Braddock 1 Randy Braddock Professor Jaime Miller English 111: College Composition 1 Fall 2009 1 December 2009 Dan

Brown: Fairy Tale Author The best selling author Dan Brown is the modern fairy tale writer for adults. In his most recent novel, The Lost Symbol, Brown writes, When Langdon taught his students about archetypal hybrids, he used the example of fairy tales, which were recounted across generations and exaggerated over time, borrowing so heavily from one another that they evolved into homogenized morality tales with the same iconic elements—virginal damsels, handsome princes, impenetrable fortresses, and powerful wizards. By way of fairy tales, this primeval battle of “good vs. evil” is ingrained into us as children through our stories: Merlin vs. Morgan le Fay, Saint George vs. the Dragon, David vs. Goliath, Snow White vs. the Witch, and even Luke Skywalker battling Darth Vader. [Brown, 2009] In The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, J. A. Cuddon defines a fairy tale as belonging to “folk literature” and “part of the oral tradition” with the earliest example being the collection by the Brothers Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen published between 1812 and 1822 (302). However, requiring that a fairy tale must be oral in origin removes from the genre many works that benefit from the broader attributes commonly associated with fairy tales: “prose about the fortunes and misfortunes of hero or heroine who, having experienced various adventures of a more or less supernatural kind, live happily ever after” (Cuddon 302). These essentials of the fairy tale, which Brown describes as “iconic elements,” are the essence of his writing. While Brown does not transmit his novels orally, their popularity with the modern adult establishes the foundation for enjoyment by future generations, much to the dismay of the literary critic. Brown masterfully takes his protagonist, Robert Langdon, through an adventurous

Braddock 2 tale where the hero battles evil in a classical fairy tale formula. The supernatural tropes of Brown’s tales is the fringe science, alternative history, and challenge to religion he weaves into his tales begging the reader to discern, “What is fact?” and “What is fiction?” These questions and the ensuing controversy challenge the reader—without use of citations, which Brown omits since he is writing in fiction—to accept the facts purported by Brown or delve deeper into the realms of science, religion, and history in search of their own perception. It is this challenge to the reader, essentially Brown’s manifesto, that culminates the elements of the fairy tale in which good triumphs over evil and the society “lives happily ever after” having learned a moral lesson. Dan Brown’s success as a writer experienced a slow uneventful start, lost amongst the myriad of fiction authors. His first three novels—Digital Fortress, Deception Point, and Angels and Demons—did not initially enjoy success, selling fewer than ten-thousand copies in each of their first printings. However, in 2003, with the publication of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown became a household name. The book reached the New York Times Best Seller list in its first week of publication and sparked an interest in his previous books, resulting in all four novels sharing the prestige of the Best Seller list in the same week during 2004. The movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons further enhanced his notoriety. By 2009, The Da Vinci Code has sold 81 million copies worldwide in 51 translations, making it one of the most popular books of all time ("Dan Brown" NP). Brown’s success is likely to continue; The Lost Symbol broke one-day sales records on its release September 15, 2009, selling “over one million hardcover copies across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom” (Sage NP). This unprecedented popularity establishes the “oral tradition,” necessary of fairy tales, in reverse. Instead of the tale transmitting from person-to-person and generation-to-generation gaining popularity, the reader is discussing and digesting the elements of Brown’s novels with peers,

Braddock 3 historians, theologians, and scientists, thereby establishing a shared discourse that has and is likely to perpetuate discussion amongst generations to come. However, sheer popularity does not necessarily equate to literary preeminence; Brown’s writing is described by Rodney Clapp as a “highly cinematic form of flashbacks,” with shallow underdeveloped characters, and “exceedingly short chapters” [Clapp, 2006]. Clapp goes on to say, “[the chapters] resemble the rapid, short scenes and cuts popularized by MTV and prevalent in many Hollywood movies…like the old movie serials, almost always end with cliffhangers, propelling the reader forward” (25). This style of writing is the allure of the modern day adult reader—where life is one chaotic scheduling conflict after another; world news is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in 30-minute doses; and short attention spans are not realized as a product of current hyper-information overload, but instead thought of as a disorder to be treated with the latest pharmaceutical discovery. Brown consciously writes in this manner because he knows his readers; contrary to literary standards, Brown chooses to model his writing after the popular culture for which he writes, much like the literary giants of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens, and Tolstoy. Brown does not seek the appeasement of the scholastic critic with their literary standards—artistry, intellectual value, suggestiveness, spiritual value, permanence, universality, and style. These elements, certainly, have not changed, but the consumer’s expectation of a good book has and Brown is willing to forgo the standards and make a departure from them just as he has with the fairy tale genre. For taking this literary freedom, the critics are nearly universal in their dislike of Brown’s work, with a few willing to venture as far as Geoffrey Pullman, an Edinburgh professor of linguistics, “Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad” (qtd. in Chivers NP). One literary columnist has satirically compared Brown to Dickens, stating, “if Dickens were alive today he would be writing The Da Vinci Code, …it’s as Dickensian as Miriam Margoyles in a bonnet,”

