The Lost Symbol, Or Why I Still Like Dan Brown Books

I love Dan Brown books.  I do.  Most of America agrees with me.  But I also find it fascinating that there are many people in our country who absolutely REFUSE to read his works, most specifically The Da Vinci Code.  I’ve read three of Brown’s works, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and most recently The Lost Symbol.

The Da Vinci Code was the book that put Dan Brown on the map, opening a door to the hidden belief that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, and that their descendants walk among us.  He created popular interest in the secretive and historical groups such as the Knights Templar and Opus Dei as well as the missing gospels.  What I found fascinating about this book was that rather than seeming blasphemous toward religion, I felt it made Jesus more real.  I’ve always been someone attracted to the human side of Jesus, the fact that he was a man, that he struggled throughout life to overcome his obstacles.  Being raised a Catholic and attending Catholic school for 9 years, I remember asking my mother why the Church wouldn’t allow priests to marry?  I thought that would solve a lot of problems.  For starters, a married man can better understand the family lives of his congregation; he’s experiencing the same ups and downs that occur when you’re compromising over what’s for dinner, how to discipline the kids, who’s turn it is drive or pick up groceries, yadda yadda.  Second, it’s a smart business move.  Even when I was in elementary school, the number of men attending seminary was less and less.  Not many have the strength and devotion to choose a life of solitude and move around a lot.  Why in the last 8 years, my family’s Catholic church has had at least 4 different priests.  It seems that whenever they’ve been around long enough to know all the families, they’re sent elsewhere and another one arrives.  If priests were allowed to marry, perhaps more men would devote themselves to the ministry.  But, we’re not here to discuss my views on religion, and I won’t argue with yours.  I do think The Da Vinci Code was a fascinating read that opened my mind to the human side of religious figures.

All of the books I read star Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in the movies.  Angels and Demons is actually the first book and again dips into the intricate and secret world of The Vatican.  Brown stirred up the press with this book discussing the underground society, The Illuminati, a group founded in the 1700’s with the conspiratorial goal of undoing the Church to find true enlightenment.

Hmm, I’m beginning to see why readers are in such a tizz.  Ok, so Dan Brown has a knack for finding and expounding upon ancient historical figures and the conspiracy theories and mysteries that surround them.  Now, this is why I think he’s a fantastic writer!  That’s adventure thriller novel gold!  The man was named one of the most influential people in 2005 by TIME magazine editors for:

“keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.”

I’d love to have that kind of impact on the world.  Sadly, I’m not sure I have the patience necessary.

In The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon is back and immediately flying to Washington D.C. to present at a conference for a last minute request by his former teacher and mentor, Peter Solomon.  No sooner does he arrive, than the life threatening forces begin to swirl around him.  The bad guy is a tattooed man with a thirst for revenge and the lost word that will make him the most evil minion of the dark forces.  He’s pretty much pure evil.  The secret society of this novel is the Freemasons.  Now, the freemasons historically consisted of many of our nation’s founding members, Presidents, and Supreme Court justices.  Benjamin Franklin, a Freemason, wrote a book about them with his printing press.  Mostly tied to Christianity, the Freemasons appear to be more open-minded, referring to God in a number of manners that suggest any religion could be a part of the Freemasons.  What makes them so intriguing in this book is that Dan Brown delves into the secret and lost (perhaps?) rituals of the society.  In the opening scene, a Freemason ritual is happening where the inductee drinks wine, meant to symbolize blood, from a real human skull.  It certainly paints a different picture than what most of us know about masons, like weird hats, man lodges, and secret handshakes.

It’s no wonder Dan Brown writes about religion with intrigue.  His father was a math teacher and his mom a church organist.  He grew up with both a passion for science and religion.  He combines the two in each of his novels.  In fact, they’ve essentially become his belief system.  In a Q & A he did for The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown said:

I’m fascinated by power, especially veiled power. Shadow power. The National Security Agency. The National Reconnaissance Office. Opus Dei. The idea that everything happens for reasons we’re not quite seeing. It reminds me of religion a little. The power that religion has is that you think nothing is random: If there’s a tragedy in my life, that’s God testing me or sending me a message. That’s what conspiracy theorists do. They say, “The economy’s terrible? Oh, that’s not random. That’s a bunch of rich guys in Prague who sat down and…”

