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The Toronto Star: The next code

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Toronto Star

The next code

Friday August 28, 2009


Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol, Freemasons, Freemasonry, The Da Vinci Code

FOR fans of author Dan Brown, Sept 15 will be a special day – that is when the follow-up to his hugely successful The Da Vinci Code will be released, after a six-year wait.

Brown is an author you either love or hate. And one suspects, there might be Barry Manilow instances – you know, those times when people secretly listen and even sing along to Manilow’s tunes in the privacy of their cars and homes, but won’t admit it to anyone.

Similarly, it’s not surprising to find some people who secretly enjoyed the page-turner The Da Vinci Code but will publicly pooh-pooh the author. The point is, The Da Vinci Code was a crazy phenomenon in the publishing world – so much so that the university professor has once again become a cool and hip hero for the century. That distinction was once held by a certain fedora-wearing and bullwhip-wielding archaeology professor named after an American state.

Here are some astounding facts on The Da Vinci Code: it has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide; earned Brown US$280mil (RM985mil); has been translated into more than 50 languages; and the movie version, starring Tom Hanks, has grossed almost US$825mil (RM3bil) worldwide (source: Times Online).

The success of The Da Vinci Code has also created copycat action-adventure tales involving secrets and conspiracies and, yes, professors, with dry, Robert Ludlum-inspired titles like The Mozart Conspiracy, The Genesis Secret and The Doomsday Prophecy. One only has to search Amazon for The Da Vinci Code to find all these other titles that “you might also want to buy.”

Little is known about Brown’s upcoming Robert Langdon novel, The Lost Symbol. As is the case with most commercial “juggernauts,” details have been kept under wraps because a good publisher knows that secrecy creates speculation, which in turn builds anticipation, which translates into the pleasing ka...ching sounds of the cash register. When the first (working) title, a somewhat deliberately misleading moniker of The Solomon Key was revealed in 2006, speculation was rife that the story involves King Solomon’s book of magic. Publishers went on a rampage to be the first to publish books on how to “unlock the Solomon key.”

More recently, the cover design of The Lost Symbol was released, and it is now understood that the story involves Washington and Freemasonry, and takes place over 12 hours where, as usual, Robert Langdon (now forever immortalised by the image of Tom Hanks with bad hair) chases for clues and symbols.

And to further bait hardcore Brown fans who harbour the secret ambition of becoming a “symbologist” (a vocation that actually doesn’t exist) like Langdon, the Twitter and Facebook pages of The Lost Symbol have been leaving clues, codes and hints for those hardy enough to want to crack the secret. It would definitely be much easier to just wait for Sept 15, although it would be less fun.

To date, the Dan Brown Facebook fanpage has almost 70,000 fans. It is rife with fans decoding the various clues, such as how some of the co-ordinates pinpoint the location of an ancient castle in Britain, and what the Washington obelisk means, along with other Egyptian symbols and the image of a key.

Meanwhile, The Lost Symbol Twitter page will make your head spin with enigmatic tweets such as “CLACKED OP POST HAMLETS NET NOT A FLANKER SLEIGHT VESTS A BOTCH TWINGE PUPPET PUNT A DAD TENTH STUNG WILL JOLTS.”

There are also daily puzzles to be solved on Gather.com, where solvers stand a chance to win a signed copy of the book. Brown’s British publishers have revealed that the marketing campaign for the book is “the biggest marketing campaign ever staged for one book in the UK.”

The Lost Symbol will have a first print run of five million copies, the largest first printing in Random House’s history, and second largest only to J.K. Rowling’s 12 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t even start out wanting to be a novelist. Brown initially set forth to become a singer-songwriter a la Elton John, and has even recorded three albums (Perspective, Dan Brown and Angels & Demons) and two children’s recordings (SynthAnimals and Musica Animalia). Of course, Angels & Demons became the title of his second novel. His first book, incidentally, was the self-help humour tome, 187 Men To Avoid: A Survival Guide For The Romantically Frustrated Woman, published in 1995.

How things led from that first book to a fourth “juggernaut” novel that angered the Vatican but turned its writer into an overnight millionaire is probably a puzzle that only the best minds can solve. And the debate on whether The Da Vinci Code has turned more people onto reading would probably still go on. Perhaps we can only hope that Brown’s novels have gotten more people to utter what Tom Hanks did in the Da Vinci Code movie: “I’ve got to get to a library ... fast!”

Further Reading:

In Focus (Bro. Tom Hanks, etc.)

Freemasonry in Canada