Caution: Spoilers. Everywhere. It’s a whole convention of ‘em.
Cathedral College is an elegant, castle-like edifice located adjacent to the National Cathedral. The College of Preachers, as it was originally envisioned by the first Episcopal bishop of Washington, was founded to provide ongoing education for clergy after their ordination. Today, the college offers a wide variety of programs on theology, global justice, healing and spirituality.
The Lost Symbol,Dan Brown;Doubleday, 2009
There’s only one standard to use with a Dan Brown book. Is it entertaining? Measured against this scale, The Lost Symbol fails.
I’ll pause here to discuss the good things, and there are some. I had never heard of Albrecht Durer’s Melancolia, before I read the book, so I looked it up on the Internet. What a cool engraving. Thanks, Dan Brown! It was nice to be reintroduced to magic squares, even though I’m not mathematical at all. The guidebook-style descriptions of various buildings were very good; in fact, if Brown wants to take a break from novels, he could write Langdon’s Guide to Rome and Langdon’s Guide to Washington DC, and they’d sell like crazy.
The puzzles were so elementary that even I could figure them out, which made me feel really smart. . . for about five minutes. Dude, if I can figure out the puzzles, so can third-graders.
Oh, and there’s a clever scene with Langdon and the Smart Gal Pal in a taxi.
Okay. That’s what I liked.
Brown’s prose is poor. His plots depend on any number of implausibilities and coincidences. So, what’s he got? Why is he so popular? Well, in the Da Vinci Code, at least, he had a great what-if scenario.
Miracles don’t always happen twice, however. The what-if premise of Symbol is just not that exciting. The ultimate secret of the Freemasons, hidden in Washington DC? Yawn. Wake me when you find it.
I’m sorry. . . are the Masons supposed to be scary? I just can’t see it. In the movie of Angels and Demons, the Illuminati seemed powerful and scary—even though they weren’t the bad guys, it was that other guy. In Code, the Opus Dei seemed powerful and scary—even though they weren’t the bad guys, it was that other guy. In Symbol, the Masons seem. . . kind of staid, Ivy-League and boring. The Boy Scout honor camper society, Order of the Arrow, would have been a more mysterious secret society than these guys were.
Brown doesn’t really have characters, but he has named people who perform functions. Here are the functions in Symbol:
Antagonistic Law Enforcement Presence: Sato
Smart Gal Pal: Katherine
Physically Freakish Villain: Mal’akh
Wise Man/Magical Helper: Bellamy and Galloway
Brown writes short chapters and sets the action in multiple locations in an attempt to ratchet up the tension, but for some reason all this did was pitch me out of the book. Langdon and Company seem to roam around the Capitol Rotunda forever while Langdon flashes back to endless mini-lectures about the Masons; while several miles away the Physically Freakish Villain models his tattoos for us and mulls over his evil plan; while a few blocks away from there, Smart Gal Pal wanders haphazardly around her gigantic storage unit/laboratory worrying about her brother and flashing back to her meeting with the Physically Freakish Villain, who was cleverly disguised (she doesn’t know he’s the PFV). It seems to go on like that for a very long time.
Brown also sacrifices the chance to create a real character for short-term “gotcha” payoffs, and in this book these sputter and die. Sato, the CIA Bureau Chief (spoiler alert) is Japanese! And a woman! And four feet tall! Hahahaha! Betcha didn’t see that coming! What a shame some of that joke’s-on-you energy didn’t go into making Sato a real character. How does a four-foot-tall Japanese American woman make her way to upper management in the CIA? That might be an interesting little back-story. The Solomons, Katherine and her older brother who is a) Langdon’s friend; and b) a Mason; and c) missing, take up a lot of space in the book. The Solomons are Rich and Powerful. How did they get rich? Peter and Katherine inherited the money; Solomons have been wealthy for generations. How did the family get its start? Brown doesn’t care. Brown doesn’t know, or care, that it is background detail and not cute Mickey Mouse watches or Sumatra coffee beans that create character.
The true identity of Mal’akh (spoiler alert) will come as a shattering revelation to the reader; at least the reader who somehow managed to skip pages 220-225, where it is made perfectly clear who he is. To put that in perspective, the book is 509 pages long. That’s a lot of time spent drumming your fingernails waiting for The Big Reveal that you already know.
Oh, and Mal’akh has created a national security crisis—really—by threatening to show bootlegged video of real Masonic ceremonies on the Internet. Oh, no! Imagine our shock and horror as we. . . see grainy, poorly shot wig-cam footage of rituals we’ve already seen re-enacted on the Discovery Channel. Has Mal’akh ever seen the Internet? Oh, but it reveals that important people in government are Masons! Somehow, I can’t seem to care.
The work here is so poorly done that I have a conspiracy theory of my own. Brown conspired with his hard drive and the bottom drawer of his file cabinet to pull out an old manuscript he wrote before the Da Vinci Code, tried unsuccessfully to update the technology and the science, and passed it off to an undiscerning public as a new manuscript. Oh, ye who have eyes yet will not see.
So, if you want an entertaining, challenging romp through our nation’s capital, solving historical puzzles, racing to beat the bad-guys, forget this book, and rent the DVD of the first National Treasure movie. Yes, I’m recommending a DVD over this book. It’s that disappointing.