about bulletins books Maureen Johnson dot com blog f.a.q. contact community
suite scarlett
girl at sea
13 little blue envelopes
the bermudez triangle
the key to the golden firebird
vacations from hell
let it snow

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Chapter 81

Reader, if you have followed along through parts one, two, three, and four, you will know that I have been a strong supporter of Mal’akh from the beginning. Mal’akh is the hardest working bad guy in literature, and he has an evil lair that rivals any James Bond villian’s. In Chapter 81, we get to see more of his crazy house. We learn that while his basement has all of the traditional storage capabilities, it’s also super weird. He’s got rooms and rooms down there full of strange, with blue lighting in the ceiling. Every one of these rooms has a specific, evil purpose.

The room he goes into now has everything in twelves. Twelve are the signs of the zodiac, he italics-thinks. Twelve are the hours of the day.* Twelve are the gates of heaven. This reminds me quite a lot of the Schoolhouse Rock song “Little Twelvetoes.” I was a huge fan of Schoolhouse Rock when I was a tiny mj, but “Little Twelvetoes” was a song I never really got. Watch this and judge for yourself.

Can you see how my little five year-old mind was slightly blown by the concept of “deck and el,” two entirely imaginary single digits between nine and twelve which take the place of ten and eleven? And then twelve is mysteriously renamed “doe.” Schoolhouse Rock got it right so often that I don’t want to belabor my criticism, but still, as a fully-grown mj, I sometimes think about this “deck, el, doe” problem and it stops me cold. I mean, that hillbilly kid seems to get it, so I don’t know why I can’t. And why does Little Twelvetoes’s head come off? I am asking too many questions. I have only analyzed two pages of The Lost Symbol so far. I cannot get off track like this.

Anyway, the room is full of twelves. And also sevens, but I’m not even going to get into that. And Mal’akh is running around in the bluish-purple light, “wearing only a silken loincloth around his buttocks and neutered sex organ.” Mal’akh is a villain who is not afraid to show his butt. A lot. Running up stairs, in the shower, under the heady lights . . . there is so much Mal’akh butt in this book. He’s also got a magic knife from eBay, and all kinds of other evil things.

Chapters 82-88

HSRL takes his bag o' pyramids to the Washington National Cathedral, where they meet the blind Reverend Colin Galloway who feels the pyramid and says, “I totally know what this says, but I’m not telling you.” He then proceeds to play “I know symbols too” games with HSRL for what appears to be about a half an hour, which annoys HSRL to no end. There is nothing worse than a symbol-off. Then he pushes a button, which makes the box open up.** Then there’s more translating of Latin phrases and realizing the previous interpretation was wrong, and more quotes, and more mysteries and numbers. I don’t want to imply that this is making me weary—I merely want to convey the DENSITY of the mysterious words/phrases/numbers/shapes/codes. You only need to weigh this book to know just how much ancient mystery you are getting. Anyone who says this isn’t the heaviest book of the year just doesn’t know his math.

Chapter 89

Continuing their tour of Washington landmarks, HSRL and Katherine go to the Cathedral College. Why? To use the kitchen, of course! They are going to boil the pyramid! Mmmmmm. Boiled pyramid.

Chapter 90-93

It turns out that all you really need to do to get to the bottom of some ancient mysteries is boil a pyramid. Well, not all, because there’s like, ANOTHER cryptic message revealed, bringing the count to about 16. Then the CIA catches them. It turns out Bellamy was working for Mal’akh! But he regrets it. Evil, gremlin-like Director Sato wants to know what they have been doing. They have been boiling a pyramid.

Sensing that the story is lagging, Mal’akh calls and says that he says to get over to his house fast or he’ll kill Peter! Everyone runs for their cars, except for HSRL, because of the loafer thing.

Chapter 94-99

Cautious loafer-runner HSRL doesn’t like how fast the CIA agent is driving. They arrive at Chez Mal’akh only to find pretty much one of every kind of car parked in front of the house with the lights on. HSRL names all of the cars, while Katherine decides that her time might be better spent running into the house. Except you know what? She totally trips and starts flying. Then Mal’akh kills the CIA guy with a screwdriver to the neck, tases the crap out of HSRL, and trusses Katherine up. He’s very efficient.

