Thursday, September 24, 2009

My thoughts on The Lost Symbol

I finished reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol last night. It took me longer to get through than I anticipated for two reasons: 1) This book is not a "page turner," and 2) I've been very busy over the last two weeks.

Since the book was released on September 15 I have purposely not read any reviews or blog posts about it, whether by Masons or non-Masons. I did not want the impressions of others to prejudice my own reading of the novel. So, untainted by the commentary of others, here are my impressions of The Lost Symbol after a first reading:

First, just from a plot standpoint, the storyline is very slow to develop and it never really takes off as in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Dan Brown seems to have a set formula for his Langdon novels, and he has repeated it here: A bizarre and deluded "bad guy," a female victim, a "secret" that has world-wide implications if reveled, and Robert Langdon as the hero/protagonist.

Of course, my main interest in this book was how Freemasonry would be presented and how the book would affect the fraternity. I am happy to report that Brown portrays Masonry in a positive light and nothing about the storyline is disparaging in any way to Masons or Masonry. That being said, however, I was disappointed in the lack of depth in how Masonry is portrayed in the novel. Whether it was intentional on Brown's part, or reflects superficial research, is open for debate. What is troubling are the flat out inaccuracies regarding Masonry in general, and the Scottish Rite in particular. These are errors that even a modicum of research would reveal. For example, no Mason ever attains the 32nd degree in his local lodge. The 32nd degree is part of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry and is conferred by the Consistory of the Royal Secret, the body within the various local Scottish Rite valleys that governs the 31st and 32nd degrees in the Southern Jurisdiction, or the 19th through the 32nd degrees in the Northern Jurisdiction. The highest degree conferred in any local (or "Blue") lodge is Master Mason, the Third Degree.

The Scottish Rite as portrayed in Brown's novel is clearly the Southern Jurisdiction, the headquarters of which is at the House of Temple in Washington, D.C. At the beginning of the story Brown depicts the villain, a 32nd degree Mason, being invested with the 33rd degree. In the Southern Jurisdiction no one can proceed directly from the 32nd degree to the 33rd. You must first be inducted into the order of the Knight Commanders of the Court of Honor (K.C.C.H.), and then you may at a later time (after a prescribed period) be invited to join the ranks of the 33rd degree. It's also important to note that unless you are one of the 33 active members of the Supreme Council, the 33rd degree is strictly an honorary degree. Brown never states it explicitly, but the depiction he gives of the induction of the villain into the 33rd degree within the Temple Room of the House of the Temple would seem to imply the man is being inducted into the Supreme Council. And regarding the Supreme Council, Brown once again shows a lack of basic research when he refers to the leader as the "Worshipful Master" of the House of the Temple. A "Worshipful Master" is the head of a local lodge. The head of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite is the Sovereign Grand Commander.

Brown depicts the ring worn by 33rd degree Masons as a highly stylized one with a double-headed "phoenix" and a triangle with the number "33" in the middle. Again, some basic research would reveal that the 33rd degree ring is actually a triple band of gold with nothing more on it than a triangle with the number "33" inside the triangle. Also, one of the symbols of the Scottish Rite is a double-headed eagle, not a phoenix as Brown describes it.

The use of Masonry in this story is superficial at best. I can think of numerous ways Brown could have made this novel more appealing to Masons and more intriguing for non-Masons. The history of the United States has a rich Masonic tradition that is barely touched on in The Lost Symbol. Freemasonry and the Scottish Rite have a diverse philosophical and esoteric nature that Brown could have more fully utilized in the storyline. And I'm not talking about Masonic "secrets," but rather clear and open teachings of the fraternity that are out there for anyone to read. (If only Brown had visited the bookstore at the House of the Temple and spent a few hundred dollars his story could have been the better for it.)

To sum up, I have to say I was disappointed in The Lost Symbol. There was so much promise and potential given Dan Brown's story telling abilities, but this time he just doesn't deliver the goods.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reading The Lost Symbol

I just picked up a copy of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It will probably take me 2 or 3 days to get through it, and then I'll be posting my thoughts.