Dan Brown’s Lemmings Will Ruin DC

An ominous death knell sounds in today’s Washington Post.

Docents at DC tourism spots, it tolls for thee!!

Washingtonians, brace yourselves.

In just six days, residents will awaken to find themselves in a changed city. One invaded by Founding Fathers scandal, by fictitious Harvard symbologists, by very short chapters ending in cliffhangers and exclamation points! One to which the tourists will flock, brandishing conspiracy theories.

We want the real story, they’ll say to helpless docents at the Smithsonian, perhaps, or the Scottish Rite Masonic temple. This is the real story, docents will reply. No, the reeeeal story. Wink wink.

Washington is about to be Dan Browned.

The inciting incident is the release of “The Lost Symbol,” the third installment of Brown’s mondo-selling adventure zeitgeist, sequel to “Angels & Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code.” In “Angels,” professor Robert Langdon races through Rome, saving the city from an explosion and uncovering religious secrets that rock Christianity to the core. In “Da Vinci,” he races through Paris and London, solving a mysterious death and uncovering religious secrets that rock Christianity to the core.

In “The Lost Symbol,” Langdon will be back again, this time racing through Washington. What exactly he’ll be doing here is unclear. In the five-plus years Brown has been researching and writing this novel, nary an important plot point has leaked.

This much is known: The initial print run of “The Lost Symbol” is 5 million copies, the largest in Random House history, the publisher claims. Clues found on the novel’s recently released cover, combined with decoded messages from the “Da Vinci” jacket and elsewhere (“Is there no help for the widow’s son?”), suggest that Freemason history will play a central role.

People. Are. Freaking. Out.

There’s ample precedent for this. Brown’s hackish potboilers have driven scads of dimwitted tourists to previously-obscure destinations over the past few years, all of them searching for symbols and codes that he invented out of thin air.

Attention Dan Brown fans! His books are stupid thrillers based purely on his own imagination! There is no such academic discipline as “symbology”!!!

brownIf you look closely at the collar of his turtleneck,
you’ll see ancient symbols spelling out D-O-U-C-H-E.

The Post story tells the tale of the unfortunate Colin Glynne-Percy, whose life was ruined by idiotic Dan Brown fans.

When Dan Brown comes to town, things get a little bit nutty.

Just ask Colin Glynne-Percy, director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, the rural Scottish church featured in “The Da Vinci Code,” which Langdon believed to be the location of the Holy Grail.

“Before the book came out, we had about 40,000 visitors a year,” Glynne-Percy says. “It went to 80,000. Then to 120,000. Then to 175,000. We had very small facilities. We had only two restrooms. We could survive on that for 40,000 but . . .” They’ve put in temporary bathrooms and added several new staff members.

Just ask Robin Griffith-Jones, master of the Temple Church in London, which makes the eensiest of cameos in “Da Vinci.” (Langdon pops in to search for clues on the stone effigies’ decorative orbs, then pops out.)

This minor role hasn’t stopped tourists from roaming the circular nave in search of the orbs examined by Langdon.

Small problem: “There is no question of any orb in this church,” Griffith-Jones says. “Knights didn’t have orbs. Only kings had orbs,” and it’s mostly knights depicted at the temple. Griffith-Jones began offering a weekly lecture to dispel the myths of “Da Vinci” and eventually wrote a book on the subject. Still the tourists come. “I feel like King Canute, with the rising ocean tide I cannot stem.”


(Don’t feel too bad for Mr. Percy, though – if he can’t take the stress any more, he can always go back to his former profession, posing for beefcake charity calendars.)

Dan Brown idiocy has also spread to Italy, as the New York Times reported in light of the release of this summer’s “Angels and Demons” film:

Matt Kartchner, of Sacramento, Calif., said that he had two objectives in coming on holiday to Rome: “To see the Colosseum and take an ‘Angels and Demons’ tour.” On a recent morning he took that tour.