Braddock 4 and “…quintessentially what makes it what Dickens would be wanting to write here and now—is its success” [Baddiel, 2005]. Fundamentally, it is Brown’s understanding of popular and historical culture that enables him to depart from the rigors of classical form into a modern form of literature and fairy tale. Brown masterfully uses fiction and more importantly fairy tale to propose a challenge to the underlying beliefs and knowledge of the audience, which creates significant controversy not only for the reader but also for the supporting characters. Controversy is the common denominator of Brown’s works and the compelling force of his stories, becoming the supernatural element in the fairy tale genre. Brown’s stories reportedly intertwine fact with fiction. The facts Brown purports as undeniable do not stand up to scholarly scrutiny resulting in some calling them shams, while Brown himself “regards the [Da Vinci Code] as a serious contribution to a revisionist history of early and medieval Christianity, a history that offers insight into the nature of real faith and the identity of the true church” [Burrows, 2004]. While Brown states that he is contributing to revisionist history—simply building on theories put forth by others, and therefore absolving himself of the responsibility associated with the theories—he certainly does not refute the validity of the claims and orchestrates them into a pop culture controversy perpetuated with whirlwind publicity. Nancy Calvert-Koyzis, in a critical essay published in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture writes, “in an interview with Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America, Brown states that the theories…found in the Da Vinci Code are true and that if the book had been non-fiction, the theories that he espouses would not have been different” (Clavert-Koyzis NP). This sort of claim leads uncritical readers to accept at face value the pseudo-history prevalent in Brown’s work, and certainly, nothing brews controversy more than religion or politics, which Brown places as the central motifs in Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol. Brown’s treatment of these motifs—like his prose

Braddock 5 and characters—lacks depth of critical thought and development; the presentation is a staccato burst designed to force the reader to the next chapter rather than allow the audience to ponder. For his treatment and presentation of his research, Brown has garnered the censure of the Vatican and fueled uproar among Christians and non-Christians alike. In The Da Vinci Code, Brown asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, had a sexual relationship, produced offspring that were the antecedents of the Merovingian dynasty, and the Catholic Church— specifically the Holy See and Vatican leadership—conspired to cover it up and destroy any evidence of a relationship. Angels and Demons has a Pope conceiving a child via artificial insemination and contends that sinister forces of the Illuminati possess—the God Particle—antimatter, which they will use to destroy Vatican City. Finally, in his recent work, The Lost Symbol, Brown shakes the foundations of the American government suggesting the founding fathers were deist, Freemasonry is in control of Washington D.C., God and humans are equal, the Bible is an allegory, and all religions are equal. While the Vatican and some evangelical Christians have implied or outright labeled him a heretic, it is important to understand that much of what Brown touts are periphery beliefs of mainstream society. Therefore, David F. Lloyd alleviates some of the blame from Brown by hypothesizing that a market for such radical and shallow thinking exists, and its popularity is in the chord it strikes with our religiously lightweight and capricious New Age, where individuals can pick and mix their own personal brand of religious karma. We live in a culture of “spirituality lite,” where we are fascinated with “spiritual” issues that titillate us, yet are repelled by those that require deep commitment to a high moral standard. Religion, history, God and everything else is thus reconstructed until it fits into our feel-good, own-brand comfort zones. [Lloyd, 2006] It is this lack of “deep commitment” that has allowed Brown to feint readers and his characters with thinly veiled pseudo-facts and distorted or often-misunderstood history taken out context. His mastery of developing alternative facts and histories relies on a society that is un-, or at least

