The recent release of Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune got me thinking about the many depictions of Feyd Rautha, Paul Atreides’ antithesis and rival, created by artists over the years. Why not the saintly Paul himself, you ask? Well, he’s just not as interesting. He spends most of the book in a stillsuit, the same as his Fremen followers. Paul was one of them, he didn’t exalt himself, and since the stillsuits were utility garments, flashy costuming was out. But Feyd Rautha, coming from a bizarre and morally corrupt clan, has costuming more open to interpretation. In addition, Herbert was stingy with his characters’ physical descriptions, so again, outside of Feyd’s having thick lips, artists can let their imaginations fly.
When I read the books as a teenager, the impression I had of the Harkonnens was that they were the stereotypical Evil Arabs, their names, culture, and physical features deriving from the Middle East. We meet Feyd as a 16-year-old teenager, and he’s spoiled, petulant, sulky, and cheats at gladiatorial contests where he kills slaves without a second thought. A bad egg, obviously, but a good-looking one. His uncle the Baron has an obvious fascination and regard for him that the reader doesn’t see.
I thought it was because the Baron was corrupt himself and more than a little nuts, but others have interpreted the Baron’s interest as sexual, in addition to wanting Feyd as his heir to carry on the Harkonnen line. Certainly Alejandro Jodorowsky thought so, when he planned to produce a film of the novel in the mid-1970s. He commissioned French comic artist Moebius (Jean Girarud), who was of the same mind, for the storyboarding and character sketches.
I admit having Feyd be a full-on transvestite was a novel approach, but there was nothing in the book, or its sequels, to support it. In retrospect, I think it was an obvious attempt to inject some transgressive naughtiness into the dull and obvious political shenanigans… though Herbert himself did not object.
This Feyd takes another page from the playbook of the bizarre, with his Harlequin costume and elevated bison feet. It feels like something a far-future society with a mixed-up design sense might create, but it’s unappealing, perhaps deliberately so. I think it recalls this costume for Elric’s enemy Yyrkoon, from a comic adaptation of the late 1970s… its playing card aesthetic may have come, in turn, from Moebius, bringing things full circle.
But I can’t see this Harley Quinnesque Feyd walking, let alone fighting.
A more realistic Feyd in warrior armor who actually looks like he’s in his early 20s, albeit hyperdeveloped, by artist Tom Kraky.
A more realistic yet Feyd, and perhaps my favorite of this lot. He also looks more than a little Hispanic to me, like a young Lucha Libre wrestler.
Matt Keesla’s Feyd from the Syfy television production. Too wholesome and normal? The jury’s out for me as I haven’t seen it yet.
Now we are back to the Evil Redhead trope! I thought making the Harkonnen clan all carrot-tops was an odd choice for 1984 film, but apparently fan artists liked it. This Feyd emphasizes the spoiled teenager. He’s even holding the knife like it’s a toy prop not a weapon, playing dress-up.
In Dune’s early sections, Herbert did a lot of character contrast on Feyd vs. Paul. Though he didn’t come out and say it, it would have been clear to the reader who the superior of the two was — Paul with his discipline and sense of duty.
Feyd — another redhead — is extra smirky in this rendition, showing the poor slave he killed — by cheating — in the background.
Feyd with a hood, cheek piercings, codpiece, and odd gold strips across the toes of his boots. A usable, nasty depiction adhering, again, to the “Techno-redhead” aesthetic from the 1984 movie.
Portrait of Feyd showing scarred lips and a quasi-18th-century military uniform. He’s the right age, seems brutal and untrustworthy enough, and cunning. It’s a good depiction. But what happened to his mouth? It looks like it was sewn shut at one point.