Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why Dan Brown Is Terrible

This month there has been a gross, even unforgivable violation of all that is right and just, and I cannot remain silent about it any longer. No, I'm not talking about the BC election, or even a certain Leafs/Bruins playoffs series.

I'm talking about the fact that Dan "Literarily The Worst" Brown has a new collection of words printed on bound paper that is for sale RIGHT NOW. I cannot call it a book, for nothing deserves that name that surely sets generations of grammarians spinning so violently in their graves the Earth's axial rotation will develop a measurable eccentricity.

Even now, as I string letters together to form communication, people who might otherwise be considered basically decent are giving him money and praise for committing upon my one of my favourite works of literature acts so vile the only adjective that springs to mind is "Westboro."

These people deserve to be pelted with rotten fruit and shamed publicly by their dearest loved ones.

Last week son and I were in Coles, as part of our weekly "father and son visit the library and the mall and give mummy quiet time" trip, and I had the misfortune to witness a woman actually playing actual money for a new, hardback copy of Inferno.  I had trouble not smacking it out of her hand with a rolled-up newspaper while yelling, "No! Bad! Bad representative member of the average reading public! Bad!"

Now, you might say to yourself that I'm overreacting, that people just want to read easy, digestible literature filled with plot points and events and things that happen and hey, at least it gets people reading, right?  And that's fair, that's perfectly acceptable.  I am not going to contest the shameless enjoyment of pulpy genre fiction, especially since it probably makes up the majority of my reading intake (there is a special place in my heart for the Gears of War novels, for example).

Unfortunately, that sentiment of "it's just genre fiction" is both bad for all the serious literature that happens to involve SPAAAAAAAAAAAACE and it's what's so pernicious about his work. At first you think that maybe this is something okay to read on the commute or the bus and maybe you enjoy it if you don't think about it to hard, maybe you even get a kick out of all the art history references, maybe it makes you feel smart, gives you little bits of trivia to smugly drop on people. But if you examine it, if you dig into the horrible, clumsy narrative, awkward dialogue, painful exposition, turgid descriptions, geographical gaffes and historical inanities masquerading as fact you discover you've let something dangerous creep softly into your life, like the slow erosion of personal freedoms in the name of ephemeral security, or a sloth who blames you for his divorce.

Of course, my big issue with Dan Brown, leaving aside the many technical problems with his writing, is that his work is presented and accepted as representative of facts and history. It is about The Da Vinci Code that he said, "Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact," when the book is filled with egregious errors of geography and language and promulgates blatantly false or misleading pseudohistorical ideas like the Masonic imagery in Rosslyn Chapel, or the Illuminati existing, like, at all.

If he were to say, "Yeah, I'm making all this up for the sake of a good story," then fine, cool, godspeed you merry gentleman. But he doesn't. And it drives me nuts.

One of my favourite authors and probably my favourite historical novelist is Bernard Cornwell. Not because he's The Best in the genre (that would probably be Patrick O'Brian), but because he 1) writes a great story, and 2) he shows his work. After every book he makes a point of explaining his research, his sources, why he made the decisions or chose the historical interpretations he did and, most importantly, explains what he changed and why. On more than a few occasions he's offered apologies to historical figures whose accomplishments he stole or whose names he villainized.

I don't need everything to be pedantically and slavishly accurate, but when an author changes something or misrepresents something, they should have the moral courage to admit to it, to explain how it makes the story better. Spreading ignorance helps no-one and when Dan Brown claims to be educating people and is believed to be doing so, then what he's actually doing is disseminating disinformation and promoting deeply flawed understandings of history.

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