Dan Brown’s Masonic Journey

My great-grandfather Elias Trichter was a Mason, a member of the Cambridge Lodge 622 of the Free and Accepted Masonic Guild of Brooklyn, New York. He died before I was born, but I inherited an elaborate plaque, titled MASONIC HISTORY and signed and stamped to commemorate his initiation as a Master Mason on February 21, 1910, witnessed by brothers Mortimer Carman, Howard J. Fitzpatrick and James A. Nixon.

The plaque is decorated with biblical scenes and scientific and engineering symbols, all revolving around a large illuminated letter “G” (said to stand for either Geometry, God or both). The Masons are known to be a quasi-religious organization that respects all religions, and the fact that my great-grandfather, an Orthodox Jew, congregated here with fellow Brooklynites named Carman, Fitzpatrick and Nixon proves this to be more than an empty claim. I’d love to know what they did at this lodge, though I imagine it was more recreational than mystical. Perhaps joining a lodge was the social networking of its time.

Today, it’s easy to make fun of Masons and Shriners and the International Orders of the Friendly Sons of the Raccoons (as the fake Masonic Lodge in Brooklyn that Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton belonged to in The Honeymooners was called). A condescending New York Times article by Maureen Dowd about Dan Brown’s popular Masonic-themed novel The Lost Symbol (also known as the book that will save publishing) is fairly sarcastic about Dan Brown’s interest in the Masonic tradition:

During the five years he researched this book, did Brown begin to believe those sensational stories about how, if you expose the secrets of the Masons, they will slit your throat? Did he discover that the Masons are not merely a bunch of old guys dressed up in funny costumes enjoying a harmless night away from the wives? Could they really be, as a recent Discovery Channel documentary on the ancient order wondered, “Godless conspirators bound to a death pledge who infiltrate institutions and run the world”?

It’s also easy to make fun of Dan Brown’s novels. Like The Da Vinci Code, which it resembles closely, The Lost Symbol is shamelessly over-plotted and requires a willing suspension of disbelief. However, readers of “fine literature” should not necessarily stay away.

For all Dan Brown’s excesses, his books are undoubtedly intelligent — not in a “correct” way but in terms of historical ambition and research. In The Lost Symbol we are pounded with surprising facts about the history of several buildings in the Washington DC area. We are introduced to Albrecht Durer, Ben Franklin and Isaac Newton. Several puzzles involving ancient religious and mathematical symbols are introduced, and in the end everything fits together like the gears of a handmade clock.

As in Da Vinci Code, the intricate detail work involved in plotting this phantasmagoria is hard to imagine. I know a lot about history, but I cannot imagine the amount of research Dan Brown must have done to have been able to make this book as satisfying as it is. It took him five years to write The Lost Symbol and I bet he worked every day of these five years.

The Lost Symbol is more philosophically ambitious than Da Vinci Code, and after the primary conflicts are resolved Brown tips his hand with a multi-chapter coda that reaches almost preachily for a big message. Religious truth that transcends petty rivalries between debased human religions is part of this message; Brown also invokes Carl Jung and Albert Einstein in positing a collective human consciousness, and urges us to believe that in their purest forms religion and science must converge. These are progressive and revelatory messages, and I’m glad millions of people are reading this book. I wonder if my great-grandfather Elias Trichter would have enjoyed it as much as I did.

9 Responses

  1. I agree that there is a lot
    I agree that there is a lot of bias amongst literary fiction reading public against Dan Brown. This is despite the fact that a lot of the same people have read and liked Da Vinci Code, at least while they were reading it; just like me. I personally liked the book but never felt the urge to read another one of his novels, as I pre-judged that his others will be on the same ‘formula’. Having watched the movie Angels & Demons, I even concluded that I was right. However, I understand what you are trying to say here and therefore, your review now encourages me to read this one sooner or later. Thanks for a informed opinion on a cult book. It’s rare.

  2. I haven’t read any of Dan
    I haven’t read any of Dan Brown’s books, although I saw the film of The Da Vinci Code, which was ok, but not spectacular.

    On the other hand, the Masons, or Freemasons to be more precise, are fascinating. Mozart was a Freemason. The Masons were very influential during the period of the French Revolution, and many of our founding fathers were Freemasons or had Masonic sympathies.

    I think that the masonic movement had more vigor during the 18th century. Nowadays it seems like more of an “Order of the Raccoons”, Ralph Kramden type thing. In Chicago, the Masons are a bunch of old guys that show up at parades wearing fezes and driving around on little motorcyles. Not exactly Mozart, who wrote a lot of masonic music, for example “Petite Cantate MaƧonique”.

  3. Hey Guys, have been reading
    Hey Guys, have been reading “The Lost Symbol”. The two errors identified in the “50 errors” rhubarb are trivial.
    BUT they have missed a HOWLER –The tatooed man pipes hydrogen under the door of the data vault, then runs in some bunsen burner fuel which he then ignites, departs and then KABOOM and the roof is blown off Pod 5.
    WRONG the interesting thing about hydrogen is that it does not explode, it IMPLODES and turns into WATER. I have witnessed this many times in experiments by an inventor attempting to set up a car to run on hydrogen. The Hindenburg did not explode, it burnt, and then crashed, the people died from falls or burns.
    Now it is possible that if there was lots and lots of hydrogen then the implosion could have sucked in the walls, but you then need lots of OXYGEN.
    Still a great great read

  4. As a citizen of the US, I’ve
    As a citizen of the US, I’ve a certain native affection for all things big and stupid. I like big, stupid dogs and I sometimes enjoy big, stupid books. I’ve not yet read this book, but I’ve banged through Dan Brown’s other books…and they’re gloriously big and stupid.

    That’s not to say he doesn’t do his research or that he doesn’t take on some interesting issues. It’s just that those aspects, which may be intelligent, are always secondary…or even tertiary…to the big stupid story. A plot to destroy the Vatican using anti-matter, dueling plots to kill and protect the living descendant of Jesus…stupid piled on stupid. But entertainingly stupid.

    I’m in no hurry to read this book. I’ll probably wait for summer, which for me is the season for big stupid books, by which time it should be in the remainder bins.

  5. I agree with you. though we
    I agree with you. though we know the facts , we can’t mix up fiction and facts like Dan Brown. i read all Dan ‘s novels. all five. but there is some charm in his novels. are there any researchers who wish to write a literary criticism thesis on Dan Brown’s novels?

  6. Those guys in Fezes in
    Those guys in Fezes in parades are Shriners. They are part of the largest philanthropy in the world. Shriner’s raise money to support the 22 Shriner’s Hospitals for Children throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico where children under the age of 16 with severe burns or orthopaedic injuries receive totally free medical care. It costs over 1.7 million dollars per day to run those 22 hospitals and Shriner’s are responsible for raising that money thru circuses and other fundraisers. They may play and have a good time…. but make no mistake, they work very hard also.

    There are also several Masonic Homes throughout the United States which are also supported by the Freemasons.

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