Title: The Lost Symbol
Author: Dan Brown
Publication Date: September 2009
Purchase Price: $28.95 (hardback)
Misc. Info.: Part of the continuing adventures of Robert Langdon, Symbologist and Bad-Ass
Part philosophy, part theology, and part what-the-f*ckery, The Lost Symbol is the third feather in Dan Brown’s cap. And just as his previous two novels must have increased tourism in Paris and Rome, I’m sure the tour guides at the Capital Visitor Center in Washington, D.C have been fielding some pretty bizarre questions since this book’s publication last year.
And who could blame people for asking; a severed hand, the Wet Pod, and mysterious symbols painted, carved, and etched all over our National Capital? Hell, at this point even I’m starting to smell a conspiracy. But in all fairness, Brown did bring this upon himself. First was all the hullaballo about Jesus having a kid, then anti-matter in the Vatican, and now he’s started writing about the Masons.
Most people know at least a little bit about the Freemasons — or they claim to, or think they do. I have several close relatives who are Masons, and they don’t seem the type who would want to control the world. But what conspiracy theorists love to point out is that there are Freemason symbols scrawled, graffiti-like, all over D.C.
Many of the founding fathers, including Washington and Franklin, were Masons, as was Pierre L’Enfant, the first primary architect for D.C. And where some see these men as trying to use the concepts of strength, open-mindedness, and morality to create a new government, others will always see power, greed, and deception behind all of the Freemason symbols on and within Federal government buildings.
It is through the eyes of one of these people that The Lost Symbol begins. Mal’akh, a tattooed monster of a man, is on a quest to discover the Lost Word, which is “capable of bringing unfathomable power to anyone who grasps its true meaning” (pp. 430-1). If he discovers this Word, he will gain access to the Ancient Mysteries, a body of knowledge that allows those who know of it to access powerful abilities that lie dormant within the human mind. But of course no decent treasure-hunting story can be written unless there’s a map.
By kidnapping a Master Mason—Peter Solomon—and hijacking Robert Langdon’s expertise as a Symbologist, Mal’akh attempts to decode the various maps and symbols left in D.C. by previous Freemasons. Solomon’s sister, Katherine, is pulled into the fray not only because of her connection to the kidnapped man, but also because of her research in Noetic Science, a (real) branch of research that posits that “the mind [has] the ability to alter the state of matter itself…” (pp.57-8). Hm…the power to access a hidden part of the human mind. Where have I heard that before?
The Lost Symbol is a 509-page teeth grinding, nail-biting, shock-inducing ride. The most incredible thing is that Brown has managed to package most of the plot (aside from prologue and flashbacks) into an approximately 5-hour period. A genuinely clever combination of science, police work, puzzle-solving, gruesome deaths, and religion. And now the question becomes…just how does Dan Brown know so much about Freemasonry? Did he do a Wikipedia search, or talk to some former Masons, or could he be a Mason himself? How’s that for a conspiracy theory?
I was really surprised at how much religion was a theme in The Lost Symbol. A man cannot become a member of the Freemasons unless he believes in a “higher power” (even though religion, as a rule, is supposedly not discussed within the Masonic meeting halls); Langdon spends quite a bit of time thinking about and discussing the juxtaposition between scientific research and faith; and Mal’akh is a practitioner of the Art, a faith that he himself mentions can be used to worship either Light or Dark. Even the Lost Word, which Mal’akh is so desperately seeking, is in the end a metaphor for faith.
But the person whose story resounds the most with me is Katherine Solomon’s. Her research within Noetic Science (at least in the book) proves* that the idiom “mind over matter” may in fact be more than just an idiom. She has research that “proves” that “the mind [has] the power to encourage the physical world to move in a specific direction.” In a scene of almost ridiculous proportions, “Katherine [discovers] that particles themselves came in and out of existence based solely on her intention to observe them. In a sense, her desire to see a particle…manifested in that particle.”
This experiment is not explained further, but I imagine that Brown (or Katherine, for that matter) could write a book detailing its method. And that is a book that I would be very interested in reading, because that one sentence alone—if true in this or any other world—would have huge ramifications. If we are, as Katherine says, “masters of our own universe,” did humanity simply…think itself into being? Does this theory leave room for God? Katherine believes that it does, but I don’t think that many others would take that same stance (p.57).
“From the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to American politics — the name Jesus had been hijacked as an ally in all kinds of power struggles. Since the beginning of time, the ignorant had always screamed the loudest, herding the unsuspecting masses and forcing them to do their bidding. They defended their wordly desires by citing Scripture they did not understand. They celebrated their intolerance as proof of their convictions. How, after all these years, mankind had finally managed to utterly erode everything that had once been so beautiful about Jesus.” (p.327)
“The great irony is that all the religions of the world, for centuries, have been urging their followers to embrace the concepts of faith and belief. Now science, which for centuries has derided religion as superstition, must admit that its next big frontier is quite literally the science of faith and belief…the power of focused conviction and intention. The same science that eroded our faith in the miraculous is now building a bridge back across the chasm it created.” (p. 502)
*A slight aside. Any decent scientist/researcher will tell you that nothing is ever “proven,” especially not “beyond a doubt.” To me it seems out of character for Katherine, a scientist, to state that her research has “proved” anything–perhaps a flaw in Brown’s characterization?
What do you think about the Freemasons? Power-hungry nutjobs, totally innocent, or somewhere in between?