring the flesh of these beasts (marinated slig medallions in rich Caladan
wine sauces are considered a prime delicacy). Despite being the producers of sligs, the Tleilaxu themselves do not consume the animals, having designed them to facilitate what they see as the degrading decadence and spiritual bankruptcy of all cultures but their own.
Masters are the leaders and real minds of the Bene Tleilax. After Dune Messiah
, they have the ability to regain their genetic memory with ease, allowing them to live forever, using the axlotl tanks to create gholas of themselves. They are often described as short, dwarf
-like characters with gray skin, hair and eyes, elfin
features and pointy teeth. The Bene Gesserit suspect that their appearance is intended to encourage others to underestimate them.
Tleilaxu Masters control their creations by forcing them into a hypnotic state with some predefined, implanted sound (often a specific humming or whistling noise). In Dune Messiah, the Tleilaxu dwarf Bijaz controls the ghola Hayt through a specific humming intonation that renders Hayt open to implanted commands. In Heretics of Dune, the Master Waff attempts to control his perfectly mimicked Face Dancer copy of High Priest Tuek with a humming language, but fails due to the copy's complete assimiliation into its new form.
Notable Tleilaxu Masters include Master Hidar Fen Ajidica, Master Scytale and Master Tylwyth Waff. Masters Mirlat and Torg the Younger also appear in Heretics of Dune.
Emperor: Battle for Dune
The Bene Tleilax, known as only the Tleilaxu in the game, is a subfaction in the computer game Emperor: Battle for Dune
. In game, they are treated for practical purposes as a Great House. Within the game's fiction, the Bene Tleilax are portrayed as religious fanatics who believe machines are evil. This portrayal reflects the Bene Tleilax in Heretics of Dune
rather than the amoral traders seen in most of the series. Because of their gruesome technology, they're largely disliked. They have two unique units, Contaminators and Leeches, neither of which appear in the original books.
A Contaminator is essentially a hideously-deformed mutant spawned from the Tleilaxu Flesh Vats. It carries a lethal virus, capable of turning human beings into additional Contaminators. Any infantry killed in close combat with a Contaminator will be reborn as a Contaminator, under the command of the player controlling the original Contaminator.
The Contaminator is only effective against infantry, however; its attack is extremely weak against enemy vehicles and structures.
The other unit of the Bene Tleilax forces offered to the three Great Houses during the War of Assassins, the Tleilaxu Leech, is a biogenetic tank that creates replicas of itself by implanting its larvae in enemy vehicles. It constantly damages the host vehicle until the target is destroyed and the larva hatches as another Leech. The infant larva can be removed by attacking the host vehicle or by using an infantry engineer to remove it surgically (the Atreides can also use their Repair Vehicle). A leech is extremely fast and can regenerate while stationary, making it efficient for hit-and-run tactics.