This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
American author Dan Brown is lucky to have found the formula that makes for successful novels — after three tries, that is. Not only did The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons become instant hits, it triggered worldwide buzz ranging from curiosity to anger, as the novel focuses its controversial cross-hairs on everybody’s favourite dinnertime pleasantry: religion. Catholicism, to be specific.
The two novels were decried by many of the devoted, especially by the Church’s central authority, the Vatican. The claims made in the book, especially when combined with other facets of history blurred the lines between what is real and what isn’t. In fact, some may remember the particular time period approaching the showing of the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, the Vatican released a statement urging a boycott by the laity. Conversely, on the side of those who strongly opposed the teachings of Catholicism — or religion in general — there lay a strong eagerness to expose alleged long-closeted skeletons. People from many corners of the world flocked to the sites stipulated in the novels, bumping up tourism, and creating a pilgrimage of mixed intentions. Dan Brown’s writing spurred a collective re-awakening of varying viewpoints. Intelligent bugger.
Brown still carried a stigma of a blasphemer when he released The Lost Symbol in late 2009. This time, he sets the book in Washington, D.C., and focuses on the Freemasons. Apparently unfazed by his critics, Brown deliberately relativises the concept of fact and fiction. But perhaps there is a stronger truth underneath Brown’s recent writing, a truth that is right in front of all of us, a truth that is real and existing. We’d be able to see this truth if we weren’t too busy nitpicking the smaller details.
The Lost Symbol opens depicting a Masonic ritual, particularly the promotion of a member into the thirty-third degree, the highest degree of the Masonic order. What the fellow thirty-third degree members do not know is that they are initiating a man who will betray them dearly.
Then novel then switches focus to Harvard University professor Robert Langdon, who receives a call from someone who claims to be the assistant of his mentor and head of the Smithsonian Institution, Peter Solomon. He is asked, on the supposed behalf of Solomon, to give a lecture at the United States Capitol. Langdon would be a last-minute replacement after the original speaker apparently could not attend the engagement. Solomon also requests for Langdon to bring a small package that had been entrusted to him years before, an item Langdon let slip from his mind until the phone call. Dutifully, he carries out his mentor’s requests and takes a private jet to Washington, D.C., and a private vehicle to the destination of his lecture. It does not occur to him the engagement is a complete ruse until minutes after he enters an empty ballroom. Langdon receives a phone call to re-confirm his lecture slot, and the same person who asked him to lecture explains that Peter has been kidnapped and that he had been lured out as bait for the events to come. Minutes later, he hears a scream coming from the Capitol Rotunda.
Running into the room, Langdon finds chaos, a frightened little boy, and an even more gruesome sight in the middle. Directly under the rotunda is a severed hand mounted on a stick, with tattoos on each finger. The gold Masonic ring on the hand betrays the fact that it belongs to Peter Solomon. The fingers are arranged so that the thumb and index finger point directly upward, a gesture Langdon deduces to be that of an invitation to receive important and life-changing information. The next ten or so hours will be a throw-back to the previous adventures that contribute to Langdon’s current state of fame. Deciding whether or not to partake in it is not a choice he has the luxury to make.
With many in hot pursuit of the kidnapper, Langdon tries to explain to higher authorities about the kidnapper’s intention. But it turns out that many of them have their own interpretation of the crime, and possibly their own personal agenda. Langdon, now the target of the Capitol police and the CIA, unwittingly finds himself reunited with an old friend: Peter’s sister, Katherine Solomon.
The Solomons are not unfamiliar with loss. Though generally a successful family with a strong Masonic lineage, Peter Solomon is haunted by the loss of his late but estranged son, Zachary, and both siblings still bitterly remember that night the their mother, submitted to the hands of an intruder. Katherine Solomon, like her brother, is also a scientist, and has made much progress in her specialised field of Noetic Science. Both she and Langdon would soon realise that her research — and her — are the target of the criminal’s fanatical intentions. Langdon would have to exercise his skills in code-breaking, interpretation of symbols, and general knowledge of religions. If they do not solve the puzzles left out by the kidnapper, tragedy will strike again.
Fun and brainless.
I selected this novel precisely as a break from the material that I’ve been reading. The Lost Symbol offers an constantly exciting plot that he has one’s attention at a vice-grip. The Brownian formula — used in both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, and possibly his other novels — is aptly used for The Lost Symbol. It guarantees a roller-coaster of events for those who at least humour his writing style. In fact, I find The Lost Symbol the exciting novel of the three — and no, it’s not because I was offended by the other two. After all, there were numerous references to Langdon’s previous adventures, especially the very sentiments that triggered many of the literate population to talk.
I like the central character, Robert Langdon. Brown once said that Langdon takes after the man Brown wishes to be, and I don’t blame him. In my mind, he’s not too shabby: an attractive, intelligent man, properly seasoned by life and his academic pursuits. Witty too, or so Brown writes him as such. Come to think of it, he may be a little too perfect. However, I can dismiss that ironic flaw for this novel.
One of the central themes of The Lost Symbol is the power of the mind, the strength of collective thought, and the potential of one’s thoughts to manifest physically. For the more conservative folk, it may count as fraternising with dangerous thinking. But I beg to differ.
As long as Dan Brown has been a figure of significance in mainstream literature, people connect to his work. Many minds have engaged in the power of his words. People praise him, condemn him, and define their own beliefs by referring to Brown’s novels. Fiery words plea for boycotts and book banning. Curious souls sojourn to the mentioned sites, in hopes that the fine line between reality and fiction is blurred. With the million or so people who purchased The Lost Symbol soon after its release, it is clear people are all but silent. Through The Lost Symbol, Brown is merely noting a phenomenon that already exists.
But let’s face it: if you’ve read one Dan Brown novel, you’ve read them all.