Brown originally attempted a career in the music industry and lived in L.A. for awhile.  Not fitting in, he moved east and became a teacher.  For all you starving, struggling writers out there, listen to this schedule:  When Brown decided to write a book for the first time in his life, he woke up at 4 in the morning every day, wrote until 8, then biked 12 miles to teach spanish at a grade school, biked home, showered/ate and taught English at Phillips – Exeter.  He finished his book Digital Fortress a year later.  By the way, if you want to get really creeped out about a secret eavesdropping society, check out the true event that inspired Dan Brown to write Digital Fortress, a novel centered around the National Security Agency.

Clearly I’ve expressed my profound admiration for the writer Dan Brown and his suspense novels.  If you’ve only seen the films, you’re missing out!  They have too much to tell in too short a time, and the movies almost make the story unbelievable.  The hold your breath, edge of your seat reading of his books is a much better experience!  ESPECIALLY for Angels and Demons, the book has a TOTALLY different ending, which I much prefer.

Have at it!  What’s your opinion of Dan Brown and his franchise of religious suspense novels?  Have you read his works?  What’s your favorite?  Has anyone read his earlier novels, how do they compare?  What thoughts and opinions do you have about his subject matter?  Do you ever stop on a page and wonder, you know, if it’s possible?

20 responses

  1. Wow! I read the link about the NSA. That’s unbelievable. There really is SO much about the government that the regular citizen, i.e. me, doesn’t know and never will know. And that sort of thing makes for great books. I’ve never read any of Dan Brown nor seen any of the movies, but now I sure will.

    1. Yah, reading about that book gave me chills. It’s definitely added into my to read list as well, plus I’m curious about his early works now and what other characters he’s created. I’m so use to my Robert Langdon.

  2. Nice post.

    Re: married priests. I believe they were allowed until just before the end of the first millennium. The Vatican had been spending money like mad on wars and politics, so celibate priesthood was introduced as a money saving measure – they would no longer have to support the families of clergy. That is the account I read somewhere on the pros and cons of celibacy in spiritual practice.

    Second – I loved The DaVinci Code – couldn’t put it down. I was really disappointed in The Lost Symbol for literary reasons – I found the villain implausible and two dimensional, and I was bored to tears by the pages and pages of backstory. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but let’s just say, I will wait till the next Dan Brown comes out in paperback or even hits the library shelves.

    1. The Lost Symbol IS in paperback. But I can see why you’d say that opinion. I agree that Da Vinci code and Angels and Demons are both such CAN’T PUT THEM DOWN books that Lost Symbol might pale in comparison. I still liked it. I’d recommend discussing it at a book club or reading it with someone. Our conversations about the history and secrecy of freemasons is what made the book so fascinating. Plus one of our members had just traveled to D.C. and seen so many of the things he talked about. I think they should put together Dan Brown tours of the places he writes about. LOL. Who wouldn’t want access to secret storage rooms inside Washington and the Smithsonian?!

  3. I loved the DaVinci Code, haven’t read Angels and Demons, but have heard the that The Lost Symbol dragged and haven’t picked it up yet. Wonderful po st, Jess. I also had the same questions in mind about the Catholic religion as a teen, but couldn’t bring myself to leave it for another. I suppose the mystery and supposed intrigue in its history keeps me tied to it, besides the beliefs I have.
    I haven’t watched the movie, DaVinci Code, because sometimes that takes away from the feeling a book leaves you with.
    The video was awesome and would love to see the rest of it…I’ll have to see if there’s another finishing the show.

    1. Yes!! There are maybe 5 or more parts to the Dan Brown interview with Matt Lauer and I found them really fascinating too. They’re all up on youtube and his website links to them under the media link I believe. One of my favorite things he does is writing about all these conspiracies and historical oddities from the viewpoint of a skeptic, so the reader can appreciate Langdon and his unwillingness to just go along with it. Yet, Langdon is a man of academia, so he has a great way of offering up alternative viewpoints that make the reader go “oh wait, maybe…” Prime example from my book club: Everyone is immediately freaked out by the Freemason ceremony where they drink “blood” from a human skull and act out a symbolic death, yet Langdon describes for his students a group that ritually eats the body and blood of their god while kneeling at an altar…another name for which is called eucharist. Put into a context we grow up with or are familiar with, it doesn’t seem strange, but you can’t argue side by side that they must EACH be placed within context. I LOVE THAT about his books.