Braddock 6 under-educated and Brown is well aware of the proposition under which he operates, choosing to, “let the biblical scholars and historians battle it out. It’s a book about big ideas; you can love them or hate them. But we’re all talking about them and that’s really the point” (qtd. in de Vries NP). Like classical fairy tales, which have recently come under fire for not being politically correct or for being emotionally disturbing, Brown tackles issues that not only attack accepted norms, but also are the moral and ethical questions that require answers (Paton NP). Brown ultimately wants to spark communication and understanding. In taking this stance, he has further intensified his popularity by polarizing the populace and perpetuating the controversy surrounding his works, through which Brown provided the catalyst to the creation of an industry seeking to refute his claims. The collection of authors willing to delve into the science, religion, and history put forth by Brown is an additional contribution and essential element of his work. By applying scholarly research, these authors fill the void of critical thought left barren by Brown. The innate curiosity of some readers allows them to comprehend Brown’s novels as an exposé of controversial and fringe topics—fairy tales. Then expand their realm of learning and thinking in the more academic analyses that argue against Brown’s propositions. Yet other readers, as Lloyd proposes, are willing to accept Brown’s assertions as factual without further exploration. In a Parade interview, conducted by James Kaplan, Brown responds to the question, “Are you religious?” I was raised Episcopalian, and I was very religious as a kid. Then, in eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, "I don't get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?" Unfortunately, the response I got was, "Nice boys don't ask that question." A light went off, and I said, "The Bible doesn't make sense. Science makes much more sense to me." And I just gravitated away from religion. (Kaplan NP)

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Brown relies on individuals sharing the same disconnect with religion he experienced as an adolescent. Moreover, he takes their discontent and lack of understanding and expands it, as any noteworthy fairy tale writer would, with excitement, affirmation, and hope albeit requiring a belief in the validity of his hypotheses. Asking readers to accept these hypotheses is not with out precedence—the reader of any fairy tale is asked to believe in magic, dragons, elves, talking animals, and fairy-god-mothers—for the greater purpose of changing behavior or introducing a moral lesson. Brown’s theories have a profound effect on some people; Morag Fraser writes of an experience as the chair of a panel set to discuss The Da Vinci Code, The book, [the audience] told us, restored dignity to women, particular to women who had ambitions to occupy a more prominent role in churches, women seeking ordination; it gave heart to homosexual men and women; it uncovered the iniquity of institutions, the corruption of the Church; it brought religion out of the Vatican cloisters and gave it back to the people; it was a great adventure yarn and we spoiled it with our nitpicking. [Fraser, 2006] Yet this “nitpicking” of Brown’s novels has fueled for a select few a resurgence in the study of the Gnostic Gospels, the Council of Nicaea, the Bible, early and medieval Christianity, history, Renaissance art, architecture, and Freemasonry. Additionally, it has brought the science of the Large Haldron Collider and anti-matter to the non-physicist; introduced the fringe study of Noetic Science to the populace; and made cryptography and cryptanalyst synonymous with Sunday’s Crossword Puzzle. Therefore, the authors arguing against Brown are essential to the formulaic structure of the fairy tales Brown writes; they not only ensure the tales carry on, but they are critical to the changing of behavior and development of the moral lesson. The pervasive morality of Brown’s work and many fairy tales is knowledge does not equate to wisdom—to wield wisdom requires a purity of purpose and heart and the broad understanding of the effects of knowledge on society. Ironically, this is the same argument

