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The world of Frank Herbert’s Dune sports many great characters. The original novel alone has many characters besides Paul that are just incredible. Thufir Hawat, Duncan, Baron Harkonnen and his twisted mentat Piter De Vries. However, you don’t often hear people say that the Baron’s nephew Glossu Rabban is their favorite. Usually referred to as Beast Rabban he is considered equally brutal as he is stupid. Lets have a look at a few clips from the Dune adaptations.
But I think there is more to this character than that. His role in the novel is smaller than most of the other secondary characters. Next to him Piter and the Baron shine as duplicitous schemers. The latter clearly think Rabban is stupid. But I think that is unfair. So, in this video I analyze the character of Rabban. What his role is in the story? What others think of him, and what he truly is. And how came to be that people have an distorted image of him.
Who was Beast Rabban?
The Dune novel contains brief character biographies, the following is said about Rabban
COUNT GLOSSU RABBAN (10,132-10,193)
Glossu Rabban, Count of Lankiveil, was the eldest nephew of Vladimir Harkonnen. Glossu Rabban and Feyd-Rautha Rabban (who took the name Harkonnen when chosen for the Siridar-Baron’s household) were legal sons of the Siridar-Baron’s youngest demibrother, Abulurd. Abulurd renounced the Harkonnen name and all rights to the title when given the subdistrict governorship of Rabban-Lankiveil.
Rabban is mentioned about a dozen times throughout the novel, but shows up in person in only one scene, starting on page 213, set just after the fall of House Atreides:
The first reference to Rabban in the novel is made by Paul, who remembers the story of how Gurney received the inkvine scar on his jaw. However, the only time we actually meet Rabban in person is nearly half-way through the book when the baron summons him. The baron considers him with contempt, besides being overweight he refers to him as a muscle-minded tank-brain and compares him unfavorably with Piter De Vries and Feyd-Rautha. Rabban does himself no favors by insinuating the baron killed Piter, but the baron states he would not kill a useful tool.
Rabban recovers when he asks if the emperor knows the baron suborned Dr Yueh, a Suk Doctor. The baron considers this an insightful statement. As the baron states he does not want to admit to this to the emperor, but instead wants to make up an excuse as to why Dr Yueh betrayed his Duke it is Rabban who states the matter must remain secret.
Squeeze for income
After this the conversation changes back to Rabban squeezing Arrakis for income. Rabban ask if he can keep the artillery that helped defeat the Atreides, but the baron rejects this stating the situation of their use again the Atreides was a one-time use. Yet Rabban states the Fremen don’t use shields and would thus also be vulnerable to artillery, another clever insight. But things become weird when Rabban rebuffs the barons low estimate for the Fremen population and then tells him of how the Sardaukar were ambushed and defeated. It is a to the point account intended to shock the baron, not the ravings of somebody who is stupid.
The baron then instructs Rabban to collect hostages from the Houses Minor that have accompanied House Harkonnen to Arrakis, an instruction you do not give out to somebody who is stupid. However, the baron then comes into disagreement with Rabban. Rabban still wants to exterminate the Fremen people and bring in new stock, which the Baron rebuffs and considers Rabban proposal that of a stupid brutish man. But Rabban was of course right, the Fremen are dangerous, it is just that his solution is unlikely to succeed.
The chapter ends with the Baron reminding himself once more that Rabban is stupid, but it is clear he is conflating a lack of subtlety with stupidity. The baron also considers the idea of replacing Rabban with Feyd-Rautha once Rabban is finished squeezing Arrakis in the hope the locals will see Feyd as a hero. This becomes part of a larger plot after Thufir Hawat becomes involved.
What happened to Beast Rabban?
It is unclear how Rabban is killed in the novel. On page 430, Stilgar simply mentions he is dead. It leads me to believe he died in combat during the Battle of Arrakeen with his Harkonnen troops and Sardaukar allies. It is interesting that the two Dune adaptation so far completed both show Rabban being beheaded. First David Lynch’s Dune shows his head in the emperor throne room as a trophy and the miniseries shows him being beheaded by the Fremen in the Battle of Arrakeen.
Before his death Rabban is only mentioned in passing, though one is interesting. On page 402 it states Rabban has made cautious overtures for a truce with the Fremen and its leader Muad’Dib. But that together with lightening the burden of those he rules he is merely showing how weak his hand is. It does at least show he has some intelligence; this attempt is also a flagrant violation of the Baron’s orders. Rabban by this time must sense the Baron’s plans of replacing him with Feyd-Rautha. This much is confirmed by a message intercepted by Paul from the Baron to Rabban sometime earlier.
Other than that, Rabban is only mentioned by Gurney who has a personal score to settle with Rabban after his family was murdered.
Concluding my character study
Without a doubt Rabban was a cruel man, the Fremen even referred to him as Mudir Nahya, or demon ruler, when he acted as siridar governor. But is a cruel man stupid? On the one hand it was the baron who requested this cruelty, first to squeeze spice and later for Rabban to act as a scapegoat. On the other hand, cruelty only creates a brittle kind of loyalty from once subjects which a smart man would have realized.
Thus, I finish my character study of Beast Rabban. A much-maligned character from the dune universe, gifted administrator and loveable rogue …
No, Rabban is truly a dreadful character, who knows no bounds on his depravity. But considering him a stupid tank-brain as the baron would is not correct. Rabban is insecure and prefers brawn over using his brains. Yet, within certain confines he is an adequate administrator and is able to cooperate with his temporary allies the emperor’s Sardaukar. If this were a Game of Thrones channel, I already would title this video ‘Is Rabban plotting with Emperor Shaddam?’
Furthermore, Rabban is also capable of understanding his greatest problem – the Fremen – before the baron can, it is just he is incapable of dealing with them.
I understand why the three adaptations of Dune have portrayed him as a one-dimensional villain, it is simpler for the narrative but the truth is a little different. Considering the 2021 Dune movie already contains a scene in which the Baron requests Rabban to squeeze for spice I fear we won’t see much more of Dave Bautista’s Rabban, other than the obligatory death scene. And that is a shame, Rabban was integral part of the Baron’s scheme to immunize himself from the emperor’s wrath and also make a ploy for the throne. An attempt that was never going to work considering the ease with which the Fremen destroyed the Harkonnen army. Something Rabban could have told the Baron had the latter listened more carefully.
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