23.5 Degrees Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown - Mania.com

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  • Book: The Lost Symbol
  • Author: Dan Brown
  • Pages: 528
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Series:

23.5 Degrees Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The 23.5 Degree Guerrilla Guide

By Stella Maris     September 19, 2009

The cornerstone of the Capitol Building was laid when Caput Draconis was in Virgo.
© William Gates


Now that most of us have read The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, it's inevitably just a matter of weeks before the spin-off guide books are churned out. So, I thought it might be fun to have a quick look at some of the more obscure background references in Brown's plot in advance, just to get the ball rolling.
The book begins with a quote from The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P Hall, which indicates the direction of the storyline in more ways than one, as the shocking event that kicks off Robert Langdon's new adventure is the discovery of his dear Masonic friend's severed hand in the center of the Washington DC Capitol Building's Rotunda. The hand is tattooed with bizarre symbols which Langdon immediately identifies as indicating that the amputated appendage is being deployed as a mystical summons in the guise of the Hand of the Mysteries.
Conveniently, this arcane concept can also be found in The Secret Teachings of All Ages in chapter LXXIII, which you can read an excerpt from, along with viewing the relevant illustration, here. As Manly P Hall explains, "The original drawings from which this plate was taken is designated the hand of the philosopher which is extended to those who enter into the mysteries. When the disciple of the Great Art first beholds this hand, it is closed, and he must discover a method of opening it before the mysteries contained therein may be revealed."
As it happens, I have this book and know the material passibly well. However, although Professor Langdon scathingly instructs his students that, " 'Google' is not a synonym for 'research' ", not only is it possible for the reader to Google their way through the more obscure material in The Lost Symbol, but the characters themselves hypocritically seem manage to obtain instant access to computers and Blackberrys whenever their more laid-back investigative skills let them down. In fact, it speaks volumes that essential information is purloined from internet discussion forums and there is even a brief tutorial in the subplot which explains how to perform an Internet Protocol address reverse lookup.
Another main literary influence is revealed in a casual reference by Langdon on page 29 to the fact that the cornerstone of the US Capitol Building was laid at a specific date and time "because, among other things, the auspicious Caput Draconis was in Virgo."
Initiates will immediately recognize this as a reference from David Ovason's The Secret Zodiac of Washington DC (released in the US as The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital, where a large portion of Peter Solomon’s revelations in the Washington Monument can also be traced to.
In Secret Zodiac, Ovason explains that the auspicious Caput Draconis alignment with Virgo, which dictated the timing of the laying of the Capitol's cornerstone, had to do with the north node of the Moon's orbit intersecting with the ecliptic of the earth specifically at the moment when it aligns with Virgo’s alpha star, Spica. Ovason notes that Spica was used "for millennia by sailors [as a navigational aid], which possibly helps explain the epithet Stella Maris, which is sometimes translated as 'Star of the Sea'", thereby hinting at some of the celestial correspondences of the Washington DC layout.
However, for me, the Magic Squares were the most fun. As soon as the well-known and oft-used Freemason's Cipher on the Pyramid was decoded into a grid, it was immediately recognizable as the 4x4 Magic Square of Jupiter, although Brown’s clever use of the Albrecht Durer version added an extra layer of interest.
But there was an aspect of the Franklin Order-8 Square that wasn't explained, which has a curious relationship to the plot. The 8x8 Magic Square (which, as a chessboard, enables other kinds of encryption techniques) is also known as the Magic Square of Mercury. The Greek counterpart of Mercury is Hermes, whose head is carved on stone markers along the original Meridian line through Washington DC, which the United States government unsuccessfully tried to get recognized as the worldwide Zero Meridian in place of Greenwich. And this Meridian aligns with 16th Street where the Scottish Rite’s House of the Temple is located.
I was delighted to see the Washington National Cathedral, with its Moon Rock and Darth Vader gargoyle, used as a location. The inside joke is that the Gazebo on the grounds of the Bishop’s Garden was the secret meeting place of the 1980s DC performance art group known as The Belfast Wide Awake Club…
But perhaps the most personal coded reference in The Lost Symbol occurs in Chapter 44 (which is, itself, a numerological master number), when Robert Langdon calls his editor to get Katherine Solomon's phone number so that he could warn her that her life was in imminent danger. The ironic humor behind Jonas Faukman's pithy comments about the tardiness of Langdon's manuscript becomes apparent when one realizes that Jonas Faukman is an anagram of Jason Kaufman, Dan Brown's own real-life editor who must have hassled Brown mercilessly in much the same manner over Brown’s long delays with The Lost Symbol.
In fact, when we consider what Brown was going through during the writing of this book, taking into account the stress of an international lawsuit and the rumored complete re-write of the manuscript, one has to congratulate Brown on actually managing to finish the book at all. It must have been awfully tempting just to walk away.
But, from my point of view, this stress becomes apparent in the sometimes uneven pacing of the action, which drags in some places, and odd gaps in the information which, admittedly, probably aren’t apparent to those who don't know the background material well enough to notice.
Anyway, this should be enough to get you started... and I don't want to deprive the Lost Symbol bandwagon-jumpers the joy of earning an honest crust!



