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Monday, September 28, 2009

THE LOST SYMBOL READERS' GUIDE, PART THREE

As promised, here is the third installment of the read-along series. Parts one and two can be found here. Because this book is 500 pages long, and I am now only 200 pages into my guide, I have started to condense some of the chapter summaries together into a more flowing narrative. I hope this will enhance your virtual Dan Brown experience!

Chapters 24-34

At the start of Chapter 24, HSRL has just figured out why he has been dragged to Washington. He flashes back to a meeting, many years before, when handsome Peter Solomon snuck up on him while he was swimming in the Harvard pool* and gave him a magic box of secrets. Even though it is creepily sealed in wax and has been delivered to him in the strangest way possible at the crack of dawn at a pool, and Peter Solomon is all “you are the only person in the world I trust with my magic box,” RL locks it away thinking it must be nothing.

Anyway, when HSRL got that weird phone call and fax this morning? He was asked to bring along the magic box! HSRL actually has it in his bag—the one in his hand! But he has somehow forgotten this for the first 100 pages, probably because of all the excitement.

Flashback over, HSRL snaps back to the present, where CIA chief Sato is standing there all, “Can you stop having long flashbacks in the middle of my case?” They figure out the weird message on the palm of the handequin corresponds to a room in the basement called SSB 13. Getting to the basement takes from chapters 27-35, because the basement is totally deep. Every time you think you have a handle on how deep this basement is, it gets deeper.

We also learn that this search will somehow involve the Masons’ magical pyramid of mysteries! HSRL keeps saying that the magic mason pyramid of mysteries is just a legend, but since it comes up about 39 times, you start to think it just might be true. We will wait and see.

Meantime, genius Trish Dunne has successfully completed a Google search, genius Peter Solomon has successfully sent a text on his iPhone, and genius bad guy has tricked genius Kathleen Solomon into letting him into her pod.

Chapter 35

Much is made of DB’s writing style. In particular, people cite his use of italicized “thought bubbles,” his page and a half long chapters, and his single sentence paragraphs.

The ones that divide up the action.

Like this.

To give you a feeling that something is happening.

Some people suggest that he does this because he is not a good writer, or because he assumes that his readers haven’t really gotten past the single-line, compacted story form usually used in elementary reading books. These people are wrong. What DB is actually doing . . . is writing poetry.

It took me a while to figure this out, but I see it clearly now. I feel that he is following in the tradition of William Carlos Williams, a critical American poet. Consider “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Williams’s most famous work.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


The language and the style are so simple. The lines are short, and so is the work as a whole. And yet, in those eight lines, sixteen words, you can find an entire world. Compare this to the end of Chapter 35—which you at first think is this noodley, pointless chapter about the arrangement of the Capitol Building’s basement—but then you are hit with the last four sentences:

“My God,” Anderson shouted.
Everyone saw it and jumped back.
Langdon stared in disbelief at the deepest recess of the chamber.
To his horror, something was staring back.


Do you think that this has been chopped up by accident? Do you think this same effect could have been achieved in a single, flowing paragraph? Do you think it needs more detail?

Of course not.

These particular lines also strongly echo T. S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker.
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.


It’s uncanny how these two men could communicate such similar ideas in a similar form—and yet, DB manages to cleverly plant these moments in a considerably larger work. T. S. Elliot never wrote anything nearly as long as The Lost Symbol.

Think about that, English majors, before you judge. Just think about it.

Chapter 36

SSB 13 has been reached and it is a totally weird room. It is full of skulls and crap.

Chapter 37

I guess the one complaint I have about The Lost Symbol, if I have any at all, is that it seems like Mal’akh is seriously overworked. If there was a Union of Bad Guys, there is no way they would let him work this long and not have a break. He does everything bad in the book. Everything. No one helps him.

So far, he’s had to: call Kathleen Solomon and pretend to be Dr. Christopher Abaddon, hack off Peter Solomon’s hand, stash Peter Solomon, and lead HSRL on this treasure hunt . . . all at once. And he does this, mind you, while wearing full makeup and having to constantly change costumes and juggle cell phones and manage at least three different identities. Would have it been so much to ask to give him one henchman? Just one?

This is why I am annoyed by the fact that in Chapter 37, he has to corner Trish Dunne, get her access code out of her, and drown her in the tank of ethanol with the giant squid all by himself. That right there could have been the work of one henchperson. It’s not like extra characters cost money. I’m just saying.

