Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Lost Symbol

by Dan Brown
Finished September 20, 2009

I took a break from the fabulous Green Knowe series to read Dan Brown's latest mystery/thriller. In other words, I took a break from a savory gourmet dish to eat a fast food burger. You know me...I enjoy a fast food burger, but I certainly know the difference between a Big Mac and beef bourguignon.

I looked up "savory" in Merriam Webster to make sure that I was using the right word. Here's the definition: 1. Piquantly pleasant to the mind. 2. morally exemplary (edifying) 3. pleasing to the sense of taste especially by reason of effective seasoning.

The definition of "piquant": 1. agreeably stimulating to the palate. 2. engagingly provocative.

The Green Knowe series (with the exception of the first book) is both savory and piquant. The Lost Symbol is not.

Before I continue, I have to explain that I enjoyed reading the book. All three of Brown's Robert Langdon books have been a lot of fun. I wouldn't have read The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, and now, The Lost Symbol if I did not find them to be interesting. Dan Brown's writing style, however, is laughable. It's so ridiculous and predictable, it makes me feel smart.

As an example, here are a few lines. This takes place as the CIA is chasing Langdon and Katherine (the requisite female scientist related to the friend of Langdon who is in mortal danger). The pair are running to escape capture:
"They ran northeast across the courtyard quickly disappearing from view behind an elegant U-shaped building, which Langdon realized was the Folger Shakespeare Library. This particular building seemed appropriate camouflage for them tonight, as it housed the original Latin manuscript of Francis' Bacon's New Atlantis, the Utopian vision on which the American forefathers had allegedly modeled a new world based on ancient knowledge. Even so, Langdon would not be stopping."
I love it! The book reads like a term paper. Dan Brown has found lots of interesting facts and bits of history and he is determined to cram every last bit into his story, even in the middle of a life-or-death chase.
Another Brown idiosyncrasy is his use of italics. I like italics, but every other sentence? Brown has pulled out his template and filled it in with familiar characters. I've already mentioned the female scientist. She, once again, is investigating something groundbreaking that will change the world as we know it. The scientist's relative is in mortal danger and is the reason Langdon is caught up in this mess. The villain is once again a twisted nut job, this time borrowing some of his villainous methods from Thomas Harris' playbook. And there's Robert Langdon, always wondering to himself how many people know that....[fill in the blank with an obscure fact about a commonly known object, belief, person, piece of art...]
Back to the definition of savory. A savory dish (and book) is "morally exemplary or edifying" and it's "engagingly provacative." Dan Brown's books are certainly provacative, but they are not engagingly so. Engaging: "tending to draw favorable attention or interest." I suppose it is favorable to the author that his provocation increases his sales. In my world, however, his provocation is simply irritating. Brown's books are not edifying. In my world, they are not "morally exemplary." Concerns with Brown's views on religion have been dismissed with, "It's just a book." "It's fiction!" I agreed with these statements after the first two books. The Lost Symbol, however, is a little different. After the crisis is averted and the villian is thwarted, after the heroes are safe and sound, the book continues. It continues for eight more chapters and one epilogue. There are 45 pages of religious philosophy regarding God and man. Here are a few examples:
"In fact, Thomas Jefferson was so convinced the Bible's true message was hidden that he literally cut up the pages and reedited the book, attempting, in his words, 'to do away with the artificial scaffolding and restore the genuine doctrines.' Langdon was well aware of this strange fact. The Jeffersonian Bible was still in print today and included many of his controversial revisions, among them the removal of the virgin birth and the resurrection."
"Peter lowered his voice to a whisper, "The Buddah said, 'You are God yourself.' Jesus taught that that 'the kingdom of God is within you' and even promised us, 'The works I do, you can do...and greater.' Even the first antipope - Hippolytus of Rome - quoted the same message, first uttered by the gnostic teacher Monoimus: 'Abandon the search for God...instead, take yourself as the starting place.' "
[Note: the full quote from Jesus is this: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever belives in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." John 14: 12-13]
[Another note: Hippolytus quoted the gnostic teacher Monoimus in his book Refutation of All Heresies, a book that was written to "expose and refute the wicked blasphemy of the heretics." Hippolytus considered Monoiumus and his quote to be heretical.]
"When you start to understand the cryptic parables in the Bible, Robert, you realize it's a study of the human mind."
"We are creators, and yet we naively play the role of 'the created.' We see ourselves as helpless sheep buffeted around by the God who made us. We kneel like frightened children, begging for help, for forgiveness, for good luck. but once we realize that we are truly created in the Creator's image, we will start to understand that we, too, must be Creators."
"Exactly! Langdon had never understood why the very first passages of the bible referred to God as a plural being, Elohim. The Almighty God in Genesis was described not as One...but as Many. 'God is plural,' Katherine whispered, 'because the minds of man are plural.' "
"God was the universal constant for man. God was the symbol we all shared...the symbol of the mysteries of life that we could not understand. The ancients had praised God as a symbol of our limitless human potential, but that ancient symbol had been lost over time. Until now. In that moment, standing atop the Capitol, with the warmth of the sun streaming down all around him, Robert Langdom felt a powerful upwelling deep within himself. It was an emotion he had never felt this profoundly in his entire life. Hope."
"For America's Masonic forefathers, the Word had been the Bible. And yet
few people in history have understood its true message.
Dan Brown is all about telling us what "few people in history have understood." Brown's readers should either be fascinated by this revealed knowledge or be insulted that he is, in effect, calling us ignorant sheep. Sales figures tell me people are fascinated. Knowing the errors he made throughout The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, I am skeptical.
As Philip Pullman did in The Amber Spyglass (the third volume of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy), Brown doesn't hold back in presenting his agenda. When the story ends, Brown gives us eight chapters of his philosophy.
Of course, it could be simply a marketing stragegy. His editor may have said, "Dan! You haven't given any religious controversy. Remember, that's what made DaVinci Code a best seller. You gotta give me something that'll rile up the Christians. Don't bother rewriting. Just give me a few more chapters I can tack on at the end."
There's so much wrong with a Dan Brown novel. There are so many stupid mistakes and bad writing and unlikable heroes. Why does he sell millions of books? Why do I read them? Why do I enjoy them?
Why do I enjoy fast food?

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