Dan Brown has been writing his thriller novels under the
forbidding eye of Zeus, the king of gods. Which is a bit
ironic, given that Brown vaulted to fame, success and
best-seller lists by being a bit of an iconoclast,
employing faith-shaking premises challenging ideas about
religion and God as plot devices.
first blockbuster, "The Da Vinci Code," was a
puzzle-filled thriller that introduced readers to the
notion that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married
latest page-turner, "Origin," goes even
further, playing with the idea that science could
ultimately triumph over religion by essentially proving
the nonexistence of God.
true that the god that watches over Brown as he writes
is actually a cat, a massive orange and white tabby that
adopted Brown after it wandered over from the neighbor’s
house near Portsmouth, N.H., five years ago and never
ancient Egyptians once revered cats as demigods, and
since then, cats like Zeus have never let Brown and the
rest of us forget it. "He’s very big. Very, very
territorial. Does not like it when I leave. When my
suitcase comes out, he actually gets quite upset,"
Brown said of Zeus. "He sits on my desk for eight
hours a day when I’m writing."
has been a muse of sorts for Brown’s latest book,
the fifth thriller to star Robert Langdon, the tweedy
but dashing Harvard professor of "symbology and
religious iconology," who was played by Tom Hanks
in the movie adaptations.
book kicks off with Langdon present at the Guggenheim
Museum in Bilbao, Spain, when tech billionaire Edmond
Kirsch prepares to announce a scientific breakthrough
that will answer man’s "universal
mysteries": Where do we come from and where are we
Brown’s telling, Kirsch’s answer threatens to render
all religions into myths as obsolete as Zeus. But the
billionaire is assassinated before he can reveal what he’s
you can say secret conspiracy, Langdon is racing around
Spain in the company of the "spectacularly
beautiful" Ambra Vidal, who also happens to be the
museum director and the fiancée to the next king of
and Vidal decide they must find the 47-character
password that will unlock Kirsch’s discovery while
trying to stay out the clutches of the shadowy killers
trying to keep it secret.
they have the best ally a thriller hero could have: an
artificially intelligent digital helper named Winston, a
"Siri on steroids" capable of booking escapes
on private jets without security screening.
a first U.S. printing of 2 million copies,
"Origin" (Doubleday, $30) combines all the
elements of the Dan Brown formula that has sold more
than 200 million books and has been translated into 56
languages: codes, puzzles, treasure hunts, secretive
organizations and didactic explanations of obscure
Brown formula also means plots that are contained in a
24-hour period, with short chapters (105 spread over 461
pages in "Origin"), typically ending in
Brown also aspires to write "the thriller as
in between the places where the characters’ hearts
pound (or their pulses quicken or their adrenaline
surges), Brown pauses to drop in explanations of art,
architecture, history and science that he said he spent
a year reading up on before he started writing.
in some of his earlier books, Brown uses a conservative
Catholic sect as a plot element in "Origin."
This time it’s something called the Palmarian Church,
headed by an "antipope."
books, or the movies based on his books, have been
criticized by some for being anti-Catholic.
53, describes himself as agnostic, but not
mother was very, very religious. She was the church
organist. I sang in the choir," he said. As a
child, Brown said, "I believed in the Bible. I
believed in Adam and Eve."
his father, a math teacher who created treasure hunts
for his kids and introduced Brown to a passion for
secret codes, was an agnostic.
I had a foot in each world growing up," he said.
learned about evolution when he was about 9 years old,
and when he asked his Episcopalian priest about it,
"the priest told me, ‘Nice boys don’t ask that
I moved into the realm of science. I moved away from
religion," he said. "At some point, I realized
I can’t really embrace them both, and I started on
this journey of writing these books and trying to figure
out where the truth lies."
said technology, like religion, can be used for both
good and evil. But he objects when religion stands in
the way of scientific progress or "is used as an
excuse to have immunity from rational scrutiny."
mother died earlier this year of leukemia, and his
latest book is dedicated to her memory. Brown said her
life was extended because of an experimental drug
program based on genetic medicine.
mom had 10 years of life, and I had 10 years with her,
because of these technologies, and I think it’s
important we remember, and the church remembers, that
religion does not have the market cornered on
morality," he said.
BARRY MANILOW OF BOOKS
path to success wasn’t a straight one. Before he took
up writing, he hoped to be a singer-songwriter, the next
Barry Manilow or Billy Joel.
his music career failed to take off, he turned to
writing, first a humor book, "187 Men to
inspired by reading a Sidney Sheldon novel, he wrote a
techno-thriller, "Digital Fortress." His first
Robert Langdon novel, "Angels & Demons,"
and another techno-thriller, "Deception
Point," came next. He had to do his own publicity
for those first books, and he sold books out of his car
as he struggled to find readers.
was seriously considering not writing again," he
wrote of that time, describing his career in a witness
statement in a lawsuit against his publisher.
he changed his agent and got a new publisher, Doubleday,
which heavily promoted his next novel, "The Da
runaway success of that book in 2003 led Time magazine
to put Brown on its list of the world’s 100 most
influential people in 2005, crediting him with
"nothing less than keeping the publishing industry
September Forbes said Brown was the fourth-highest-paid
author in the world, pulling in an estimated $20 million
in the past year.
success has made him a target. Two lawsuits, both thrown
out by the courts, accused him of plagiarism. And
critics regularly bash Brown’s prose.
mega-seller Stephen King (fifth on the Forbes author
list) once lumped Dan Brown novels with "Jokes for
the John" as the "mental equivalent of Kraft
macaroni and cheese." Salman Rushdie described
"The Da Vinci Code" as "a novel so bad
that it gives bad novels a bad name."
the Washington Post, reviewer Ron Charles said
"Origin" was "so moronic you can feel
your IQ points flaking away like dandruff."
whether reviews like that hurt or if he cries all the
way to the bank, Brown said, "Kind of both.
just write the novel that I want to read, and I just
hope other people want to read it," he said.
said he has ideas for several more books involving his
hero Langdon, who he describes as "really the
person I wish I could be."
said Langdon is braver and smarter than he is, but there’s
one way they are alike: Langdon shares Brown’s
claustrophobia, thanks to an experience Brown had of
nearly falling into a well.
was something that almost happened to me as a child in
the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and it has stayed
with me, and I just made it the Achilles’ heel of this
character," he said.
novels may have a different hero.
got an idea for a novel about race relations in the
1960s. I’ve got ideas for techno-thrillers, government
conspiracy theories, all sorts of things, " Brown
first he has to get back from his international book
tour for "Origins" and home to his desk, where
he starts his writing day at 4 a.m., his computer
reminding him to take hourly breaks to do some pushups
or sit-ups, sip some butter-laced "bulletproof
coffee" and look out the window at the forests near
will be watching.