Chapter 38

For many chapters now, HSRL has been saying, “Look, there is no magic pyramid, okay? How many times do I have to tell you? No magic pyramid!” And then they move back a curtain in SSB 13 and there is a hole in the wall and in that hole is a pyramid. CIA director and professional HSRL hater Sato is all lolz.

Chapter 39

They are still looking at the pyramid.

Chapter 40

Chapter 40 is ¾ of a page long. Kathleen Solomon calls the front desk to ask where Trish Dunne is, and the desk is all, “I thought she was with you.” Neither knows that Trish Dunne now sleeps with the squid.

Chapter 41

I decided not to read Chapter 41. I’m not sure why. I was just moved by the Reading Muse, which landed gently on my shoulder and whispered, “Skip to the end!” in my ear. I went right to the last sentence, which is:

“Grab the pyramid!” the man commanded. “Follow me!”

This is why Dan Brown is a great man.

Chapters 42-43

Okay, I glanced at chapter 41 just now and saw that someone breaks into the room and starts swinging around a femur and knocks over Sato. Femur fight!

This person is Warren Bellamy, the Architect of the Capitol. He has rescued HSRL from Sato, who is suddenly a very suspicious character. It is implied that she wants the pyramid for herself! Also, we learn that the pyramid is a map!

Chapter 44

Chapter 44 is probably my favorite chapter of the book so far, because in this page and a half, DB drops the mask and lets us know a little about his life. The scene takes place in the Manhattan office of New York editor** Jonas Faukman. HSRL calls Faukman’s office, begging for Kathleen’s phone number, and Faukman is all, “Where’s that book you promised me? Why aren’t you writing? What the hell is wrong with you?”

There is a ring of truth to this, reader, which I cannot deny. And I salute DB for including this last sentence, “Book publishing would be so much easier without the authors.”***

Chapter 45

HSRL calls Kathleen and is all, “The calls are coming from inside of your pod! Get out of your pod!” But Mal’akh has used the key card and is now in the pod! Have I mentioned that the pod is pitch-black, and you can only find your way around by walking on a strip of carpet, and if you step off the carpet, you step into the void? You should probably know that. So you can imagine how alarmed Kathleen is when someone pounces on her in the dark. Very alarmed!

Chapter 46

While Kathleen Solomon is fighting for her life in the pod of doom, HSRL and Warren Bellamy have gone to the Library of Congress. In DB books, there is always time to be civilized, even in the middle of a huge chase scene. HSRL lists statues, and ornaments, and every possible kind of marble.We are told of the library’s beauty, and how many people think it contains one of the most beautiful rooms in the whole world. In fact, we first learn this in the opening sentence . . . and then we learn it again a page and a half later when both men stop and comment on the fact, one out loud, and one to himself.

“Some say it’s the most striking room in Washington,” Bellamy said, ushering Langdon inside.

Maybe in the whole world, Langdon thought, as he stepped across the threshold.


Chapter 47

Mal’akh is still chasing Kathleen Solomon around the pitch-black pod. Once again proving himself to be the most resourceful character in the book, Mal’akh thinks up a way to find her in the dark—he strips off his clothes and throws them at her. I know you are probably thinking that does not sound like a good plan, but it actually works. You might have to read Chapter 47 to see for yourself, but it does. Then there is a chase scene outside, and Kathleen gets to her white Volvo, and Mal’akh—who never gives up—jumps on it and puts his hand through the window. Through the window. She still gets away, but points for effort!

Chapter 48

Don’t even worry about chapter 48.

Chapter 49-50

Back in the library, Bellamy is lecturing RL about pyramids, and ancient mysteries, and statues of Moses—and RL is actually getting annoyed by this. Oh ho ho! The worm has turned! Then there is a bunch of stuff with codes and ciphers and coded ciphers which I kind of skipped.

Back at the CIA, Sato is recovering from where she has been hit by a femur in the femur fight, and we see that she has her own nerd working on the cipher, because it has been photographed. How was that possible? Well, when RL went into the Capitol, he was carrying the magic box, and in the magic box was a magic pyramid, and on the magic pyramid there was magic writing. Apparently, the magic x-ray machine could pick this up.

And yes, this means there are two pyramids. One is nine inches tall and the other is made of gold. Oh, and in case any of you, like me, wondered when someone would finally bring up the magical Masonic pyramids found on the dollar bill? According to my notebook here, it happens on page 161.


END PART THREE
PAGES COVERED: 101-200
PAGES LEFT TO GO: 309
CHAPTERS LEFT TO GO: 83




* Much is made of this swimming in the Harvard pool and DB really wants you to know that RL does it EVERY DAY. It’s like he is a merman.

