I first encountered Dan Brown whilst at University. I was discussing historical heresy and controversies of the Church with a friend. I should probably add at this point that I studied Theology and did my dissertation on medieval German heresy. Anyway the friend mentioned an American author that his mum had recently been raving about.
Following the recommendation I read Angels and Demons.
The writing wasn’t the best, slightly clumsy, a love affair with the ellipses, overly scripted conversations “Robert said” “Vittoria replied” “Cardinal Saverio Mortati interjected”. His use of many words to say nothing and leave you with no real image was infuriating. And yet I couldn’t put the book down.
Dan Brown might not be a good writer but he is a fantastic storyteller! To steal the opening lines from Jim Henson’s The Storyteller “When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories the best place by the fire was kept for the storyteller”. Words have power and the best stories can live forever.
Dan Brown is a master of the tale, if he was telling you a bedtime story you would be on the edge of your seat, biting your finger nails and begging your mum to let you stay up for 10 more minutes to hear the next bit. But like any storyteller he is only as good as his subject matter. His first three books, Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons and Deception point sold fewer than 10,000 copies in their first print runs. People weren’t interested in government surveillance, papal elections and aliens. But then he hit the jackpot, he found the story to end all stories; The Da Vinci Code was published.
What was it about this tale that hooked the world? People who didn’t normally read were picking it up and finishing it in days. Critics were prepared to overlook his clumsy writing style in favour of the thrilling chase to find out the Church’s greatest secret. Could there be a holy blood line?
As both a theologian and a catholic I’ve often thought why that particular conspiracy hit such a chord, why were people so quick to believe everything a fiction writer had written was true. It can’t simply be about scandal, the Catholic Church is steeped in scandal. The only thing I could think of was a need in people for Jesus to be a fraud. Not the Church that was built on his words, but the man himself. We seem to accept that the Church has been led and controlled at times by unscrupulous men with motives above and beyond their calling to God. They’re human, they’re open to sin, they err but that doesn’t change people’s belief that Jesus was the son of God. But if Jesus had descendants? Would it change anything? Would his teachings have any less impact, would it undermine his instructions for Peter to build and lead his Church? Is that what made Brown’s 4th book such a success?
This blog has been prompted by my recent reading of The Lost Symbol. Brown’s venture into the mysteries surrounding the Freemasons. Love him or hate him you can’t take away Dan Brown’s ability to make you turn a page. Each chapter ends on a cliff hanger and his structuring of a couple of long chapters followed by a short one keeps us reading “just one more chapter”. After the success of The Da Vinici Code Dan Brown has stuck to a very simple blue print, but in doing so the once unanticipated twists and turns in the plot are now visible from a distance like a juggernaut. He may as well have put a flashing neon sign on the page. Like all religious thrillers you know what the ending is going to be and I can say for sure it isn’t going to change your outlook on life, your knowledge of the world or your relationship with a greater being.
Will that stop me reading Inferno? Nope cause whatever I think of his writing ability I still love his stories.
If Dan Brown opened your eyes to religious thrillers you may wish to also check out Steve Berry, Raymond Khoury, Chris Kuzneski, Kate Mosse and C.S. Graham