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Ancient Riddles, Capitol Secrets Uncovered in The Lost Symbol

  • Owen Wildman Contributing Writer
  • Published Oct 02, 2009
Ancient Riddles, Capitol Secrets Uncovered in <i>The Lost Symbol</i>

Author:  Dan Brown
Title:  The Lost Symbol
Publisher:  Doubleday Books

Dan Brown relishes secrets. He delights in the hidden, the mysterious, and the surprising. In his latest book, The Lost Symbol, Brown displays his knack for spinning twisted tales and his love for unwinding them bit by tantalizing bit.

The Lost Symbol is third in a series of fiction novels, following up The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. The blockbuster success of Brown's previous works—in print and on the silver screen—indicates readers love secrets almost as much as Brown himself. All the elements we have come to expect from Brown are present in this newest offering, the suspense, the clever puzzles, and the tightly fitted tales of intrigue and conspiracies.

The Da Vinci Code introduced us to Robert Langdon, a likeable if somewhat nerdy professor of "symbology" at Harvard, who has a knack for getting himself in dangerous situations with powerful people and cryptic puzzles in capitol cities around the world. The Lost Symbol follows Langdon through another tale of hidden power and complex ciphers in a deadly cat-and-mouse game in, around and below the streets of a well-known city—this time it's Washington D.C.

Langdon is lured to Washington to perform a favor for an old friend. Instead the brilliant academic finds himself in the middle of a high-tech, far reaching mystery where he must crack a spiraling series of ancient riddles surrounding a mystic portal located somewhere in the nation's capitol. With the CIA and a powerful inner circle of the Freemasons hot on his heels, Langdon must choose who to trust for help as he sleuths his way to answers. If that's not enough pressure, Langdon has to succeed in his quest before the clock strikes midnight.

Sound familiar? Readers of Angels and Demons will notice some similarities in the plot. While Brown may have established a pattern for his stories, The Lost Symbol is hardly formulaic. Skillfully spun, this yarn unravels in all the right places with enough loose ends to leave the reader wondering how the book will ever manage to tie them all. It does. In a way you may not see coming.

The intricate secrets of this mystery take a long time to tell. At over 500 pages in hardback, the length is as epic as the plot. Much of the bulk can be attributed to the element of Brown's novels that has sparked controversy from the Christian community—his detailed explanations of Freemason beliefs. Copious historical background is a hallmark of his work, but The Lost Symbol's breathtaking pace bogs down at times as Brown digresses into long monologues on Masonic practices through the voice of Professor Langdon.

Christianity, on the other hand, does not get any love. Biblical references abound in the book. Central to the plot is the notion that mankind can become gods through discovering the "Ancient Mysteries," and Brown selects strategic passages to imply the Bible secretly supports this idea. Along the way, there are enough references to Jesus as a mythical figure who healed the sick through the focusing of his mental energy, to leave a typical reader steaming at Brown's irreverence.

That is one way to read The Lost Symbol's use of spiritual imagery and biblical details. There is another way to interpret Brown's work. First and foremost, he is an author trying to sell books. His controversial ideas insure a connection to a common base of biblical knowledge many Americans share and generate the buzz he needs to stay in the media. More importantly, Brown is a person whose own experiences with religion have shaped his views.

In a Q & A section on his personal website, Brown is asked, "Are you religious?" His answer is revealing. Brown says he was "raised Episcopalian, and was very religious as a kid." However, as a teen he approached his minister with a question about how the Bible's account of creation fit in with science. "Unfortunately, the response I got was, ‘nice boys don't ask that question,'" he recounts. "A light went off, and I said, ‘The Bible doesn't make sense … And I just gravitated away from religion." For believers, that personal insight may be Brown's most telling secret of all.

While readers will want to approach The Lost Symbol with caution due to its mature themes and mild language, the book itself can be viewed in a positive light. Behind all the blood-pumping chases, near misses, and well-crafted riddles is a beautifully written novel that highlights our world's innate interest in spiritual matters. Time and again, Robert Langdon racks his brain to make sense of a cryptic message that promises to bring "order from chaos." His search could be a metaphor for many in our world who look for a missing piece of information—The Lost Symbol—that will make sense of the events of our lives. That is a riddle every believer should delight in helping to solve.

**This review first published on October 1, 2009.