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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Dan Brown can't walk the talk

To be "DanBrowned" is to be inundated with self-promotions of a so-called expert who insists that he has done the research and that anything in his fictional story that is not fictional story is in fact true. That is to say that the fictional events occur in a world that has a realistic world foundation. We also find it in politics, but right now we are watching some Tropers from the TVTropes wiki dismantle and dissect the author Dan Brown's most highly-touted works.
As the trope title shows, Dan Brown is well known for this. Two years of graduate school in cryptography forced this troper to put down Digital Fortress somewhere around the phrase "rotating cleartext cipher". Even someone without a background in crypto would be a little surprised by the classification of ZIP as an encryption scheme.
  • You should have kept going. The best Dan Brown moment of Digital Fortress comes at the end. The enemy is the greatest cryptographer in the world, the genius who invented this patently impossible piece of magic encryption, and the main characters have to guess his password. Turns out it's THE NUMBER THREE!
  • In the same book, the main character's linguist husband signs notes to her with the valediction "without wax". He eventually explains that this is the etymology of the word "sincerely": from the Latin sin cera, "without wax", it referred to marble of such high quality that no wax was needed to fill in the pits. Trouble is, this is a notorious folk etymology that tends to reduce any actual linguist to tears.
  • Dan Brown fails middle school physics forever over the U-238 atom bomb bit.
  • By Dan Brown's logic, non-commissioned officers in many armies actually show their rank by wearing a number of womb-symbols on their sleeves, rather than the phallic symbols he imagines.
  • This troper started laughing when Dan Brown referred to Islam as a language in Angels and Demons, when he says that the word "Satan" came from the "Islamic" word "Shaitan". In Real Life, the language is called Arabic.
    • The term originates from Hebrew; Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages and contain many cognates. The name "Satan" originally comes from the Hebrew "Ha Satan" or "the Accuser", a character who shows up in the Book of Job and a few other sources. Saying that Satan started as a character from Islam is absurdly wrong on many levels.
  • Another section of Digital Fortress talked about a breakthrough that occurred after realizing that they'd been reading some text as "Mandarin symbols" as opposed to "the Kanji language", causing anyone with cursory knowledge of Chinese or Japanese to facepalm, hard. Mandarin is a dialect, not a set of characters, and Kanji are a set of characters, not a language.
    • Not to mention that due to simplification and linguistic drift on both sides, kanji and Chinese characters aren't nearly as identical as usually assumed. 剣 and 剑 are the same word in Kanji and Simplified Chinese, originating from the Traditional Chinese 劍, but you probably wouldn't guess that the three are the same just by looking at them.
  • In Angels and Demons, Brown in one scene reveals that Christianity got the ritual of eating our god (communion) from the Aztecs. Even if Brown wasn't aware of the fact that the Aztecs didn't appear until the 14th century, one would think he'd be familiar with the fact that the Christians in Europe had no contact with American civilizations until late 15th century. Which makes the chronology of the first Christians borrowing this tradition back in the 1st century a bit unlikely, nay? Unless he is also claiming that the Catholics have been hiding their time machine from us all this time...
  • This troper got angry at the book around the time the antimatter container was described as a breakthrough (or something along those lines). Ahem. Antimatter does not work that way!!
  • Don't get this troper-iconographer started on Langdon the "symbology" professor. It's not a discipline, it hasn't been relevant since the seventies, it is not a department at Harvard (or anywhere), and SYMBOLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY.
    • I always wondered what Umberto Eco thought about Mr. Brown's "symbology" career. Umberto is a respected author and professor of semiotics — which is (loosely defined) the study of symbols and the way they interact and are interpreted by humans. In addition, Signor Eco really has been a professor at Harvard.
  • The end of Angels and Demons has a news commentator state that Ventresca may technically have been elected Pope by acclamation due to the crowd's spontaneously cheering him after they thought he had saved St. Peter's from the antimatter bomb. Except that election by acclamation was formally done away with in 1996 (four years before the book was written), the crowd did not intend to demand that Ventresca be elected Pope, and the papal electors would still have to ratify the crowd's demand even if they had made one.
  • This troper likes to point out that all the parts that belong to Angels and Demons was removed or fixed in the movie, (minus the whole Anti-Matter bomb but that's a major plot point)
  • The difference between Holy Grail and the Holy Chalice. That Jesus passed around a cup at passover is recounted in the Bible, but the idea that a vessel caught some of his blood while he was on the cross only came many centuries later, and whether the two are the same or different objects depends on the source you read. Either way, the entire central premise of The Da Vinci Code is pretty much bunk, as it claims that a story that first arose more than a thousand years after Christ's death is correctly interpreted as describing historical events during Christ's life.
    • Not to mention that the history of the Catholic church, as told by the characters, is chock full of errors.
  • He didn't even bother to do any research on CERN for Angels And Demons — if he had, he might have noticed that creating antimatter in the LHC wasn't a great breakthrough, seeing as the accelerator they used before they built the LHC collided matter and antimatter together.
  • Not to mention that you can't walk out with anti-matter. Generating antimatter is a complex and difficult process. Trying to contain it is even more complex. IIRC, the small amount that they do manage to generate are stored in a massive cylinder which requires constant magnetic containment. Try getting that out of the CERN building!
  • Oh and who can forget Brown fueling the "Louvre Pyramid has exactly 666 panes of glass" fire? Or explicitly claiming François Mitterrand demanded it that way. In reality the Pyramid is constructed with 673 panes and according to its designer, I.M Pei, Mitterand made no such demand.
  • Angels And Demons to the contrary, there was never a computer game based on the trading card game Illuminati: New World Order. Perhaps in that respect Dan Brown's world is better than our own.
    • It most likely is, since Robert Langdon teaches a course that doesn't even exist at the Harvard University in our world
  • Then there's the scene where the protagonist gets angry at the Vatican for "not reading its history" concerning the branding and execution of several Illuminati members in 1668. This despite the fact that the Illuminati was founded in 1776.
