Who Are the Mentats in DUNE?

Frank Herbert’s Dune features so many characters, groups, and elements that it’s hard to keep track of them all while reading. When David Lynch’s adaptation came out, audiences were given terminology cards to help them keep track of what was going on in the movie. In anticipation of Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune film, we are reviewing some key elements you need to know from Dune universe, starting with the Mentats.

What is a Mentat?

Mentats are people who are highly skilled in logic, computing, and cognitive thinking. In the Dune universe, instead of creating computers or machines to solve logic issues, society trains selected humans to be Mentats. Thanks to human nature, Mentats bring an ethical component to their computing and logic-based assessments. Mentats were the solution to a ban on machines caused by the outcome of the machine-human war known as the Butlerian Jihad. Mentats are part of a specific class system within the Imperium (also known as the Galactic Padishah Empire), which rules the galaxy.

Paul Atreides, Dune’s protagonist, is a Mentat. In the book, his logic and computing skills help him not only solve tricky situations while lost in the desert, but also assess political situations from the most logical and beneficial standpoint.

The textbook definition of a Mentat (from the Dune appendices) is a “class of Imperial citizens trained for supreme accomplishments of logic.” They are also often known as “human computers,” which makes a lot of sense, since they bring human ethics into neutral, unbiased logic. 

Are Mentats good?

Theoretically, yes. The other main reason machines and computers were disbanded in the universe was because they didn’t act within ethical boundaries. However, it is possible to train a Mentat to work outside of morality. These uninhibited computers are known as “twisted” Mentats. For example, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s assassin, Piter de Vries, is a twisted Mentat. De Vries is an especially ruthless killer thanks to his Mentat abilities and lack of morals. 

What does a Mentat do?

Mentats typically work as political or military advisors to the great houses in the galaxy. Like the Bene Gesserit, they can deftly assess people and situations in real-time, which helps them make rational, careful decisions. For example, they can interpret someone’s intentions through minor changes in body language or intonation. In a way, they are very similar to Star Trek’s Vulcans, approaching problems and providing suggestions using logic rather than emotion. 

How does one become a Mentat?

Mentats are trained since they are young, but aren’t aware of the training until adolescence. Once they reach a certain age, they become aware of the training and can decide if they want to continue. Paul, for example, realizes he is a Mentat and asks his mother to continue his training after the revelation. Mentats, like the Bene Gesserit, can remain calm under tense conditions. Besides being great calculators, they are also great observers and strategists.

Who are some notable Mentats?

Paul Atreides, the hero of Dune, is one. Thufir Hawat, the Master of Assassins for House Atreides, is also a Mentat. Besides advising Duke Leto Atreides on security and politics, Hawat also trains Paul in military and political strategy.

Piter de Vries, although twisted, is a Mentat as well. He serves House Harkonnen and utilizes his intelligence to manipulate others to his and the Harkonnen’s will. David Dastmalchan, from Prisoners, Ant-Man, and the Dark Knight will play de Vries in the upcoming Dune film.

Image: Dino De Laurentiis Company