Category Archives: Dan Brown

The Jane Austen Code

Jane Austen: Liked to write in code.

Dan Brown fans sometimes have a hard time believing the parts of his stories where one person inscribes some important information for another in code.

Sophie Neveu, the heroine of the Da Vinci Code, was known to play code and anagram games when she was a small child with her grandfather; the knowledge of these games later turns out to be crucial to solving the puzzles her grandfather leaves in the wake of his murder. Robert Langdon must similarly make sense out of Masonic codes on the small pyramid left to him by Peter Solomon in The Lost Symbol.

Dan Brown has told several interviewers that he has always been fascinated by codes, cipher, anagrams, and mirror writing. As a child, Christmas in his family’s household meant going on treasure hunts, solving puzzles, and figuring out clues to find his gifts.

A new show at the Morgan Library, in New York, reveals that the greatly esteemed 19th century novelist Jane Austen played similar games with her young niece, Cassy. The show includes this nice New Year anecdote recounted in the New York Times:

Who would not wish for a close relative like Aunt Jane? In early 1817, the year she died, suffering, perhaps, from lymphoma and beginning work on a novel she became too ill to finish, Jane Austen wrote a letter to her 8-year-old niece, Cassandra.

“Ym raed Yssac,” it begins, “I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey.”

Every word in the letter is spelled backward, from that opening New Year’s wish to her dear Cassy to the signature, “Ruoy Etanoitceffa Tnua, Enaj Netsua.” The author, here as elsewhere, does not condescend to her readers, but she also knows who they are and how to give them pleasure. Imagine an 8-year-old girl, perhaps as precocious as her aunt, playfully deciphering these good wishes.”

A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy, runs through March 14.

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

The Politics of The Lost Symbol

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Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you have not yet read The Lost Symbol.

Most of the commentary about The Lost Symbol so far has focused on its belief system, philosophy, cosmology, and its view in particular of the Freemasons. Several critics have noted that, with The Lost Symbol, as opposed to The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown seems to be taking a stand for what he believes in.

Philosophically, that seems to be a New Age ideal of an ultimate spirituality for mankind based upon a commonality of beliefs and religions. But could he also be driving at a social and a political theory too?

If a reader was inclined towards hidden meanings, subtexts, codes and ciphers, he would not have to look far for evidence of Brown’s socio-political code:

  • The Hero Freemason. Brown praises the ideals and vision of the Freemasons throughout the novel. And he pre-empts some of the most frequent questions about the Freemasons’ reputation for discriminatory practices through his choice of characters. In general, Freemasons do not admit women, though U.S. lodges do have affiliated groups for girls and women. It’s hard to square that rigid definitional aspect of membership with inclusiveness and tolerance. But Langdon tells his Harvard class that Masonry is a “spiritual fraternity that does not discriminate in any way” and Brown seems to believe this. Thus, he creates Katherine Solomon not only as a brainy, beautiful, world-class scientist, but also as someone who has been essentially initiated into all of the most important ideas of Freemasonry by her brother, Peter. Additionally, although there is a long history of African-American participation in Masonic lodges, there is an equally long history of discrimination as well. Some critics allege a close association between Albert Pike, the nineteenth century Freemason leader, and the Ku Klux Klan. So it is very convenient that Brown has chosen Warren Bellamy, the Architect of the Capitol, and an imposing, elegant, gravitas-imbued African American to play the role of a distinguished Freemason.
  • Characterization of the CIA. Langdon solves the mystery of The Lost Symbol and rescues Peter Solomon despite director Inoue Sato, of the CIA’s Office of Security, rather than because of her. Indeed, far from being an efficient, evil-fighting organization, the Agency, as personified by Sato, is stubborn, authoritarian and always two steps behind Langdon. Brown chooses his historical terms carefully. So it is notable that in Chapter 48, after Langdon and Architect Warren Bellamy have escaped, Sato threatens Capitol police chief Trent Anderson and security guard Alfonso Nuñez with a “CIA inquisition.”
  • Torture. Torture was on the minds of Americans during a significant portion of the Bush Administration and will forever be entangled with America’s controversial interrogation techniques following the invasions of Afghanistan and, particularly, Iraq. Torture plays a significant role in The Lost Symbol too. Trish Dunne is tortured to reveal her pin code, Robert Langdon is tortured to translate the symbols on the bottom of the pyramid. And Katherine Solomon endures a gruesome torture, being slowly bled to death, to force Peter Solomon to help Mal’akh complete his quest. Unlike other pop culture tales of this decade–such as the TV series “24,”–there is no ambiguity here about the evil of torture. Only the bad guy uses torture. Everyone else—Langdon, Solomon, et. al.—must use their brains to figure things out. The good guys are never violent in Dan Brown’s world.
  • Water as a means of torture. Mal’akh’s method of securing information from Robert Langdon—nearly drowning him in a sensory deprivation tank filled with liquid—immediately suggests the years of recent debate over waterboarding. The standard American waterboarding technique involves laying a hooded prisoner on a board with his head slightly lower than his heart, covering his face with towels and slowly pouring water over the towels to simulate drowning. Mal’akh’s props may be different—a glass crate slowly filled with a warm liquid—but he does generate the same sense of drowning effect.
  • Religious Fundamentalism. Mal’akh is clearly his own uniquely mad character, not part of any known group or movement. But the ease with which he blends into the tony neighborhood of Kalorama, in his meticulous planning, and in his ultimate zealot’s drive and murderous logic, cannot help but connote Al- Queda-type Islamic terrorists. And how do Dan Brown’s heroes deal with this evil incarnate? Peter Solomon won’t kill Mal’akh even when he has the opportunity to do so. Instead, he tries to reason with him.
  • “Rush to War.” When Langdon, Sato and Anderson discover the Masonic Chamber of Reflection hidden in the subbasement of the Capitol building, Langdon explains that it could be a room where a powerful lawmaker might “reflect before making decisions that affect his fellow man.” He then imagines “how different a world it might be if more leaders took time to ponder the finality of death before racing off to war.” Is Brown editorializing on the Iraq war?
  • Hope. Dan Brown ends his novel with a one-word paragraph – Hope. In a book that has been devoted throughout to a discussion about “the word” the very last word just happens to match Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan and the single word that will forever be associated with Shepard Fairey’s iconic poster. Given the usual six- to nine-month gap between the submission of a manuscript and publication, it’s a fair guess that Brown was tweaking, and perhaps even writing, the conclusion to The Lost Symbol while the 2008 election was at its peak. Was “Hope” sitting at the end of the manuscript before Barack Obama’s campaign began? Did it find its way, subconsciously, into Dan Brown’s brain during 2007-2008? Or did he place it there on purpose, one final, powerful message for our times?

