As part of my researches into a course on conspiracy theories I have read all the Robert Langton (all two of them) books that Dan Brown wrote. ‘Angels and Demons,’ the lesser known of the two, details an Illuminati plot to destroy the Vatican and features a quest to locate the Church of Illumination. It also features an initially interesting sub-plot about a Catholic priest-scientist creating matter and anti-matter to prove the creation ex nihilo hypothesis (which, as a plot point, amounts to nothing in the end). ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (film coming soon) is about the Priory of Sion and the Church’s suppression of the Sacred Feminine. Conspiracy-tastic; pity that these two books are badly written, clumsily plotted and barely researched. As my good friend Majikthise pithily put it, seven million people can be wrong.
First, the characterisation. Nothing is left to the reader’s imagination; you always know what your main characters are thinking, which means that the suspense of ‘Will they or won’t they?’ is always ruined within a paragraph. Add to that the obvious candidate for ‘villian of the piece’ and you get paper cutouts maskerading as people. Robert Langton is a stereotype university professor of the school of ‘I obviously have never been taught by a university academic.’ Let’s ignore the flashbacks of classes (that belong, rightfully or wrongly, on TV) or the moments of erudition that seem to come straight from guide books. No, let’s focus on the characterisation. We can tell he is an academic because he wears tweed. Everything after that is just obvious.
The plot of each book is basically this: Langton is brought to the site of a bizaare murder. The murder scene evokes some esoteric fact of which he is the only real expert and is a clue that leads him to the next clue, which is itself a clue that leads to the next, and so forth. Luckily, as Robert isn’t totally polymathic, he gets a nubile assistant, say, a quamtum biologist or a cryptographer, who is able to help out. They solve each clue whilst being pursued by a religious zealot who is also an assasin. The assasin thinks they are working for a particular group (the Illuminati or the Church) but this is all a front. The real villian of the piece turns out to have been working with them the entire time amd they are only stopped in the nick of time. Normality is restored and Langton gets it on with the assistant (who, bizaarely, isn’t one of his graduate students). It’s plot-by-numbers, sometimes literally.
As to the research… I realise that fiction doesn’t have to map history. Surely, though, you can present the history as accurately as possible in the context of the story? You would expect Adam Weisshaupt to be mentioned in any history of the Illuminati. Aargh. The wish to wax lyrical on the non-lyrical nature of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is doing my head in. I should focus these issues into exciting course content.
Yes, I shall.