Braddock 8 against his work that many critics urge. In each of the three novels, Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor and symbologist, who possesses a vast amount of unique knowledge that he uses only when confronted by the antagonist—who also is in possession of the same knowledge. The antagonist, in classic fairy tale opposition of good versus evil, intends to use his knowledge for the furtherance of dastardly desires and has a character flaw, which disadvantages him. In the fairy tale formula, the adversary is consistently one-step-ahead of the hero, until an epiphanous moment; in Brown’s writing this is where Langdon solves the puzzling facts surrounding his pursuit and gains the upper hand. The epiphany without fail in Brown’s novels is the melding of the collected knowledge into wisdom and understanding, which Langdon alone is able to wield against evil and protect the greater society without their knowledge or comprehension of the evil out to destroy the status quo. Langdon’s defeat of evil epitomizes the quest that Brown seeks for his readers—a greater understanding of the world, science, history, and religion surrounding them. Brown’s novels are his manifesto, his public declaration of his struggles with religion, science, history and politics; he knows his audience and understands that they also struggle with the same lack of understanding and faith that he has. In using the fairy tale genre to publish his manifesto, Brown expects that his readers will come to the same understanding and knowledge that he has, “The irony is that I’ve come full circle. The more science I studied, the more I saw that physics becomes metaphysics…You start to say, ‘Oh, there is an order and spiritual aspect to science’” (Kaplan NP). However, unlike Brown many readers will not invest the time required to explore these opportunities, certainly not in the dry, lacking action and plot genre of nonfiction, which makes his moral lesson and his use of the fairy tale form all the more relevant. Whether society remembers Dan Brown as a classic fairy tale author, a heretic, or just a best selling fiction author who happens to create a significant amount of controversy and curiosity, he

Braddock 9 captures many imaginations with his writing and his bending of truth about science, religion, and history. He writes in fiction, though purports it to be fact, so much the better that he chooses to write in a fairy tale form—a literary technique that is ingrained as children and artistically adapted to stir the consciousness of the adult in pursuit of “happily ever after.”

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Bibliography
Baddiel, David. "The Da Vinci Code is as Dickensian as Miriam Margoyles in a bonnet." 23 July 2005. Times Online. 1 November 2009. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article546485.ec e>. Brown, Dan. Angels and Demons. New York: Pocket Books, 2000. —. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday, 2003. —. The Lost Symbol. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Burrows, Mark S. "Gospel fantasy: dismatling The Da Vinci Code. (Critical Essay)(Cover Story)." The Christian Centruy. 121.11 (2004): 20+. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Oct. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do?prodId=IPS&userGroupName=usn_eaim> Chivers, Tom. "The Lost Symbol and The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences." 15 September 2009. Telegraph. 1 November 2009 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/6194031/The-Lost-Symbol-andThe-Da-Vinci-Code-author-Dan-Browns-20-worst-sentences.html>. Clapp, Rodney. "Dan Brown's truthiness:the appeal of The Da Vinci Code." The Christian Centruy 123.10 (2006): 22+. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Oct. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do?prodId=IPS&userGroupName=usn_eaim> Clavert-Koyzis, Nancy. "Re-sexualizing the Magdalene: Dan Brown's Misuse of Early Christian Documents in The Da Vinci Code." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 12 (2006). Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Oct. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do? prodId=IPS&userGroupName=usn_eaim> Cuddon, J.A. “Fairy Tale.” The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Group, 1999. "Dan Brown." 30 October 2009. Wikipedia. 1 November 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Brown>. Fraser, Morag. "The Politics of Faith: Linking Dan Brown, Amanda Lohrey and Kevin Rudd, Morag Frase explores the potent mix of religion and populism. (Viewpoint essay)." Meanjin 65.4 (2006): 240+. Academic OneFile. Web. 31 Oct. 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/gps/start.do?prodId=IPS&userGroupName=usn_eaim>

Braddock 11 Kaplan, James. "Life After 'The Da Vinci Code'." 13 September 2009. Parade. 11 November 2009 <http://www.parade.com/news/2009/09/13-dan-brown-life-after-da-vincicode.html>. Lloyd, David F. Facing Facts: Is The Da Vinci Code based on fact, or are its author's claims or accuracy the novel's greatest fiction? Spring 2006. 1 November 2009 <http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=1333>. Paton, Graeme. “Traditional Fairytales ‘Not PC Enough’.” 5 January 2009. Telegraph. 1 November 2009. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/4125664/Traditionalfairytales-not-PC-enough-for-parents.html> Sage, Alexandria. "Dan Brown Novel breaks one-day sales record." 16 September 2009. Reuters. 31 October 2009 <http://www.reuters.com/article/artsNews/idUSTRE58E5Q720090917>. Vries, Lloyd de. "Da Vinci' Author Ducks Controversy. 24 April 2006. 31 October 2009 <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/04/24/print/main1536065.shtml>.

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