This week I finished Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, and I am struggling to finish season 5 of Lost. In the case of both, I like the earlier work better than the later work.
Granted all of their theological and historical flaws, I really enjoyed both Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I read them as fiction, didn’t take them too seriously, and truly enjoyed them both. Also, I read them both in a week or two max. My experience with The Lost Symbol has been vastly different. I’ve read it off and on over several months – eventually, I was no longer really interested in the story, other than to see how it all wrapped up. You might say that this means the novel did its job – it got me to read it. That would be true, except that this experience means I will not be chomping at the bit for Brown’s next work.
Why the different experience? I think it was ultimately the subject matter, and its treatment. I like the main character, Robert Langdon, the skeptical Harvard symbologist with an encyclopedic memory. But both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons deal with explicitly Christian themes – in one, the Catholic Church and the “battle” with science, and in the other, the “real” history of Jesus and his relationship with Mary Magdalene. Both were rather simplistic philosophically, but the plots were interesting and the little tidbits of actual history kept me going. I read Angels and Demons around the time that Pope John Paul II died, so it was especially interesting.
But The Lost Symbol is all about Masonic lore. Snoooooooooooze. Who cares? The plot revolves around an arcane treasure called “The Ancient Mysteries,” which is presumably a font of knowledge condensed from and hidden in all the great traditions of world history, preserved by the Masons. A bad man wants to get the Ancient Mysteries, ostensibly for some nefarious purpose, and Langdon must help the Masons and/or the CIA get to it before him. Are you asleep yet?
Most annoying of all, it traffics in that most common of modern views – all the more ignorant because it is taken for granted: the notion that all religions are essentially the same, pointing to the same goal, and thus possess a common “core.” This has the compliment of being tolerant to all religions and finding value in them; but it is a back-handed compliment at best because ultimately none of them is anymore “true” than the other.
Here is a particularly grating example:
Robert, you and I both know that the ancients would be horrified if they saw how their teachings have been perverted…we’ve lost the Word, and yets its true meaning is still within reach, right before our eyes. It exists in all the enduring texts, from the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita to the Koran and beyond. All of these texts are revered upon the altars of Freemasonry because Masons understand what the world seems to have forgotten…that each of these texts, in its own way, is quietly whispering the exact same message.
Ugh. The very notion that the world “forgot” this universal ‘faith’ is stupid, because it suggests that somehow all of these religions that developed at different times and in different places were, in the beginning, self-consciously identical projects to all the other faiths. This obvious fallacy results from reading an insidiously pluralistic, modern, and secular philosophy of religion into the whole of world civilization. Ask a Muslim if he is trying to achieve the same thing as a Buddhist, or a Sikh. Ask the Hindu if the hopes and goals for their life is the same as that of an Orthodox Jew. Only a vile, secular, hyper-modern Westerner could possibly assume they would all say “yes.” This is an intellectually adolescent flaw that infects the entirety Dan Brown’s novel, and after a while, I just got tired of it. That, and the fact that the plot and its characters weren’t nearly as compelling as Brown’s two most famous works. So, if you want me two cents – skip it.
As for Lost: Well, I’m in the same situation I was in with The Lost Symbol. I’m no longer that emotionally invested in the plot, but I want to know how it all wraps up. But I don’t really care about any characters, save perhaps John Locke. And I’m not sure why, at that. At first, thanks to Netflix, I blew through Lost. I ate it up. But then I stalled. Midway through season 5, I got stuck in an episode. Too much time travel, back-and-forth, and interconnected plot points. I think JJ Abrams is awesome, but I just got lost (pun intended). I finally got up the nerve to start back (thanks to all the season 6 hype), and now I’m working towards the end of season 5.
Still, it feels like a chore. Like homework, really. But hey, who’s the idiot here? I’m still watching. Since the demise of The Shield, and the interim period before new seasons of Rescue Me and Sons of Anarchy, I have to take what I can get.