** This is an honorary, city-wide title, like “Poet Laureate,” “Queen of Pop,” or “Mayor.”

*** It’s a nice sentiment, for sure. But then I thought about it and realized that it would sort of not be easier, because then the editors would have to write ALL the books, which is not only hard but that would MAKE them authors. Did DB mean to blow our minds with this paradox? Probably.

Labels: , ,

17 Comments:

Blogger Sara said...

Having read the book
I now wish I hadn't
Because your readers' guide
Is far better.

Something is staring back at me.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Jasmine said...

This has to be one of the best book summaries I've ever read--right up there with Cleolinda's of the Twilight series.
Also, Greg Frost mentioned you in his blog (because I sort of mentioned you to him).

6:29 AM  
Blogger Summer said...

that sounds like the most boring book ever.
but I quite like pyramids.
perhaps I will read it.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Sarah McLeroy said...

MJ,
Just to let you know, I'm pretty sure your work with this novel qualifies you for a Nobel prize in something. Maybe physics, maybe literature, maybe even peace. I don't know exactly which one yet, but at least one of them.
I picked this book up and flipped through over the weekend, and I didn't even make it past page 20. I admire your bravery and your perseverance.
Sarah

7:10 AM  
Blogger Dee said...

I don't get that whole "pod" business. I mean, for me, the pod implies something quite small and cozy, but from what I can gather, it's this huge office within an office type of situation. I should probably read the book in order to clarify the situation, but I have better things to do. Like make bracelets out of fabric scraps. Or stare out the window.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a remarkably succinct review of The Lost Symbol...

http://punkadiddle.blogspot.com/2009/09/dan-brown-lost-symbol-2009.html

El

9:32 AM  
Blogger Colt said...

...i wikipedia'd this book...its stupid, but your summary actually makes me want to read it. "Don’t even worry about chapter 48."...funniest line ever!!!

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

I misread "femur" as "lemur". It provided some amusing, if inaccurate mental imagery.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

it's like national treasure... but WORSE. (is that even possible?)

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Catriona7 said...

I praise you for this thingie Blog because I went into Waterstones on Friday pondering whether i was gonna buy this book, then I saw the size of it I said out loud, Maureens blog shall be so much better. And left it at that.

Am so glad I haven't bothered reading the book, at least your blog has jokes/funny buts in it where his book is probably all serious!
BUt not that I am saying he is not a great writer... YOu just have more funny jokes in you writing...

Ok I'm digging myself into a bigger hole here... \

I better go! xD

8:32 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

More and more, I'm glad I decided to read your reader's guide rather than the real book.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Lorren said...

I'm currently reading the book. I'm 'round about here too.

The child in me had me yelling "chase, chase, chase!" as soon as the whole Mal'akh/Kathrine showdown started.

So far I'm not finding it too bad. All the facts are boring as hell but at least I'll be all clued up with useless knowledge for... whenever I'll need useless knowledge about America.

Anyway, how can you NOT love a book that has a CHASE in it. I mean, c'mon. CHASING!

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DY-ING with lolz at this and previous two installaments. So, so, so much better than the actual thing, I'm thinking. Salutes to you, Maureen Johnson.

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Laura K said...

One question.
Were you purposely calling Katherine Kathleen?

3:25 AM  
Blogger jem said...

i have a question completely non related to thisblog, but i think you could write a witty blog about it (if you havent already)

so i love to write, and i feel like i can think of pretty interesting stories and characters, is this enough for me to consider becoming a fiction writer? or should i stick to doing it for fun?

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Kate (formerly known as Kathleen) said...

so apparently
Dan Brown is using
my name for one of his
very
lame
characters. Lolwhut?
Therefore, I shall be known from this point on as just Kate.

Question, is this character named Kathleen or Katherine? I am confused. Also, a lot of people think my name is Katherine when it's really Kathleen, and it's kind of annoying, so you should probably clear that up.

Great summary. I read the Da Vinci Code, and I really wish I hadn't, because it had no literary oomph whatsoever.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Fan; the human kind. said...

wow this is genius, I am blown by your comic style, and your comments are wonderfully illuminating and yet deceptively true. i think if i wrote something about this typical DB book it would be like this, but less funny and good.

best part:
"Don’t even worry about chapter 48."

by the way you look beautiful in the single photo i managed to find of you online. will you marry me?

3:18 PM  

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