While recovering from the tasing, HSRL breaks down the origins of the word “sincere” in tedious detail. When he stirs, Mal’akh sits his naked self down on HSRL’s chest and bangs his head against the floor until he is knocked out again. Reader, can you blame him?

When HSRL wakes up, he is totally naked. Where are his loafers?

Also, he’s in a box!

Chapters 100-102

Meanwhile, Katherine is tied up to a chair. Mal’akh takes a moment to explain his evil plan to her. What’s the plan? He’s going to fill the box HSRL is in with liquid. It’s . . . diabolical!

Sure enough, the liquid starts flowing into the box. Mal’akh holds the pyramid up to a small window in the top (which I kind of picture being like the window on a magic eight ball) and tells him that he must solve what’s written there or DIE!

What’s written there is every single wingding and zapf dingbat in existence. (If you are a font person, the only thing that would make you crazier is a book of cat poetry written in Comic Sans, so be careful when reading these chapters.)

HSRL, panicking as the liquid rises, has no idea what all the wingdings mean until the very last moment! He tells Mal’akh what he wants to know, but Mal’akh just laughs and tells him to enjoy the afterlife.

Chapter 103

Did Robert Langdon just drown? It really seems like Robert Langdon just drowned.

Chapter 104

From outside the tank, Katherine Solomon watches HSRL sink to the bottom of the tank. Reader, why am I smiling?

Chapter 105

The CIA are still noodling around doing something with people.

Chapter 106

Having gotten his answer, Mal’akh does another excited naked run around the house, then goes off to his room to do the magic sudokus that will solve this puzzle once and for all!

Chapter 107

We get a flashback of Katherine in the pod. Guess what she was doing in there? She was weighing the human soul!

That won’t help her now, though, because Mal’akh comes back down and hooks her up to yet another one of his evil devices, a timing mechanism that slowly drains her blood into some kind of evil hourglass. Mal’akh has put a lot of work into his evil basement, and it is totally paying off. He also has Peter Solomon in a wheelchair. He’s shaved Peter Solomon’s whole body and dressed him in what sounds like a snuggie. I never said he wasn't freaky.

Chapter 108

Remember how I said DB was writing poetry? Well, if you doubted me, I now present Chapter 108 in its entirety.

Robert Langdon’s mind hovered in an endless abyss.
No light. No sound. No feeling.
Only an infinite and silent void.
His body had released him. He was untethered.
The physical world had ceased to exist. Time had ceased to exist.
He was pure consciousness now . . . a fleshless sentience suspended in the emptiness of a vast universe.

Do you see what I see? I think you do. It’s an echo of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Take section 22, for example:

You sea! I resign myself to you also - I guess what you mean, 

I behold from the beach your crooked fingers, 

I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me, 

We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of 
the land, 

Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,

Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

That right there is a thesis topic if I ever saw one. You’re welcome!

Coming next: the final part of the reader’s guide!


* Wait. That one is wrong!
** Okay, there’s a box too. There’s a pyramid, a tube, and a box, and possibly another pyramid. I can’t keep track. HSRL is carrying around a whole bag of shapes.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 02, 2009


Part four of the series. Parts one, two, and three are here for your reading pleasure.

Chapters 51-52

Chapter 51 begins by answering an important question, first posed in the movie Airplane!: “Hey, Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

Except it wasn’t Joey, but Zachary Solomon, Peter’s son. He went bonkers when he turned 18 and got his share of Solomon money and ended up in the Turkish prison because of the drugs.

We find out about this in an astonishing double flashback. Speaking as a professional writer, I can tell you that a double flashback is tricky and dangerous. Like its cousin, the dream-sequence-with-a-dream-sequence, it’s a precision move. I wouldn’t try it. I’m not nearly experienced enough . . . and I have an MFA.

Katherine is thinking back to the night her mother died, and in that thinking back, thinks back to Zach in his Turkish prison . . . and then we come back to some guy breaking into the Solomon residence years later. He points a gun at them and says, “Hello, Solomons.” He was all, “Where’s the pyramid?” But he never found out, because Ma Solomon came after him with a shotgun, but ended up getting shot herself. It is hard work, being a Solomon.

Anyway, that was long ago . . . but that dude that just broke into the pod? He was that guy!