  • In Deception Point, National Reconnaisance Office Director Pickering addresses Rachel, the book's heroine, as "Agent Sexton". Intelligence analysts are not law enforcement officers and the NRO does not have clandestine field operatives.
  • This troper is fond of calling Dan Brown out for being the reason why people mistakenly refer to Leonardo Da Vinci as "Da Vinci" instead of Leonardo. I explain it thus: "It's not technically a surname, since Leonardo was born to a single mother; he took that tag at the end of his name since Vinci was the town he was born in. It would be like me, for whatever reason, going by the name "Morraeon from Tewkesbury", and then everyone starts calling me "from Tewkesbury" instead of Morraeon."
  • The Da Vinci Code is one long book of faulty history. The character Teabing claimed that the Council of Nicea was to debate Jesus' divinity. It was not. It was a debate over whether the Son of God was equal and co-eternal to God the Father. He also states that the vote was relatively close. It wasn't. It was 300-2 in favor of the Son being equal and co-eternal with the Father. Teabing also claimed that some of the gospels Constantine attempted to destroy were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are no gospels in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is Old Testament fragments. Langdon argues that Jesus was married according to Jewish tradition. However, most prophets were unmarried, like John the Baptist for example. Langdon also states that Jews condemned celibacy, however the Essenes, an extremely puritanical sect, were celibate. Teabing points out that the Aramaic word for companion meant spouse, and thus the Gospel of Philip, which calls Mary Magdalene Jesus' companion, proves that Jesus was married. Too bad Philip was written in Greek, three hundred years after Jesus' life on Earth before His ascension, while the four canonical gospels were written in the first century. Brown also states that Constantine simply used the Church as an organizational technique. While Constantine did do so, Roman historians are clear that Constantine was a Christian by the time of his death. Brown also claimed that the gospels do not depict Jesus as God, and Jesus Himself did not say He was God. This was also not true. John 1:1-3, 14 declares Jesus, the Word, to be God. Jesus also has all the attributes of God. He is omniscient as stated in John 16:30, omnipresent as Jesus Himself states in Matt. 28:20, is omnipotent as He declares Himself in Matt. 28:18, and is eternal as stated in John 1:1. In Matt. 16:15-17, Peter calls Jesus the Son of God, and Jesus confirms this. In John 10:24-33, Jesus claims to be one with the Father, and the people listening to Him condemn Him for blasphemy, claiming to be God. John 20:28-29 shows Thomas calling Jesus God, which Jesus does not deny. In Mark 14:60-64, Jesus responds to the high priest's query of whether He is the Son of God with "I am", which is what Yahweh, the Hebrew name of God, means. Brown also states that Genesis says that man is the Creator of women, since women came from man's rib, but God is very clearly the Creator in Genesis. This is akin to saying that dirt is the Creator because man was Creator from dirt. Brown also states that Genesis shifted the fault of sin to women, while Gen. 3 makes it clear Adam was silently complicit in the sin. Adam was with Eve when she was tempted, and knew that the fruit he was eating was from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He also portrays the Gnostic gospels as showing Jesus as more human, while the Gnostic gospels actually show Jesus as less human. While some might counter this troper's arguments by pointing out most of the evidence comes from the Bible, this troper would like to point out that nearly all our information on Jesus and the origin of Christianity come from the Bible. How can Brown make statements and claims that run contrary to the very source? As one troper mentioned above, Brown equated the Aztec rituals to Communion. But Communion was not originally the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Flesh and Blood of Christ, it originally was a remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice and confirmation of one's faith. It was only until the Late Middle Ages that transubstantiation became doctrine, and the majority of Protestant denominations today reject transubstantiation. Not only does transubstantiation predate the Aztecs, but Communion predate transubstantiation.
    • On a more trivial Da Vinci Code related note, Dan Brown somehow arrived at the conclusion that, in Britain, people are obsessive about the way the drink tea (they aren't- standard procedure is to use a kettle and teabags- not many people bother with tea leaves and teapots), that if you ask for coffee when offered a drink, the British person will be deeply offended (they won't be) but may find you some coffee anyway, which will invariably be crap because nobody drinks it enough to care about how good it is (bullshit).
    • Also, Silas the albino seemed to be able to aim perfectly well and have great vision, even though albinism tends to hinder eyesight. However his condition was considered deeply embarrassing and freakish, although in real life it just isn't seen like that. Not in Europe, anyway.
    • Another point about Silas—-he's an Opus Dei monk. Opus Dei is a lay organization. There is no such thing as an Opus Dei monk; it makes only slightly more sense than if he had used a "Lutheran nun" or something. And of course Opus Dei members are portrayed whipping themselves half to death as a form of physical atonement, when in reality most just wear a mildly uncomfortable leg brace a few hours a day. *sigh*
I personally found The Da Vinci Code to be slightly boring and highly pretentious. The Troper that actually cites my Bible impresses me the most and I find his interpretations of Scripture to be well-done. Technically the definition is stated as follows:
There's an old writer's adage that tells us that we should write what we know. Not terrible advice, and if the writer had followed it, you might not be in this situation, but, perhaps more relevant to you is this corollary: do not read what you know. Some (most) of it is unavoidable in the name of telling a good story, some of it is that the writer was lazy, but the net result is that the very same level of research that can make a convincing story for something that you don't know very well will result in a painfully silly story when it's about something you do... This trope is obviously related to, but separated from, other topics of its creed. Did Not Do The Research is when an author shows general ignorance on a topic, whereas Critical Research Failure is that brain frying occasion when Techno Babble goes horribly wrong. Dan Browned is, in short, the result of an author making noticeable claims — or very quietly implying — that their work is 100% factual & correct, only for people to quickly find out it to be a big pile of pants (hence it being named after the...misinformed Mr Dan Brown)
I occasionally worry that after touting that I have studied western political philosophy for approximately ten years I will make an arse out of myself by misstating or even erring a principle held by Kirk or Hayek or Publius.

