blog by Cindy Bushey
Fiction has often predicted technological advances long before the reality. If we cast our minds back to the days of the Dick Tracy comic strip and the two-way wrist radios with video capabilities, it is not a large leap forward to today’s smart phones and the Apple watch that is on the horizon. In like manner, Zion’s Readers were introduced to some up-and-coming scientific advances in April’s selection: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Subjects viewed by many of us as “way out there”, to quote one reader, turned out to actually be contemporary in scope and research. In his inimitable fashion, Mr. Brown wrapped these new scientific endeavors around the rituals and beliefs of Feemasonry to produce an entertaining, engrossing novel.
Many of our readers know men who are members of the Freemason Guild, a fraternal organization that traces its roots back to the end of the 14th century when the Guild regulated its members’ qualifications and interaction with clients. There are various degrees conferred as a mason advances in the organization and special passwords, signs, and handshakes. The masons have a sister guild for women – the Order of the Eastern Star. The guilds have grown beyond the craft of stone masonry and become service organizations. While the masons’ aim is to do good, improve personal knowledge, and advance the cultures of the world, their secrecy lends itself to imaginative authors such as Dan Brown. As with all his novels, he has done an extraordinary amount of research and crammed his book full of facts and tantalizing speculations. Sometimes the sheer volume of information can threaten to overwhelm the plot line, and it does not help that, as one of our readers remarked, there is no conspiracy too small to pique the author’s interest. Nevertheless, he crafts a great story that transports his readers to a different place as well as characters who can intrigue and repel while keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
In this case, the place is Washington, D.C., and the mystery involves a Masonic puzzle whose solution will supposedly confer great powers. Great historical Masonic members such as George Washington are introduced by the author to lay the background for the story. We also learned of the existence of the very real Noetic Science Institute founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell after he returned from walking on the moon. Convinced that the universe is not random and operates according to the original architect’s plan, he founded the institute. Noetic science can best be explained as a multidisciplinary field using objective scientific tools and techniques along with subjective inner knowledge to study the full range of human experience. Trying to prove that the mind can influence and affect the body (think biofeedback techniques), that the soul is not just real but quantifiable, that human cells can be altered when enough brain power is focused on them – this is the realm of Noetics. Its aims complement the Masonic pursuit of knowledge for betterment of the human condition. Indeed, one reader suggested that the great Masonic experimental search for truth is the great American experience in microcosm. However that may be, the author easily allows the readers to suspend disbelief and embrace the premise of the novel. Enter Robert Langdon, a specialist in the study of symbols and a recurring character in Mr. Brown’s novels. Langdon is trapped in the middle of the mystery and must solve the ancient symbols and clues to save a friend and mentor. Naturally, someone with evil intent is also trying to solve the mystery and using Langdon to do the work much as a puppet master pulls the strings. The author deftly pulls the readers into the tension, and he very effectively uses short chapters to maintain the suspense and weave an aura of danger and insanity around the villainous, weird character of Mal’akh.
As the story charges toward the denouement, Mr. Brown unleashes yet another stunning twist to the plot with strong overtones of Abraham and Isaac. Without giving away the ending, the author manages to bring it to completion and perfectly demonstrate why we read novels in the first place – to learn new things and to escape reality. Although it was almost too easy to get lost in the breaking of the code, the story still raised some moral questions for Zion’s readers, and we wondered, as parents, at the paths children can take and how we would have acted in circumstances similar to those in this novel. We also felt a renewed interest in the great monuments in our capitol and thought there must be an entrepreneur somewhere who could use this novel as a basis to design a tour of Washington, D.C. – our Book Club might have to take a field trip if that happens! For fun and enjoyment, this novel was voted one thumb up by all our readers, and we look forward to more engaging stories from this author.