Chapters 53

One thing I love about The Lost Symbol is the room it leaves for wonder. What kind of mysteries is the book about? Ancient mysteries. What kind of discoveries is Katherine working on? Shocking ones! What kind of science? Modern science. What kind of bunny? A fluffy bunny!* DB has certainly unpacked his adjectives!

And still, despite these descriptions, we are left with so much room to imagine. This is not a stuffy book—this is the wide open prairie, where ideas can’t be caged. We aren’t squeezed into overly specific notions about what the hell is going on.

This is why I am not going to tell you what Chapter 53 is about. The moment you try to define Chapter 53, you have lost Chapter 53.

Chapter 54

Mal’akh blows up the pod.

Chapters 55-56

We are reminded again in Chapter 55 that HSRL leads a stressful life, with people constantly making weird demands on his time:

Langdon looked at this Mickey Mouse watch. 9:42 P.M. “You do realize that Peter’s captor is waiting for me to decipher this pyramid tonight and tell him what it says.”

But does Capitol Architect Warren Bellamy care? No. Bellamy doesn’t care about anyone!

“Forget Katherine!” Bellamy said, his voice commanding now. “Forget Peter! Forget everyone!”

You know there is no way HSRL is just going to let Katherine Solomon down! She’s in trouble out there! He has to save her! Luckily, she makes that task a lot easier by choosing that exact moment to drive her white Volvo right up on to the sidewalk of the library and run up the steps and directly into his arms. RL is all, “You’re safe, I have you now.” He’s probably feeling pretty stupid now that she has gone all self-rescuing princess on him. But still, it was probably a good thing, because the last thing he needs right now is to have to run again in those loafers.

Chapter 57

More flashback. We find out that Mal’akh was in that Turkish prison with Zach Solomon, and that Mal’akh killed Zach and stole all his money. Mal’akh then moved to Greece. At first, every part of his new life was great. Reading Homer made him want to lift weights. Lifting weights made him incredibly hot. Steroids apparently . . . made him taller.

But you can only go so far sailing your boat, eating arni souvlakia, and cliff diving off Mykonos.** Soon, Mal’akh felt empty. While channel surfing one night, he saw a special on Freemasons. This made him remember something he heard in passing from Zachary about a pyramid. And THAT is what made him go to America, sneak into the Solomons’ house, point his gun and say, “Hello, Solomons.” Mal’akh is very suggestible. If he had seen an infomercial instead, this story would have been very different. Then we would have been reading The Lost Snuggie.

Chapter 58-59

A special ops team is chasing Bellamy, HSRL, and Katherine through the Library of Congress and blowing things up with plastic explosives, though I would be lying if I said I knew why.

I’m also not sure why the Architect of the Capitol has a key card that operates the conveyor system under the main circulation desk of the Library of Congress. Washingon D.C. is a confusing place. Bellamy tells HSRL to get on the conveyor, and HSRL pulls a John McEnroe-perfect, “You cannot be serious.” This, after the running in the loafers thing?!?

But he is, and HSRL and Katherine just evade their pursuers by riding off on the book belt, in what has to be the nerdiest escape ever written.*** Pwned, special ops team!

Chapters 60-64

Flashback to Zach Solomon’s 18th birthday. Peter is all, “You’re a man now son, so I want you to take care of my tiny pyramid.” And Zach is all, “I don’t care about your tiny pyramid, old man! I want the drugs!” Bellamy watches this awkward family exchange, and waits.

Meanwhile, HSRL and Katherine are riding along in the dark on the little conveyor belt. Katherine has figured out that this all has something to do with the tiny pyramid, and HSRL (again, a day late and a dollar short) reveals that he has Peter’s magical box in his bag!

Katherine is all, “Why didn’t you say so?” She does the thing I’m surprised HSRL didn’t do long ago—namely, she opens the box, which contains a magic tube. (I’m a little confused because I thought the x-ray revealed that the box contained a tiny pyramid. It may have both.) If you liked that cyptex in The Da Vinci Code, it looks like you are going to be rewarded with yet another cylinder! But remember . . . as the song Boogie Boogie Hedgehog teaches us, you have to be careful when you get your head stuck on tubes.

