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Criticisms of Dan Brown

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1459 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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My mind tells me I will never understand JavaScript. And my heart tells me I am not meant to.

Dan Brown


By his own account, Dan Brown got the writing bug while reading Sidney Sheldon’s thriller The Doomsday Conspiracy during a 1993 Tahitian vacation. Brown, who until then was most familiar with the classics, was drawn to Sheldon’s breezy pacing and no-nonsense prose and felt they were something he could replicate.

Five years later Brown realized his ambition with the release of his NSA code-breaking saga Digital Fortress. But his big break came in 2003 with The Da Vinci Code, a fast-moving, conspiracy-laden murder mystery in which Brown reprises his tweed-clad hero Robert Langdon and puts him on the trail of the Holy Grail, using da Vinci’s cryptic brushwork for clues. The initial reception was rhapsodic. The New York Times recommended it with “extreme enthusiasm” and described Brown’s writing as “gleefully erudite.”[1] To the San Francisco Chronicle, it was “Umberto Eco on steroids.”[2] The public reaction was just as fervent. The Da Vinci Code moved quickly into the all-time best-seller list.

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Yet the critical acclaim unraveled almost as quickly as Robert Langdon untangled those knotty riddles. By the time the film version was released, the backlash was in full effect. This time, the New York Times savagely ridiculed Brown’s “um, prose style,”[3] while the New Yorker called it “unmitigated junk.”[4] Each of Brown’s subsequent offerings, including the 2013 Dante-inspired Inferno, has been a commercial hit—and a critical flop.

Why did Brown’s literary reputation collapse? Well, for one, doubts were cast on the accuracy of The Da Vinci Code’s historical assertions, and for another, Brown was subject to several lawsuits for plagiarism. But mostly it’s about the writing. The cliff-hangers, secret societies, and ancient ciphers may have been enough to distract early reviewers from Brown’s prose, but sooner or later its shortcomings demanded recognition.

Brown’s phrasing is excessively weighty, as exemplified by the opening line of The Da Vinci Code:[5]

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

Hanging the staggaree’s occupation in front of his name knocks the meter out of balance. Worse, the information is gratuitous. In the very next paragraph (and a further ten times in the first two pages), Brown reminds us of Saunière’s profession, and since the prologue is entitled “Louvre Museum, Paris, 10:46 pm,” it’s a safe bet Saunière is renowned. Good fiction, unlike journalism, works the reader’s imagination, yet Brown goes to great lengths to spoon-feed the most glaringly obvious detail. He’ll often use an adverb or adjective multiple times on a page, or even within the same paragraph. In the prologue to The Da Vinci Code almost every action happens “slowly”; in Inferno, we’re told no less than four times that Langdon’s doctor has “bushy eyebrows.”

Another questionable habit of Brown’s in The Da Vinci Code is his namedropping of high-end products; he rarely misses a chance to shoehorn, QVC-like, their details into the tightest of action sequences (“Yanking his Manurhin MR-93 revolver from his shoulder holster, the captain dashed out of the office,” or “Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué”).

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Brown’s got a recipe that sells more copies than good writing ever could: take a mysterious organization or artifact (preferably medieval, definitely controversial) gussy it up and dumb it down until it’s palatable for the layperson, throw in a generous dash of conspiracy theory and plenty of codes, and serve without editing.


FACT: some time in 1557, Michelangelo Moribundi, the renowned, bald-headed alchemist fashioned a secret code out of bits of asparagus and placed it a long forgotten vault …


function theDaFibonacciCode(numeratiFettucini) {

// Wide awake, the bleary-eyed Langdon watched as two tall, lissome, number ones

// with big feet and a type of hat, sidled up to the rounded zero …

var ilInumerati = [0,1,1];

// while theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne morphs eerily into a … three

theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne = 3,

// Now the silent ratio that could not be uttered had come to make it right

TheBotticelliVector = 1.61803;

while(theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne < numeratiFettucini) {

// Somehow another number one appeared and theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne

// snatched at it gracefully.

theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne = theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne + 1;

// The renowned, rounded 16-bit unsigned integer tentatively succumbed to the

// strange force of the vector before pushing itself bodily into the hands of

//the weakly typed array


Math.round(ilInumerati[theIntegerThatIncrementsOneByOne – 2] *




// “Too many elementi?” reminded the five-foot-eleven, bushy-eyebrowed Italian.

// Too many elements?

if (ilInumerati.length > numeratiFettucini) {

// Intelligently, Langdon, sporting a Harris Tweed jacket (J. Crew $79.99),

// sliced it with his Modell 1961 Ausführung 1994 swiss army knife

ilInumerati = ilInumerati.slice(0, numeratiFettucini);


// The kaleidoscope of truth had been shaken. Now, in front of them, sat the

// numerically sequenced sequenza numerica. Like a gleaming cathedral.

return ilInumerati;


Dan Brown is right at home with the Fibonacci sequence; indeed, it was cunningly used as a highly secure combination for a safe in The Da Vinci Code.

But wait, what’s this? It seems Brown has discovered a dark and mysterious multiplier (The Botticelli Vector, no less), which he uses to derive the next number from the one before. This arithmetic alchemy is all well and good, but we’re left wondering whether he knew he could just add the previous two numbers to make the next one. Anyway, it seems to work, so that’s probably all that matters.

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Judging by the comments, Brown is approaching this problem as though it were one of his blockbusting potboilers. First there’s the obligatory FACT, which assures us that what follows is rooted in historical accuracy. Then there’s the army of adjectives (because ambiguity is the devil’s tool) and the diligent inclusion of product details even as the action reaches a nail-biting climax.

Skipping gingerly over non sequiturs and logical fallacies, we reach the movingly grandiloquent conclusion. Oh, the glory.

[1] Janet Maslin, “Spinning a Thriller from a Gallery at the Louvre,” New York Times, March 17, 2003 (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/17/books/books-of-the-times-spinning-a-thriller-from-a-gallery-at-the-louvre.html).

[2] David Lazarus, “‘Da Vinci Code’ a Heart-Racing Thriller,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 6, 2003 (http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/Da-Vinci-Code-a-heart-racing-thriller-2657352.php).

[3] A. O. Scott, “A ‘Da Vinci Code’ That Takes Longer to Watch Than Read,” New York Times, May 18, 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/18/movies/18code.html).

[4] Anthony Lane, “Heaven Can Wait,” New Yorker, May 29, 2006 (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/05/29/060529crci_cinema).

[5] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003).


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