The infernal Dan Brown

I have never read what passes for a Dan Brown novel, and it seems that this is probably for the best.  But I should note that the vast success of writers who write for idiots doesn’t bother me any more than the success of sixteen year-old pop stars who perform for teen girls does.  Given MPAI, it stands to reason that the writer whose primary goal is to sell as many books as possible should always cater to the lowest nominally literate consumer.

However, it is a bit much to be expected to also accept the intellectual pretensions of a man who is manifestly writing for the ignorati.  For not only is Brown’s “research” obviously incorrect, the fact that he confuses the ascents of the Purgatorio with the circles of the Inferno tends to suggest that it is entirely nonexistent.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn he’d never even read the entire Inferno, let alone the rest of La Comedia.

Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, having written what
for lack of a mightier term we must call a novel, a novel that proved that John
the Apostle was a girl, Mary Magdalene a helpless goddess, and a hypotenuse an
African water buffalo—having revealed for millions the lavish colors of the
frescoes in Notre Dame de Paris (there are no frescoes in Notre Dame de Paris),
the grim austerity of Spanish Cathedrals (Spanish Cathedrals are notorious for
baroque exuberance), and the deep mystery of the Golden Ratio (every schoolboy
knew about the Golden Ratio)—having shown the world that he could write a novel
about art, theology, and Christian history while knowing nothing about art,
theology, and Christian history, except what he could glean from the covers of
matchbooks and obiter dicta from Cher—having shown how much
you can do if you do not bother to open an ordinary encyclopedia, this Dan
Brown, I say, this man of our time and of no time, has now written a novel about
the greatest poet who ever lived, Dante.

Only it doesn’t have
a damned thing to do with Dante, just as The
Da Vinci Code
didn’t have anything to do with Leonardo.  Dante is just
a quick needle used to inject the “story” into the reader’s head.  This
time, Mr. Brown has opened a lot of encyclopedias, deluging the reader with 400
pages of material that belongs in Michelin guides to Florence, Venice, and
Istanbul, none of it to the point.  Even at that, he gets details wrong as
soon as he veers away from something you might find in a guide book, especially
when he engages in an exceedingly rare moment of telling us something about
Dante’s poem.  He says it was called a Comedy
because it was written in the vernacular, “for the masses.”  No, a comedy,
according to the medieval definition, was a poem in which a character moves
from misery to happiness, regardless of what language it is written in, and
there were no “masses” to read it, since books were still costly to produce and

He says that Dante’s
Purgatory has nine circles of ascent; no, there are seven, one for each of the
deadly sins.  He says that Purgatory is the only way to get from the
Inferno to Paradise.  No, it isn’t; nobody but Dante visits Inferno and
leaves the place, and plenty of people do not have to ascend the
mountain.  Essentially, Dante’s poem is about the resurrection of a human
soul, by the grace of God, to turn from the lie of evil to the truth and beauty
of goodness.  Brown doesn’t get any of that, because he doesn’t care about
any of that.

What’s this book
about?  It’s 462 pages of bad prose.  Portentous sentence
fragments.  Italics, for somber
J—–, there are childish profanities!  Even childish
punctuation?!  Anticlimaxes, a good dollop of Most Favored Bigotry, for
sales; one dimensional characters, most of them pallid even in their one
dimension, and a message with all the sophistication of Sesame Street. 

I understand that Eco isn’t for everyone, let alone Calvino and Borges.  But it would be nice if someone in Brown’s position would be responsible enough, if not to actually bother reading Dante, to at least hire someone to read it for him and ensure that he isn’t actively misinforming the sort of people whose only exposure to the culture Brown is mining are his books.