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Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (10110 AG - 10193 AG) was the penultimate ruler of House Harkonnen, and the chief architect in the demise of Duke Leto Atreides I of House Atreides during the latter part of the reign of Shaddam IV.
Born the son of Baron Dmitri Harkonnen and Victoria Harkonnen, Vladimir showed an early interest in attaining power, and was trained to become the heir to House Harkonnen, ahead of his more mild-mannered half-brother Abulurd. During this time, his father served as head to the House Harkonnen and as Siridar and Baron of the planet Giedi Prime.
Vladimir built upon the earlier success of his predecessors, gradually making House Harkonnen more successful through blackmail, subterfuge and treachery.
Vladimir and MohiamEdit
He started out an exceedingly handsome man, with a near-perfect muscular physique, often wearing sleeveless attire to show it off. When Gaius Helen Mohiam demanded the Baron to conceive a daughter for the Bene Gesserit breeding program, the Baron initially refused. He reluctantly agreed the first time, but the first daughter turned out to be too weak for the Sisterhood's tastes. Subsequently, Mohiam returned to Giedi Prime to conceive another child. The Baron stunned Mohiam with a neural scrambler and viciously raped her upon her arrival, conceiving Lady Jessica in the process.
Mohiam opted to punish Vladimir with a debilitating disease that would slowly destroy his physique, and make him morbidly obese. Over time, the Baron's body gained massive amounts of weight, growing fatter with each passing year. He consulted numerous doctors, including Suk Doctor Wellington Yueh, who told him how he had acquired the debilitating disorder. When the Baron attempted to seek revenge against the Bene Gesserit on Wallach IX, the Reverend Mother there, revealed to him that the affliction was irreversible.
Vladimir remained a bachelor, but managed to win over Glossu Rabban, and raised Feyd-Rautha, the two sons of his half-brother. Thus, he intended to continue his legacy. His weight, by the 10,160s, was so hard on his legs and joints that he relied upon a cane for mobility. Oftentimes he would use the cane's poison-tipped head to strike people as he saw fit. He eventually gained the suspensors that lightened his weight and made his mobility much easier.
Despite never acknowledging a child as his own, Vladimir did indeed produce offspring, thanks to the Bene Gesserit's breeding program. Unbeknownst to him, Vladimir was the biological father of Jessica Atreides, the official concubine of Duke Leto I. Thus, he helped contribute genetically to Paul Atreides and the unravelling of his own House.
However, his expectations in this sense were not easily achieved. He deemed Glossu too brutish and stupid to be an effective successor. And despite showering Feyd-Rautha with praise and the promise of eventual leadership, his hold over the cunning and impulsive youth remained tenuous.
In addition to blatant pedophiliac tendencies, Vladimir Harkonnen harbored other more destructive personal inclinations. He had a penchant for medical procedures that encouraged skin infections, and revelled in devising elaborate torture methods for his enemies. Additionally, he flaunted his morbidly obese body form and the health complications that went with it.
As a leader of a Major House, Vladimir proved to be incredibly cruel. He had no qualms in using widespread torture, murder and slavery to maintain power. And though he was generally cunning, his arrogance and intense hatred of House Atreides proved to be his un-doing.
Death on ArrakisEdit
Vladimir Harkonnen died during the defeat of House Harkonnen and Sardaukar forces at the hands of the Fremen on Arrakis in 10193 AG. While watching the looming Fremen forces he was poisoned with a Gom Jabbar, wielded by a young Alia, his granddaughter.
When he was killed by Alia, House Harkonnen passed to his na-Baron, Feyd-Rautha. He challenged Paul Atreides to a duel, which Paul won. After Paul defeated Feyd, House Harkonnen passed to the next living heir, the Lady Jessica, who declined the title. Paul then ruled that House Harkonnen passed to himself as the last living heir, and became subsumed into the throne.
However, death was not the end for Vladimir. Paul's sister, Alia, was born with her ancestral memories in the womb, including Vladimir himself. Alia fell victim to the Bene Gesserit prediction and initially shared control of her body with the Baron, gradually falling under his power. The vengeful desires of the residual Vladimir Harkonnen persona proved fruitless due to Alia's eventual success in overcoming her possession by suicide.
