At-One-Ment: The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown’s Quest For: Literary Success

Apologies for the title, but I really don’t know how Dan Brown manages to stay published. He really is quite an asinine writer – and it’s not just the occasional language problems that crop up, it’s the puerility of his writing. And let’s not forget the tiredness of his plot. Because, following Dan Brown’s very own TOP SEKRIT PLOT CODE, I uncovered two (well, three, really) of  the major plot twists in the book.

But let’s examine my dislike for Brown systematically, shall we? Here are a few things I don’t like about how he writes:

1. Italics. Brown employs italics like a hypochondriac popping pills – utterly uselessly. The smallest passing thought is recorded in dramatic fashion, including things Brown could have just told us. A critic points out one example: “They’re not icons, Langdon thought. They’re symbols.” This is, in fact, an excellent article on how useless these italics are. (Also, please note the truly preposterous use of the “?!”)

2. Langdon is annoyingly, stubbornly, unbelievably cynical. Even after being through Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, Langdon insists – insists, dammit, insists, I’m telling you I insist – that the Mason myths are just that: myths, and not real. Oh yeah? What about the Holy Grail, Mr. Smarty Pants Prof? You know? The one you helped find?

3. The Etruscan oakwood-paneled, Lourdes stained-glass window-decorated, leather bound-first edition-book-filled study. Dan Brown loves information. That’s cool – so do we. But not this much. Do we need to know exactly how Key4 explosive is manufactured from C4? Do we really need to know what kind of daybag Professor Langdon carries with him when he’s arrested by the CIA? No. If Brown had given his plot, characterization, and content this much thought, we as readers would be immensely better off.

4. Mystical symbolism. The essential information Brown wants you to understand is that we’re all as one, God is within us, and we just need to open our minds to the idea of a measurable human soul. Brown really wants us to get this point. In fact, he bludgeons you over the head with this so much, you won’t have a choice. But that’s the thing about mystical symbolism – overdone, it’s a complete farce.

I’ve read all of Brown’s books, most unfortunately, and after a while I began sensing a certain… repetitiousness about them, shall we say. In fact, I think you could describe a Brown-plot with a simple equation:

number of plot twists and/or horrific revelations = (total number of characters in book) / (number of federal agencies working with or against main characters) * (number of pages in book)/(number of times the word “symbol” is used)

There’s another formula that describes one of the pivotal characters:

biggest villain in the story = most unlikely person in the book OR someone thought to be dead OR most powerful person around

At this point of time, I would like to issue A SPOILER ALERT.

Now, I’m not the kind of person who likes thinking ahead to solve a mystery, unless I’m being guided gently by the author. Dan Brown’s method of creating suspense is to do what a three-year-old does when he’s trying to hide his teddy bear: sit on it, and point frantically somewhere else.

1. Zachary = Mal’akh. Let’s not even go into the whole ridiculous villain aspect of Mal’akh, who’s essentially a tattoo freak with an obsession for anarchy and a daddy complex. It’s just the fact that, by dint of carefully looking for the missing element in the story (i.e. Zach), we’re led to the identity of the man who has absolutely no backstory at all (i.e. Mal’akh). Just to make the point even clearer, Mal’akh wants to destroy the whole of the Masonic order, but is the treasured, lost son of the Masonic grand master. Ooooh Brown, clever.

2. Langdon doesn’t die. When Mal’akh drowns Langdon in a coffin (really?!) filled with what appears to be water, I grew hopeful. Perhaps Brown wouldn’t be torturing us with his annoyingly affable two-dimensional loafer-wearing professor in the future. But I knew, with all the dull certainty of a Dan Brown chapter ending, that this was too good to be true.

3. The Washington Monument is where it’s at. Okay, really. It’s the most imposing, tallest building in DC, and even I know what it is. We’ve raced through the Library of Congress with the help of its conveyor system, we’ve glanced over the Smithsonian Museums, we’ve descended to the subbasement level of the House and Senate – what else is left?

Possibly the worst part of the entire Dan Brown experience is reading the back of the dust jacket, where various people – including NYT, for heaven’s sake – praise Brown’s pigheaded literary tenacity stunning storytelling. And one of them compares him to Umberto Eco.

This is a travesty I can barely wrap my head around. Eco is one of my favorite authors (the Italians are the best at everything), and I’ve read The Name of the Rose as well as Foucault’s Pendulum (and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, which was a sort of Italian Mussolini-era tour-de-force). Both of these strove to master vast stores of knowledge, not just spew it out randomly at unsuspecting readers. While Brown dashes madly from scientific discovery to technological innovation to mysticism to Masonic ritual to measuring souls, Eco spins a tight web of information, wherein the final layer of knowledge is carefully constructed and revealed to intelligent readers. I’m not saying he’s perfect, but Eco doesn’t insult his readers. His facts and his research urged me to find out more about the content, instead of wearying me with repetition and breathless factoid generation. And you know what? Eco had an actual plot – something that wasn’t based on ridiculous melodrama and two-dimensional character development. Or Mickey Mouse villains with Middle Eastern names.

But if you want a really excellent description of Brown’s ineptitude, I suggest you start here, and then make your way slowly through these. I find the “Dan Brown Is America” one particularly interesting, although the others are really funny.

Allow me to leave you with one final fantasy:

Renowned blogger AtLeastInTheory leaned back on her ergonomic pillows, specially flown in from Switzerland. Her back was aching, the result of a crippling childhood disease that had only strengthened her resolve to conquer the world with WordPress technology. But she paid no heed to the pain. That day’s events had given her much to think about, especially the stunning revelation that people could literally shape the world with their thoughts.

We can master the world.  If we just… think.

Slowly, she began to construct a plan of mind-blowing simplicity that would yet be devastating in its consequences. It would all stem from a single principle – the principle of thought. And as she typed, fingers clacking on her Cyrillic character keyboard attached to her Hewlett-Packard DV5T laptop, she felt her pulse begin to race with the magnitude of her actions.

She would shape the thoughts of the world – transform them, meld them, and combine them into one single thing. And that thing, if thought by the whole world, would bring about the downfall of one of the most terrible men in the history of time. This one thought, she knew, would destroy this master villain, would topple this false throne that he had established in his stronghold in New England.

She felt a rush of adrenaline as she finished typing, and then sat back, fingers trembling, to admire her handiwork. The 15 inch screen now contained just four words – words that would still change  the course of history and shape the future of mankind.

Boycott Dan Brown novels.


4 thoughts on “At-One-Ment: The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown’s Quest For: Literary Success

    1. Thank you 😀 You really should, he’s worth it.

      He has a really interesting, cynical take on stuff. There’s this once in Foucault’s Pendulum where he talks about how the Bible could have been simply a bunch of people’s mythical writings, taken too seriously. It’s not meant to be overtly controversial (like some people I could name…) but I think it’s about the quality of truth.

  1. you’ve read ALL OF HIS BOOKS?! i could barely get through da vinci code without feeling my eyes bleed.

    you should just take over his job in your ergonomic chair on your Hewlett-Packard DV5T laptop and I will be your long-haired brown-eyed Indian Tamil friend who happens to be a world renowned intellectually stimulating publisher.

    1. see, i have this horrendous compulsion to figure out the plot of EVERY story i read, no matter how terrible the writing really is.

      hahahahahah. i think this is an awesome plan – you would be my kickass publisher (and of course my secret sidekick when i secretly become a secret writing superhero).

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