Chapter 65

Chapter 65 is one paragraph. Mal’akh is studying his own naked body in front of the mirror again. He is a beautiful picture, framed in white space.

Chapters 66-67

The number 1514 is found on the box. Most people would think that meant a year, but HSRL knows it refers to a person. If I told you how he knows this, it would blow your mind.

Chapter 68

The first sentence of Chapter 68:

Albrecht Dürer?

The last:

“That’s not just any square,” Langdon said, grinning. “That, Ms. Solomon, is a magic square!”

Try to imagine what happened in between!

Chapter 69

Okay, just one more thing about Chapter 68 . . . you have to respect a huge chase sequence which pauses for a moment because, “Professor Langdon, the art connoisseur, was having an ethical dilemma about using the Internet an original was so nearby.” Or when the obstacle is, “There’s no icon for a browser.”

Also, there’s a paragraph that just reads:

Science . . .

So great is Chapter 68 that I cannot even bring myself to read Chapter 69, but I can see it has something to do with evil, wizened CIA Director Sato questioning Bellamy. Ever see The Incredibles? She’s just like Edna.

Chapter 70-71

While HSRL and Katherine work on some magic squares, which are apparently “Sudoku puzzles for geniuses,” Mal’akh is at home taking a shower. A really long shower. With a lot of products. I got as far as, “Hanging beneath the archway, his massive sex organs bore the tattooed symbols of his destiny.”

If that is where the lost symbol is, I want my money back.

Chapter 72-75

The CIA guys are very grouchy because they have lost HSRL, who rode off in triumph at speeds upwards of 8 mph. Outside, the city is going crazy trying to find them. There are helicopters and spotlights. Where could they be? They seem to have left heat signatures everywhere.

I’ll tell you where they are! They’re out front! Katherine and HSRL get in a cab, but the driver (who is somehow patched into CIA headquarters) gives them up.

Meanwhile, Bellamy has been hauled off to the Jungle! No, really! You see, the U.S. Botanic Garden is known as the Jungle! Can you believe that? It’s true! Why is he being interrogated at the U.S. Botanical Garden? That, I could not tell you, but if he breaks into the “I am the Lorax, and I speak for the trees” speech at any point, I am going to cry.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Katherine Solomon realizes that like the pyramid, the U.S. one dollar bill is also a map and that they are going the wrong way! “To Freedom Plaza!” she says. The CIA totally overhears.

Chapter 76

Freedom Plaza is also a map.

Chapter 77

I’m not sure if I’ve really been clear on the general course of events in this section of the book, so let me sum it up. There are two pyramid things, which apparently lead to a spiral staircase. HSRL and Katherine have these two pyramids (I think) as well as some kind of magical tube. I know they have at lease one pyramid and one magical tube. And there’s writing on them that has to be decoded. For some reason, everyone is in a big rush to do this tonight. That is why Mal’akh captured Peter Solomon and cut off his hand and sent HSRL on this scavenger hunt. Mal’akh also wanted something in Katherine’s lab. I’m not sure what, but in the process, Trish Dunne ended up in the tank with the giant squid.

Bellamy is especially urgent for HSRL to find the staircase, though I don’t know what his rush is. And fhe CIA is chasing them with plastic explosives, though I am not 100% clear on the details of that either, but I am sure there is a reason. Anyway, Bellamy gave himself up so that HSRL and Katherine could go on, and now he is being interrogated in a greenhouse by a woman who is no bigger than a pumpkin and is entirely made of anger.

What I haven’t mentioned is that there is also a Redskins game going on on this particular night, and absolutely everyone else is watching this game. Security guards, computer hackers, everyone.

I hope that clears everything up.

Oh and Chapter 77 is a flashback about a time that Mal’akh fell into a lake, and then moved to New York, and then a bird flew into his apartment, and he got a bunch of tattoos.

Chapters 78-80

The CIA just cannot catch the beloafered HSRL and Katherine! This makes them really mad. Evil CIA Chief Sato is going to make someone pay, and it looks like that person is going to be Bellamy. Sucks to be you, Bellamy!


* My apologies. That last one is not from The Lost Symbol.

** I have a mild suspicion that DB spent some time vacationing in Greece while working on this book.

*** I am sure Ron Howard will make this look exciting in the movie.

Labels: , ,