Comments-Update:

Jesus never claimed to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; John in John 1:1 was not stating that Jesus "was" the only true God that Jesus stated that he was with before the beginning of the world of mankind that was made through Jesus. (John 1:10; 17:1,3,5) Jesus "was" mighty (theos) -- a mighty one -- with the only true God, but Jesus never was, is not, nor ever will be, the Most High.

Gravatar Transubstantiation was taught long before the middle ages. For instance, when a religious Priest was to celebrate his final Mass because he no longer believed in Transubstantiation, and later to leave the brotherhood, the host was not only transubstantiated, but transaccidental, as well. Research the Host of Luciano, a Eucharistic miracle, proving once and for all the validity of Transubstantiation, in the 8th century, a hundred or more years before the beginning of the middle ages, depending on who you ask. (This is not relevent, but the host was examined recently, found to still be living, 1300 years later, with blood type AB, and the host actually turned to muscle, heart muscle to be specific. That is still LIVING. The blood in the chalice had the same blood type and DNA as the host.)

Nicely written article.

The reader/commenter who insists that the Trinitarian doctrine, that Christ is God along with the Father and the Spirit, is wrong but I cannot recall the reasoning that enforces my faith. The notion that Christ is subservient to God and not God alters the entire nature of the blood sacrifice and changes the nature of God's own sacrifice. At that point Jesus of Nazareth is less Christ and more servant.

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