Ghola: During the Time of KralizecEdit
Mentor to PaoloEdit
In approximately 15244 AG, Vladimir was resurrected as a ghola by the Lost Tleilaxu Uxtal at the bidding of the new generation of Enhanced Face Dancers. He was decanted on Tleilax, in Bandalong, and was later introduced and given charge of a ghola of Paul Atreides, named Paolo, and told to be his guiding, best friend. Vladimir slowly matured, and put down his homicidal instincts towards Paolo, as he came to realize that the ghola was very important to the Enhanced Face Dancer leader Khrone, and their future plans.
A few years later, Harkonnen, who at this time was still a pre-pubescent boy, and Paolo, were moved by Khrone to Dan, to a re-built re-creation of the castle of Duke Leto Atreides. Still unknown to Vladimir was that Paolo was being raised to be a back up Kwisatz Haderach, in a grandiose scheme initiated by the rulers of the Thinking Machines Empire, the reborn Omnius and Erasmus.
Omnius and Erasmus had Paolo created as they strongly believed that having a ghola of the first known Kwisatz under their control would enable them to win the great "battle at the end of the age" -- Kralizec. They believed Paolo would be the fulcrum to tip the scales in their favor as they waged war against human-kind. The Thinking Machines and their servants the Enhanced Face Dancers, needed the resurrected ghola of Harkonnen to taint and darken Paolo's personality. Instead of the loving and kind upbringing of Leto Atreides I and Lady Jessica that the original experienced, Paolo would be brought up by the Atreides age long enemy.
As Vladimir reached puberty, the Face Dancers and augmented humans tried many types of torture to bring back the original Baron's memories. None were successful, as Harkonnen actually enjoyed the pain associated with such actions. Finally, Harkonnen's original memories were brought back in a sensory deprivation chamber, where no contact through the five senses were allowed. This resurrected all of the ghola's prior life's thoughts. It also triggered a second personality in his brain, Alia. It was never explained how she was there, but it appeared to be a form of Other Memory. Alia sometimes helped him, but mostly annoyed the Baron.
Killing Alia's GholaEdit
As the Machine Empire attacked human-kind to the verge of genocide, Paolo reached puberty, and the duo were brought to the capital of the Machine Empire on Synchrony. They were told of their place in the unfolding of the universe, and Harkonnen was unimpressed. After a year Vladimir become bored in the Flowmetal machine world, until the Ithaca was captured and brought to Synchrony.
Vladimir was part of the welcoming committee which hailed the inhabitants of the ship to the machine capital. As the passengers disembarked the vessel, Harkonnen saw a ghola of Alia, the killer of his former self 5000 years earlier. Lunging forward, he immediately stabbed and killed her, to the horror of the ghola of her mother, Jessica, and her ghola-brother, Paul.
Death on SynchronyEdit
The entire entourage was then guided to the heart of Synchrony, the Cathedral, where it was announced the gholas of Paul and Paolo would duel to the death. The winner would be given the prize of Ultraspice, which would give the supposed Kwisatz, enhanced Prescience. Paolo won the duel, leaving Paul to die in his own pool of blood. Immediately afterwards, against Harkonnen's advice, Paolo ingested a gigantic dosage of the enhanced melange. Paolo then went into a permanent coma, as he had perfect prescience, and could find no reason to exist or live.
Omnius allowed Paolo to be tended to by the ghola of Dr Wellington Yueh. As Yueh walked closer to the blank-staring Paolo on the floor, Yueh snapped, and stabbed Harkonnen in the neck, killing him, -- a direct reversal of the events five millennia before.
In his mid-forties he had rakish good looks; well-toned pectorals, his reddish gold hair cut and styled to enhance his distinctive widow's peak. His skin was smooth, his cheekbones high and well sculpted.
In his later years however, the Baron's most notable feature was his corpulent frame. Vladimir's sheer weight required belt-mounted suspensors to retain mobility, which allowed him to float in midair from place-to-place, as he was unable to walk under his own power unassisted. The Baron's weight was attributed to a degenerative disease transmitted sexually to him by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam.
Behind the Scenes Edit
The early life of Vladimir Harkonnen is described in the prequel novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It is not covered in the Frank Herbert original Dune novels. The Baron's obesity origin was retconned—him receiving a disease from Mohiam. This retcon has led to several continuity errors, despite the explanation of its secrecy among the sisterhood and the Baron himself, as Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother Margot Fenring (who was "in the loop" of the incident as explained by Brian and Kevin), thinks of the Baron as someone who "let himself go to fat".
In the 1984 movie adaptation of Dune, Vladimir Harkonnen was played by the late Kenneth McMillan. In the 2000 Dune and 2003 Children of Dune mini-series the character was played by Ian McNeice.