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ProfessorW 9/19/2009 12:37:31 AM

 Great insider's review of The Lost Symbol (I never did find out what that referred to).  My take on the book is that you get exactly what it says on the tin:

- hundreds (and hundreds) of pages of fast-paced action

- cool codes

- hokey ancient mysteries

- quirky (and bad) use of language and grammar and lots and LOTS of italics and CAPITALS

- the familiar Brown universe (familiar also extends to those writers who so obviously influenced Brown: Sebastian Junger"s The Perfect Storm for how drowning works and Thomas Harris' Red Dragon for nasty, full-body tatooed baddies)

In the end, what does it all MEAN?  It means Brown and the Washington Tourist Board are going to make a shedload of money from the book and the movie.  ... and just maybe there'll be an epidemic of self-castration this Fall.  After 550 pages, I was myself thinking of reaching for the knife.  I only wish Jason Kaufman had...

RogerXXII 9/19/2009 10:16:01 AM

 Since many of you have read this stuff, I don't have to suffer needlessly, and I can simply ask:

Is it true that there is some discussion of Nicolas Flamel, within that ocean of pages, and is it at all accurate?

StellaMaris 9/19/2009 12:03:58 PM

No, he doesn't mention Flamel (I would have definitely noted it if he had), although he refers to Alchemy tangentially in some of the discussions (mostly in the context of it being an "Ancient Mystery"). As far as accuracy is concerned... some of the concepts/locations/events Brown uses as literary devices do indeed exist, although not necessarily in the way that he presents them. Does that count?

For the avoidance of doubt, just because I note some of Brown's alleged sources in the above review, this doesn't mean that I endorse them or even believe in them. 

I think it's important to remember that this is all fiction...

Squid 9/19/2009 11:40:08 PM

Just thought that I would pass this along... are you aware that there are codes on the covers of both Davinci Code and Lost Symbol?  One of the ones on LS's cover refers to a phone number... that, for the 1st 33 callers, wins a personally signed copy of Lost Symbol.  I encourage you to look at www.thecryptex.com for information on the codes.



ProfessorW 9/20/2009 2:35:09 AM

 Squid, thanks for the link.  I particularly enjoyed the Today interview with DB.

Calibur454 9/20/2009 10:50:36 AM

I have put this one on my christmas list. I'm hoping it is at least as good as the previous two.

As far as movies go I have heard that angels and demons is much better than the davinci code. It is something I'll have to check out when it hits dvd.

abraxas27 9/20/2009 1:20:14 PM

Alchemy - well there's quite a bit of discussion of Isaac Newton's interest in the subject and links to Rosicrucians, talk of transformation of the (handily small) pyramid made of granite and gold by heating it to the Newtonian boiling point of 33 (or perhaps 34) degrees, mention of early alchemists using organic phosphors as thermal markers, et j'en passe et j'en passe, and VITRIOL is written on the wall of a "chamber of reflection" deep below the Capitol building...it's a shimmering, teasing concoction of evocative key-words and great men of mystery...


StellaMaris 9/20/2009 11:55:52 PM

Yes, Brown throws in a few Googled alchemical references, but nothing to do with Flamel. In fact, from the little hints he was dropping, I'm guessing his next book is going to be based around the Rosicrucians. He's done the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion, and now the Freemasons, so it's just a matter of time until he works his way around to the Rosicrucians (you read it here first!). 

Ironically, one of the books I'm reading at the moment is Isaac Newton's Freemasonry: The Alchemy of Science and Mysticism by Alain Bauer (in addition to Michael White's excellent The Last Sorcerer).

Squid - the codes are only on the covers on the US versions of the books, we have different covers over here in the UK. Besides, I have strong aversion to cracking codes and winning contests after what happened the first time:-


ProfessorW 9/26/2009 5:14:33 AM

 What happened to this week's Stella Maris column?  Is something going on behind the scenes?  I think we should be told!

RogerXXII 9/29/2009 8:58:21 AM

 Rumour has it that she was rendered speechless due to "cozying up" to a nefarious character.

Of course, the more realistic answer is that there was a beer shortage in the immediate area, and that there can be no art without beer, which is art.

Happy Michael's day just the same.

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