I just finished reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. If you loved, or even just liked The Da Vinci Code…reread it, it was a way better book.
This time out Robert Langdon is called to Washington DC to give a speech at the behest of an old friend. When he gets there, he finds out the friend’s been kidnapped, and the kidnapper wants Langdon to find the ransom, a great treasure buried somewhere in Washington DC by our Freemason forefathers. With only hours to find the treasure, Langdon and his companion zigzag all over town with Masons and Homeland Security in tow. Interesting set up. Could have been a movie.
Or was it already…
Anyway, the book’s an ambler. Yes, ambler, in that it ambles from plot point to plot point. What Dan did in 500 pages should have been done in 300. It takes a while to get moving, and when it does move, it sputters. The Da Vinci Code might have throttled along at a ridiculous pace (They’re in Paris! They’re in Zurich! They’re in England! They’re in France again!), but at least it MOVED! This sucker drags.
Unfortunately for us, Dan’s hero, Symbologist Robert Langdon, is a college professor, not a man of action. The book ends up sounding like one long lecture. Obviously, not every scholar is Indiana Jones, but at least Indy could fill us in on the backstory of an artifact without launching into a dissertation.
Girl: What is that, Indy?
Indy: The Golden Chalice of Amanananandon. It has magic powers.
Girl: Magic powers?
Indy: NAZIS!!! RUN!!
Langdon is much more willing to tell us everything there is to know about an object or a symbol or a Free and Ancient Secret Society that is nowhere nearly as sinister as they’ve been made out to be by every single conspiracy theorist that has ever lived, but I digress. Narrative exchanges between characters resemble softball Q&A sessions. The asker serves ‘em up, the answerer knocks ‘em out of the park. Overly long passages infused with the same goofy formality of a 1950 VD film.
Girl: What is that, Robert?
Langdon: Why that’s The Golden Chalice of Amanananandon. The ancient Greeks believed that drinking from the chalice granted the supplicant magic powers. Later, in the Roman years…..(several pages later)…to the Masons, who aren’t evil at all. In fact, if you’d like to learn more about Freemasonry, ask a Mason. You’ll be glad you did.
Girl: Gosh! Did you say magic powers?
Langdon: Sure did, Suze. Now watch out for Nazi’s and no more heavy petting. You could catch the clap and die.
So be clean and be safe gentle reader.
And it doesn’t help that the books main talker, Langdon, happens to be a skeptic. He knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t believe it, a point that gets made many times in the book. The problem is that having mystical, spiritual mumbo-jumbo explained by a know-it-all, non-believer doesn’t work. There’s no passion, no ‘magic’ if you will. It’s like getting lectured on the history and benefits of faith by an atheist. So what? He doesn’t care. Why should we?
And that’s a shame, because buried under the cold, passionless lectures and the pro-Masonic apologist tone, is an interesting book. Or at least the potential for an interesting book. The bad guy believes blood sacrifice and ritual give him power. The femme fatale believes that thoughts have mass and belief has gravity. The Masons believe that an ancient wisdom is hidden in their great treasure.
Isn’t there a really interesting meditation on faith and belief in there somewhere? Since the first caveman scratched out a glyph in the sand to today’s corporate logos and brand identity, mankind has put a lot of faith in symbols and what they mean. Couldn’t Mr. Brown have weaved all these themes and beliefs together into a more meaningful tapestry?
Am I reaching?
Probably so. Dan Brown’s not a very good writer. Some of you will say ‘But he sold a billion books.’ And I will reply, ‘So what?’ Popularity isn’t the same as quality. If it were, I wouldn’t think so poorly of Glen Beck (personal attack!). I recognize Brown’s books sell and the movies make money, but they’re not very good. Not really.
I asked one of Masons that I work with about it and he said nothing like this supposed treasure ever existed. Then he wrote my name on some parchment, placed it in a sliver bowl on his desk, and set it on fire. That was strange, I thought, but then a terrible headache set upon me. I fell into a deep slumber and when I awoke, I stopped caring.
And that’s where I am with this. Apathetic. Dan Brown took something that had great potential and killed it dead. The most frustrating part, besides the fact that it took 50 pages AFTER the climax to find out that the Masons seemed to already know where and what the ancient knowledge was without the magical key, was that we waited six years for this.
Dan should have pulled a Boston and waited another 6 years before releasing this book. It could have been his Amanda.
Or probably not.