Dr. Liet Kynes is kind of Dune’s keeper of the peace. He’s one of the few figures in Frank Herbert’s impactful novel that has his foot in both worlds: the Emperor’s and the Fremen’s. An imperial ecologist and planetologist, Kynes is not only key to the story—he’s key to Arrakis’ future. We learned on Tuesday in Vanity Fair’s first look at the upcoming film that Liet Kynes will be gender swapped, with Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Rogue One) portraying the character. It’s just one example of how Villeneuve is expanding the role of women in his adaptation of Dune.
Duncan-Brewster told Vanity Fair, “What Denis had stated to me was there was a lack of female characters in his cast, and he had always been very feminist, pro-women, and wanted to write the role for a woman. This human being manages to basically keep the peace amongst many people. Women are very good at that, so why can’t Kynes be a woman? Why shouldn’t Kynes be a woman?”
But who is Liet Kynes and what is their role? Let’s review what we know from the novel Dune.
It’s weird to say this for a novel from 1965, but look out for spoilers about Kynes’ role in the story.
Spoilers for Dune ahead
Dr. Liet Kynes, described as a white male in the book, is transforming Arrakis. The harsh planet valued only for its production of spice can be so much more. Kynes sees it. As the planetary ecologist serving the Emperor (he inherited the position from his father), Kynes goes by his surname only. When House Atreides comes to the desert planet, they meet Kynes. The doctor is obligated to report their activities to the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, and Kynes does just enough to make his masters happy. Thus, the Emperor underestimates him; he thinks Kynes does his bidding.
But Kynes keeps a powerful secret close to his stillsuit. The Fremen know him as Liet, one of their most revered leaders. The leader. Liet has worked closely with the Fremen, the desert dwellers who make up most of Arrakis’ population. The Emperor underestimates the Fremen, too. Liet and the Fremen have a common goal to turn Arrakis’ swaths of dusty sand into a green, lush world. The Fremen have already successfully applied Liet’s techniques on sections of the desert.
If the desert changes, what happens to the spice? It’s one of the reasons Liet keeps his plans tucked away. The Emperor would never approve of endangering the lucrative spice trade.
Liet Kynes operates in the Emperor’s world for show, but his heart is with the Fremen. He’s Chani’s father (Zendaya plays Chani in the upcoming film). And when House Harkonnen sets upon House Atreides, Liet is there for Paul and Jessica. He gives his life to help them escape because he suspects Paul Atreides has an important role in helping the Fremen now and in the future.
Will Liet Kynes be Chani’s mother in the movie? Will she perish when the Harkonnen and Imperial soldiers attack Arrakis? We’ll see when part one of Dune arrives in theaters on December 18.
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