Rome experts say the film could correct some of the book’s errors. (For example, it places Santa Maria della Vittoria in the wrong piazza.) “People are constantly saying, ‘Wait a minute, in “Angels and Demons” Dan Brown says this or that,’ and we give a spiel about veracity and then explain that what risks being damaged is the image of Rome,” said Paul Bennett, the founder of Context Travel, an upscale tour operator that does not do “Angels and Demons” tours.

Alberto Artioli, the state official responsible for Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, has experienced something similar since Mr. Brown turned St. John into Mary Magdalene in “The Da Vinci Code.”

Before “The Da Vinci Code,” Mr. Artioli said, “people would ask us which of the figures is Judas; now people ask which one is the Magdalene. It’s a little discouraging to see that people take the interpretation as truth instead of a game.”

The fact that anyone would cite “Angels and Demons” as a source is quite frankly horrifying. It might not be the stupidest book I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely in the conversation.

As far as Mr. Matt Kartchner is concerned: he came all the way from Sac-town to Rome to see…the places where “Maximus” fought and “Robert Langdon”, uh, symbologized. Euthanasia would not be too harsh for idiocy of this magnitude.

The reason why I am so offended that there is a wave of bleating sheep that washes over every locale that Brown sets his pen to is that HE IS FOR CRAP AS A WRITER.

This post by Geoffrey Pullum on the blog Language Log sums up my feelings perfectly.

I am still trying to come up with a fully convincing account of just what it was about his very first sentence, indeed the very first word, that told me instantly that I was in for a very bad time stylistically.

The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, ‘Prologue’) is the Louvre, late at night:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.

I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don’t do it in describing an event in a narrative. So this might be reasonable text for the opening of a newspaper report the next day:

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière died last night in the Louvre at the age of 76.

But Brown packs such details into the first two words of an action sequence — details of not only his protagonist’s profession but also his prestige in the field. It doesn’t work here. It has the ring of utter ineptitude. The details have no relevance, of course, to what is being narrated (Saunière is fleeing an attacker and pulls down the painting to trigger the alarm system and the security gates). We could have deduced that he would be fairly well known in the museum trade from the fact that he was curating at the Louvre.

The writing goes on in similar vein, committing style and word choice blunders in almost every paragraph (sometimes every line).


Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better. Why did I keep reading? Because London Heathrow is a long way from San Francisco International, and airline magazines are thin, and two-month-old Hollywood drivel on a small screen hanging two seats in front of my row did not appeal, that’s why. And why did I keep the book instead of dropping it into a Heathrow trash bin? Because it seemed to me to be such a fund of lessons in how not to write.

I don’t think I’d want to say these things about a first-time novelist, it would seem a cruel blow to a budding career. But Dan Brown is all over the best-seller lists now. In paperback and hardback, and in many languages, he is a phenomenon. He is up there with the Stephen Kings and the John Grishams and nothing I say can conceivably harm him. He is a huge, blockbuster, worldwide success who can go anywhere he wants and need never work again. And he writes like the kind of freshman student who makes you want to give up the whole idea of teaching. Never mind the ridiculous plot and the stupid anagrams and puzzle clues as the book proceeds, this is a terrible, terrible example of the thriller-writer’s craft.

Which brings us to the question of the blurbs. “Dan Brown has to be one of the best, smartest, and most accomplished writers in the country,” said Nelson DeMille, a bestselling author who has himself hit the #1 spot in the New York Times list. Unbelievable mendacity. And there are four other similar pieces of praise on the back cover. Together those blurbs convinced me to put this piece of garbage on the CostCo cart along with the the 72-pack of toilet rolls. Thriller writers must have a code of honor that requires that they all praise each other’s new novels, a kind of omerta that enjoins them to silence about the fact that some fellow member of the guild has given evidence of total stylistic cluelessness. A fraternal code of silence. We could call it… the Da Vinci code; or the Dan Brown code.

It’s really too bad, because I always found the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in DC a cool, enigmatic sight.

Now it’s about to be pooped on by Dan Brown and his horde of followers, who have been led to believe that they now “understand” the “secret codes” hidden therein.


I think Christopher Orr of The Plank said it best: “Sounds like an excellent time to leave town, for perhaps ten or fifteen years.”

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