The Da Vinci Code: Special Illustrated Edition
by Dan Brown
Published by Broadway Books
480 pages, 2005
Angels and Demons: Special Illustrated Edition
by Dan Brown
Published by Atria
528 pages, 2005
I Got a Code in My Doze
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
I know, I know: What more could possibly be said about the two Robert Langdon thrillers from Dan Brown? Well, now that the Da Vinci Code movie is almost upon us, I thought there might be a couple more things to say.
Remember back when you were reading the books, and Brown threw in a reference to a place or a piece of art or a sketch from some long-extinguished sect? When I read the books, I wanted to have all that stuff right there. I even considered reading at my desk, Internet at the ready. While I managed to get through both books without going to such uncomfortable extremes, enough people apparently didn't -- and took the trouble to say something about it -- because now both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons have been reissued in special editions that have all the art inside. Not on plates stuck in their own sections, but integrated into the text, right where they belong.
It's just too much fun.
Reading about the Pantheon in Rome, in Angels & Demons? Well, there's a 16th century drawing of the thing. Anxious for a look-see at the ceiling of the Santa Maria Della Vittoria? Will a color photo do? Reading about Da Vinci's Codex Leicester in The Da Vinci Code? Look! There it is, on the opposite page! Want to know what Rosslyn Chapel really looks like? No problem: it's right here.
Now, for my money, Angels & Demons is the better book of the two. I read it second (that is, out of order, not that it matters), and I couldn't put it down. I found the seamless blending of cutting-edge science and the inner workings of the Vatican to be fascinating. I also found it to be much more intelligent.
What I don't get is all the people taking these books apart. I've lost count of the television specials I've seen ads for. I've even watched a couple of them, and I've never experienced novels being deconstructed in this way. While I understand these books (especially The Da Vinci Code) challenge what we have long believed about the Catholic Church and Jesus and Mary Magdalene -- hell, that's what's made them bestsellers -- I think people are forgetting that these are novels. They're fiction! No one is going to accuse Dan Brown of being wonderful with words, but the man sure knows how to plot a narrative. I believe he never intended for them to be viewed as truth; if he had, he'd have written two non-fiction books. Or am I missing something? Debate is healthy, I grant you, but we've put these books and the author's ingenious way of weaving their religious and artistic details together through the cultural ringer and I just can't help but wonder why.
They say no one knows how to write a bestseller, but we all know that TV knows how to capitalize on them. Ratings. Maybe that's the answer to my question.
Anyway, I want to share my own interesting connection to all of this: The guy Brown's protagonist Robert Langdon is named after is a friend of mine. His name is John Langdon, and he's a designer and professor in the Philadelphia area.
John invented ambigrams, intricately designed words that can be read right-side up and upside-down. If you've read Angels & Demons, you know what I'm talking about. In the novel, there are six crucial ambigrams of the words "illuminati," "earth," "air," "fire" and "water." The last ambigram is a miraculous blending of the four words.
John Langdon was contacted by Dan Brown early in the process of writing the novel. He asked the artist if the book's title could be turned into an ambigram. Brown was so happy with the result that he asked Langdon to do the other six.
Langdon himself told me that "Dan was thrilled with them. And then months went by, it might have even been a year or so, before I next heard. Somewhere in that period of months, he said, 'By the way, I'm thinking that I should name the protagonist of this story after you.'"
I think that's pretty cool.
(I should mention that if you like the ambigrams in Angels & Demons, check out John's own book, Wordplay, which features dozens more that'll blow your mind.)
So, back to the books. Sort of. Now that there are big fat illustrated editions designed to enhance your reading experience, film composer Hans Zimmer has written a big fat score for The Da Vinci Code movie. What better music to play while you're reading? The CD features much of the music from the film, all of it instrumental. While Zimmer tends to go for more sound design than melody, here he does a bit of both, stirring up a bombastic yet tasty soup of strings, percussion and choir. It's quiet here, loud there, perfect for a book filled with crafty twists and turns. If you liked Zimmer's work for Batman Begins last summer, then this is for you, right down to the highfalutin, all-but-unintelligible track titles.
It's possible that all the hoopla surrounding the new film and the recent trial in London have conspired to delay Brown's work on his new novel, for which tens of millions of people are waiting with baited breath. Personally, I think it's a deeper plot than that. I bet the Illuminati and Opus Dei are up to something. | May 2006
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.