Ever since I read The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (which I was inspired to read via the card game “Illuminati” by Steve Jackson Games) I’ve had an interest in conspiracy theories and secret societies. I’ve read many books involving them, including Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, which I thoroughly love.
So it’s not surprising that eventually I would gravitate towards the bestseller, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. When I first saw it in the bookstore, I was piqued, but willing to wait for the paperback. Since then it’s become a phenomenon.
I recently borrowed the book from my in-laws. I’ve kind of cooled on my desire to read it. From what I’ve heard, it’s “conspiracy lite,” a sort of watered-down version of the Eco book. I’ve also heard what the ultimate “big secret” of the book is, and if that really is it, then it’s nothing new or surprising; it’s a standard trope of conspiracy theories. But what the hey, I’ve decided to give it a shot.
They nearly lost me right out of the gate, though. The main character (I assume, I’m not that far in) is Robert Langdon, Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University. Like a lot of Professors of Religious Symbology, he’s recently become quite famous. This is due to an extremely clunky narrative device in which he is introduced at a professional gathering by someone reading his glowing write-up in Boston Magazine as one of that city’s top ten most intriguing people.
So here are a few of the things we find out about Professor Langdon, via this article:
“Although Professor Langdon might not be considered hunk-handsome like some of our younger awardees, this forty-something academic has more than his share of scholarly allure. His captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low, baritone speaking voice, which his female students describe as ‘chocolate for the ears.’”
Ha! Cause you see, women like chocolate! Crazy skirts! I’m reminded of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the female student has “love you” written on her eyelids for Indiana Jones. And wait!
“He knew what came next–some ridiculous line about ‘Harrison Ford in Harris tweed’…”
There’s an funny bit in Eco’s book where the lead character, Casaubon, is introducing himself. “Casaubon,” says the woman he’s speaking with. “Wasn’t he a character in Middlemarch?” Casaubon replies, “I don’t know.” It’s funny because whether or not Eco purposely named his character after that one, he certainly knows, and he’s playing with the reader here. It’s nothing, a throwaway line, a little joke.
Brown is clumsily doing a similar thing here with the Harrison Ford line, but to different effect. Obviously in Brown’s head, he’s cast Harrison Ford as the dashing, not-quite hunk-handsome main character, and wants you to know this. And you know, when you think about it, an intelligent professor who goes on an amazing adventure to find a lost religious secret — why, that’s kind of LIKE Indiana Jones, isn’t it? Thanks, Dan! Wouldn’t have seen that if you hadn’t pointed it out.
Incidentally, unless you think that only impressionable freshman coeds find Professor Langdon intriguing, we also find out that his concerns about his greying hair are unimportant because, “his female colleagues insisted the grey only accentuated his bookish appearance.”
I can imagine this scenario: “Professor Langdon, I wanted to discuss your theories on Meso-American culture and…oh, my! Have you been working out?”
I don’t know about New York Times bestsellers, but in the comparatively lower-brow world of internet fan fiction, there’s a term for this sort of thing: “Mary Sue.” Mary Sue is beautiful, intelligent, resourceful, and intrigues everyone who meets her (including — and often — Legolas and Harry Potter.) She’s an expert at everything. She’s also a stand-in for the author, a character born of wishful thinking. And because of this, she never seems real. So far this is the case with Professor Langdon.
But I’m not that far into the book yet, and I may be making too much over nothing. I’ll keep at it. All I know is, it’s not a good sign when your reader has to take a break from your book because his eyes rolled clear out of his head and went under the nightstand and he had to get them out and clean them off and put them back in before he continue reading about how intriguing your main character is.