The Lost Symbol Review

I have been a fan of Dan Brown’s work for some time now.  Even before the Da Vinci Code was ported to film, I finished all of his books, and was waiting for the next.  I can say that The Lost Symbol does deliver, though it seems to fit into the “Dan Brown formula” that you may anticipate after reading the Da Vinci Code.

The Lost Symbol begins with a Freemason initiation ceremony at the House of the Temple, in Washington, DC.  The nameless character has been accepted into the highest degree in Scottish Rite Freemasonry, the 33rd Degree.  The number 33 will play an important role in this novel, as anyone familiar with religious/numerological symbolism can imagine.

Our familiar hero, Robert Langdon, professor of symbology at Harvard University, received a call from the secretary of one of his old friends, Peter Solomon, the head of the Smithsonian Institution.  The Smithsonian is holding an annual private event for the rich and famous (its supporters), which always includes a keynote speaker.  Unfortunately, on the day of the event, the original keynote speaker is now unavailable.  In desperation, Peter Solomon requests that Langdon replace the speaker, and give a speech on the symbolism in the architecture of Washington, DC.  Langdon relunctantly agrees, and is flown to DC.  Little does he know that by accepting this request, he is playing into the hands of the main antagonist.

Freemasonry is at the heart of this novel, and Dan Brown claims, as he always does, that “all rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real”.  However one can’t help but wonder if said rituals are being portrayed in their correct context, if we remember how the Da Vinci Code treated Opus Dei. In the Lost Symbol, we see a Freemasonry that is far from its “oldest fraternal society” and “simply a social group” portrayals by its members.  Instead, we learn about secret rituals, the use of sulfur, skulls and bones, drinking wine from a skull, an old pyramid, and the guarding of the Ancient Mysteries, which, if found out (and yes, they are revealed at the end), could change humanity forever.

Besides Freemasonry, the other philosophy that guides the plot is something called “Noetic Science“.  Noetic Science is at the intersection of mysticism and physics.  Its premise is that humanity is interconnected, and that our minds can do more than we can imagine.  With thought, we can influence the world around us, and when thoughts are amplified exponentially by having more than one person think the same thing at the same time, wonders can occur.  According to Katherine Solomon, Noetic scientist, brother of Peter Solomon, and “love interest” of Langdon, this philosophy is behind the efficacy of prayer groups, group healings, etc.  The antagonist recognizes the power of such a philosophy (which is being researched in secret by Katherine), and aims to prevent Solomon’s research from ever being released (seeing it as being tied to the Ancient Mysteries, which should remain a mystery).

Washington, DC provides an amazing backdrop for the story, and I must admit, after going to school there, I never saw DC in this way (frankly, I thought it was boring compared to New York City).  The House of the Temple is the scene of a lot of action, and its various secrets and symbolism add to the story. We discover various statues and paintings that we may not pay much attention to when visiting DC, such as the Apotheosis of Washington, a statue of George Washington as Zeus, and much more.  We think about the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Building, and other DC monuments in a whole new, ancient light.  In many ways, we see DC as a modern portrayal of an ancient, pagan city, with the Founding Fathers as the new gods.  It is a powerful image, and is a theme throughout the novel.

Overall, The Lost Symbol is a great book.  However, the ending left me wanting more.  If you have read the Da Vinci Code, you may know what I am referring to.  Both books have a similar ending, as far as what Langdon is searching for turns out to be.  While I can agree with what the Ancient Mysteries turn out to be, it was a little…disappointing, though that may be because I have some familiarity with some of the issues being discussed.  There is a lot of action in this novel, and many factoids that made me want to look them up to learn more about them (which I did).  Dan Brown successfully melds history and fiction, and even if he portrays one side of history (Langdon is not too fond of Christianity, for one), it is always interesting to see from that other side.  And one thing can be sure: the next time you visit Washington, you won’t see the monuments in the same light.

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~ by onecatholic on September 18, 2009.

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