      1. Oh cool, I’ll go watch them! That is so weird about the eucharist! Yes, since we grew up with that, we just accept and never question that we are eating and drinking something symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood. So it follows that somewhere back in time people must have really eaten the body and blood of something that stood in for their god. Weird! Now I really can’t wait to go read the other books!

  4. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the Dan Brown books. His mixture of historical with fiction is done so well that it is hard to tell where one stops and the other starts. And that, of course, is what makes his books great for discussion and controversy. I do agree with Morgan that the Lost Symbol had a lot of boring backstory. (A novice writer would be shredded for doing this – but hey, if you’re Dan Brown you can get away with it.) I found myself skimming through those sections, but I’ve met people who loved having all of that detailed information. All criticisms aside, I think it’s a victory when someone can write a book that gets people talking and debating.

    1. Absolutely agree, Valerie! It is a victory when an author makes a book that fosters discussion. And I like that Dan Brown stands up for his writing because he aims to do just that.

  5. I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code. especially the discussions of the female in religion. I think it’s sad that there is not more balance of male/female in religion, we need both energies to be harmonious.

    1. I agree, I think we could be a stronger faith group if we saw ourselves in the story more. One of these days I’m hoping to read The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. I’ve heard it’s a moving text.

  6. Ahh, The Da Vinci Code…

    I’d heard so much positive press about it that I put my name on the waiting list at the local library in order to check it out. Months and months passed, and finally it was ready! I eagerly tore into it…

    …and was quite bored.

    I don’t know why; clearly, it has struck a chord with a lot of people! I didn’t think it lived up to the hype, though. The religious angle was intriguing, but the story just didn’t resonate with me much. Clearly I’m in the minority! Haven’t read anything else of Dan Brown’s since.

    1. If you’re willing to try him again, I’d suggest Angels and Demons. That one I couldn’t put down and it’s more action oriented and life threatening situations. Plus, spoiler alert, it’s not all happily ever after, but it’s a good ending.

      1. Sure, why not. I’m always willing to give people second chances!

  7. My only experience with Mr. Brown is the Da Vinci Code. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It was fast-paced and suspenseful. The subject matter was well-researched and the made-up stuff was convincingly written. Though I enjoyed what I read, I wasn’t interested enough to pick up another Dan Brown book. Maybe I need to give him a second try? He might interest me just as much with another book as he did with the Da Vinci Code.

    Good post. 😀

    1. Angels and Demons is my recommendation because it’s equally fast paced and interesting. I really want to check out some of his early work so I can compare his style over the years and meet other characters. Let me know what you think if you pick up another book!

  8. Hi, Jess. I like Dan Brown novels, too. They are roller-coaster rides that have you flipping pages very quickly. I love all of the secret-world stuff.
    As a Bible-reading Christian, we weathered that whole “should we be reading this” stuff from friends and church-family during the Da Vinci Code. I tried not to get all hung up on it. I loved The Lost Symbol, too. I thought the first three-fourths of Angels & Demons was brilliant, but felt that it took maybe one twist too far at the end. All in all, however, I enjoyed the ride…and look forward to the next adventure.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective as a Christian reader, James. A member of my book club works at the Catholic university in town and she spoke to the nuns about The Da Vinci Code when it was so popular. Several of them told her they cried reading it and said much of it is very possible. They had read the lost gospels and they show Jesus as more humane, a different side of him than we see from other stories in the bible. It’s really truly fascinating, and in my opinion, makes me feel closer to him and happier for him that he would live a life similar to ours and understand what we go through because he himself did so too. Too me, I just don’t see why it would be a bad thing if Jesus had married, or had siblings – which is another possibility I’ve heard, that Jesus had a brother (Mary and Joseph’s children) and his name was James. I don’t see how any of that would demean his miracles. To me, it strengthens them.

  9. Enjoyed Da Vinci Code and also Angels and demons. Hope this one is even better.

    1. I hope you enjoy it too, take head from other readers, it’s not quite as fast paced as the other two, but still very good. Thanks for stopping by!

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