The Dan Brown Formula: “Angels & Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code.”

Warning: Major Spoilers For Both Books.


So, I just finished reading Angels & Demons (AD), and I’m quite perplexed. I read Da Vinci Code (DVC) first, a couple years ago, even though it’s technically the sequel. Let me just say this, as it really establishes everything I could say about the books: I couldn’t remember too much about DVC, as it’s been a while since I last read it; however, everything about AD was so similar that by the end of the book, I remembered basically every detail of DVC. Both books are so amazingly similar in both plot and characters that it’s ridiculous. I call this the Dan Brown Formula, and an interesting formula I thought it was. At least, until a wild variable slightly broke the formula, but I’ll get to that later. Instead, I want to use this space to discuss both books and review them.

The basic concept of both books is thus: A man is murdered while some kind of strange symbol is embedded into his skin. Robert Langdon is called in the middle of the night to supposedly examine this symbol further. While there, he meets the daughter of the murdered man (who is always native to whatever country he’s in, and can also speak fluent English). They are then caught up in an event that has time counting down to a zero hour in which they must discover something that should never be discovered before it’s too late. Along the way, a bunch of religious things are discussed, bringing in symbology talk, history, and sometimes science. That is the formula in its most basic form. To extend it further, in order to specify the controversy of each book, AD is about the Illuminati supposedly trying to destroy the Vatican, while DVC is about the Holy Grail (the fact the Jesus and Mary Magdalene hooked up and had kids).

To extend this formula further, let us look at the prime archetypes of the characters in each book:

The Symbologist: Robert Langdon in both books.

The Murdered: Museum Curator, Jacques Sauniere in DVC; Scientist, Leonardo Vetra in AD.

The Daughter: Sophie Neveu in DVC; Vittoria Vetra in AD.

The Killer: The albino monk, Silas in DVC; The unnamed Hassassin in AD.

Animal Nicknamed Tough Cop: Bezu “The Bull” Fache in DVC; Commander “The Viper” Olivetti and Rocher (I forgot the animal name) in AD.

The Cripple: Sir Leigh Teabing in DVC; Maximilian Kohler in AD.

Good Yet Dedicated Underling Cop: Collet in DVC; Chartrand in AD.

Ambiguous Religious Figure Who Controls The Killer: Aringarosa in DVC; The Camerlengo in AD.

Every character is highly similar to their counterpart with two (and a half) major differences. First I’ll discuss the lesser of the two: The Killer. In AD, the Hassassin was an incredibly boring villain. Sure, he was dastardly and evil, but he had no depth. He was what he was, and that’s all that he was. Silas, on the other hand, had a lot more depth and history, and the way he was written actually made the reader sympathize with him to a degree. Silas was one of the many improvements that DVC had over AD, in my opinion.

The bigger differentiation is The Cripple. In DVC, Sir Leigh Teabing is actually the bad guy all along. In AD, the book makes you believe, even up until the last 50 pages, that Kohler is also the bad guy (I even thought I had it pegged from about page 30). However, the book threw me for a loop when it announced that the Camerlengo was the bad guy all along. Kohler was actually good! He was an asshole, but he was still good.

This brings me to one of the points I have wherein I believe AD did something better than DVC: the twist ending. Even reading DVC, I remember seeing Leigh as the bad guy from far off. With the Camerlengo, on the other hand, I was caught completely by surprise. When he jumped out of the helicopter without Langdon and the only parachute, at first I was like “what a jackass.” Then it slowly hit me what was really going on. From that moment, I had everything figured out. But not until that moment. However, in the same vein, there’s a plot hole I still can’t figure out. When the Hassassin is talking to Langdon, he says that his boss, Janus, is currently flying in to Rome. But that couldn’t be true, as he was already there. Kohler was flying in. So either this was a major mistake that nobody seemed to catch, or one stupid, illogical attempt at throwing off the reader to the identity of the real bad guy.

On the subject of the end of the book, though, I felt that AD was ultimately weaker than DVC. AD just felt like it dragged on and on as if it were never going to end. And while DVC did something similar, it didn’t feel as tedious, because there were still important plot twists being revealed up through the very last pages. In AD, by the time there’s 50 pages left, there’s nothing left to reveal. It just drags and continues to give pointless flashbacks and such.

And speaking of dragging, I am brought to my next point of discussion. When I first read DVC, I was sucked into it almost immediately. It had me from page one and I never wanted to put the book down. AD, on the other hand, took me about a week to finish. I didn’t get interested until about page 30; I didn’t get hooked until about page 300; and I didn’t get to the point where I didn’t want to put the book down until about page 450. In a book that’s only 669 pages, that’s really bad. I think a lot could have been easily trimmed back to shorten the book’s overall length and pacing. A lot of it had to do with the fact that Langdon was way out of his element for the first 100+ pages of the book, constantly confused and having no idea what was going on as everybody constantly discussed scientific stuff.

With a couple exceptions (such as Silas), the characters in both books are relatively flat and static. The plots are linear and highly similar, though intriguing. The historical interconnectedness is fun, even though a lot of history or science buffs tend to complain about the inaccuracies. But I don’t really care about that. I read the books for entertainment, not to learn lessons in art or history or science. And were they entertaining? Yes. I often hear people arguing over which book is the better one. In my opinion, DVC is the more entertaining of the two, though AD did have its merits (such as the twist).

So what does this all really mean? Since both Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code follow The Dan Brown Formula so similarly, and because The Da Vinci Code movie, for all intents and purposes, sucked… it will be almost certain to say that the Angels & Demons movie will suck, as well… as it’s pretty much the same thing, different location and character names (except Langdon… who is still being played by Tom Hanks. Why?).

1 comment:

  1. I think this formula is almost the same in "The Lost Symbol" and "Inferno" The big difference is that the girl who speaks the local language is not the daughter of the murdered guy. So you can see he is getting more creative.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.