Secrets of The Lost Symbol on TV

We were glad to see that even prior to publishing our Secrets of the Lost Symbol book (which will be in stores in December and available on the Kindle in November) NBC has decided to broadcast a television version: Secrets of The Lost Symbol, which airs on NBC on Friday night.

One of the world’s most popular authors, Dan Brown, sits down for a rare and exclusive interview with NBC News’ Matt Lauer to talk about his new book, “The Lost Symbol,” the beliefs of the Freemasons, the power of the human mind, whether people can become gods and a little known science that may tie them all together.

As far as we know, the show is not actually based on our book—they’ve just decided to make good use of our title. And they will be exploring some of the many themes we have been investigating in depth: Freemasonry, Noetics, the Founding Fathers and the philosophy that lies behind the book. Interestingly, the Inside Deadline website teases:

The broadcast also goes in search of what Brown calls the true meaning of his book and why, he says, its so unlike his others. Additionally, he speaks with Lauer at length about the beliefs of the nation’s founding fathers, saying “America wasn’t founded a Christian country. It became a Christian country.”

We wish NBC well and hope their show will shine interesting new light on The Lost Symbol.

A Comic Take On Dan Brown

Dan Brown’s work may have been parodied in every way, shape and form, but this is the first instance we have found of him inspiring a comic strip.

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A frustrated reader? Or an affectionate tease? It’s even harder to discern the emotions behind the second, even funnier, strip.

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Real Life via Christian Brady.

The Poetry of Dan Brown

It’s only been a couple of weeks since the release of The Lost Symbol but it has already inspired countless parodies. Most highlight Brown’s formulaic plot, his overuse of Italics, even his Brownian style. Some have made us laugh. Some have elicited no more than a shrug. But Maureen Johnson’s ongoing, chapter-by-chapter Reader’s Guide to The Lost Symbol continues to impress with its lighthearted and imaginative reading of the novel.

Here, Johnson, an author of young adult novels, highlights the parallels in Chapter 35 of The Lost Symbol with the poets William Carlos Williams and T. S. Elliot:

Chapter 35

Much is made of DB’s writing style. In particular, people cite his use of italicized “thought bubbles,” his page and a half long chapters, and his single sentence paragraphs.

The ones that divide up the action.

Like this.

To give you a feeling that something is happening.

Some people suggest that he does this because he is not a good writer, or because he assumes that his readers haven’t really gotten past the single-line, compacted story form usually used in elementary reading books. These people are wrong. What DB is actually doing . . . is writing poetry.

It took me a while to figure this out, but I see it clearly now. I feel that he is following in the tradition of William Carlos Williams, a critical American poet. Consider “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Williams’s most famous work.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

The language and the style are so simple. The lines are short, and so is the work as a whole. And yet, in those eight lines, sixteen words, you can find an entire world. Compare this to the end of Chapter 35—which you at first think is this noodley, pointless chapter about the arrangement of the Capitol Building’s basement—but then you are hit with the last four sentences:

“My God,” Anderson shouted.
Everyone saw it and jumped back.
Langdon stared in disbelief at the deepest recess of the chamber.
To his horror, something was staring back.

Do you think that this has been chopped up by accident? Do you think this same effect could have been achieved in a single, flowing paragraph? Do you think it needs more detail?

Of course not.

These particular lines also strongly echo T. S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker.
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

It’s uncanny how these two men could communicate such similar ideas in a similar form—and yet, DB manages to cleverly plant these moments in a considerably larger work. T. S. Elliot never wrote anything nearly as long as The Lost Symbol.

Think about that, English majors, before you judge. Just think about it.

Another recent favorite is Johnson’s take on Chapter 37. (Spoiler Alert!: Stop here, if you have not reached this chapter yet):

Chapter 37

I guess the one complaint I have about The Lost Symbol, if I have any at all, is that it seems like Mal’akh is seriously overworked. If there was a Union of Bad Guys, there is no way they would let him work this long and not have a break. He does everything bad in the book. Everything. No one helps him.

So far, he’s had to: call Kathleen Solomon and pretend to be Dr. Christopher Abaddon, hack off Peter Solomon’s hand, stash Peter Solomon, and lead HSRL on this treasure hunt . . . all at once. And he does this, mind you, while wearing full makeup and having to constantly change costumes and juggle cell phones and manage at least three different identities. Would have it been so much to ask to give him one henchman? Just one?

This is why I am annoyed by the fact that in Chapter 37, he has to corner Trish Dunne, get her access code out of her, and drown her in the tank of ethanol with the giant squid all by himself. That right there could have been the work of one henchperson. It’s not like extra characters cost money. I’m just saying.

The Lost Symbol Reader’s Guide (Maureen Johnson)