The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Dan Brown parody

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Dan Brown is a hilariously bad writer. The Da Vinci Code was an outrageously successful book.
So it was only inevitable that in addition to all the delicious criticism of Dan Brown’s writing,1 there would also be a number of parodies of his books published, and indeed there have been several.2 While looking for something in the library, I found The Da Vinci Cod: A Fishy Parody by “Don Brine” (real name Adam Roberts) and quickly proceeded to borrow it and read it. It was a good two hours spent, which is more than can be said for Dan Brown’s books themselves. Although the author is a professor of literature at London University, the book manages to remain true to the awful writing and plot of the original. I heartily recommend reading the book if you come across it; for a taste of what it’s like, some excerpts follow. You can also see parts of the book at Google Books.

Page 1 is titled “FACT”:

This is a work of parody. Nevertheless, all the facts contained within this book are in fact, factually speaking, factitious

and goes on from there.

The tone of the book is captured by its opening sentence:

Jacques Sauna-Lurker lay dead in the main hallway of the National Art Gallery of Fine Paintings, in the heart of London, a British city, the capital of Britain, with a population density of approximately 10,500 people per square mile and a total population of approximately seven million people, unless by ‘London’ you include the Greater London Area, which has a population of about twenty million people and a slightly lower population per square mile.

Early in the book (p.14), its protagonist (“Robert Donglan”) finds a mysterious message written in blood: “THE CHATHOLIC CURCH HAD ME MURDERED!” After puzzling over the possibilities, he decides that it is an anagram of “H! THE ‘CCC’ COME HARD, HURDLE A COLT”. (Several chapters later, they have the brilliant insight that it is an “anagram” of “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAD ME MURDERED!”)

If the opening sentence does not make it clear what is so awful about Dan Brown’s narrative style, page 27 drives it in:

‘It’s a bit dark to be looking for clues…’ Robert pointed out.
Tutting, or tch-ing, or perhaps making a noise halfway between the two, Sophie flipped on the electric light switch. Electricity, the fluid action of movement of electrons from nucleus to nucleus, cascaded along the wires, governed by the equation (for current i) i = [dQ/dt] = nevA, where dQ is the amount of charge that crosses the plane in a time interval dt for n units of free charge passing along a wire with diameter A. Light filled the hallway.

Brown’s imaginative analogies get a mention on page 40:

Robert walked nervously over to the confessional and stepped inside. It was rather like a photo-booth except that it was made entirely from dark wood, and instead of a camera there was a wooden grill. And there was no slot for money, or any buttons, or any instruction panel telling you how to obtain a photograph. but I was hoping to suggest, rather, the overall scale of the confessional, and the fact that it had a little seat inside. Robert sat down.

So much for the description of objects. Next, people (p. 45):

The priest was an imposing figure; tall, broad-browed, raven-haired. Although, now I come to think of it, ravens don’t have hair; they have feathers, everyone knows that. His wide face was dominated by a massy pyramidical nose, above which his two tiny, almost circular eyes clustered close together, as if competing with one another to alight at the apex, like the image of the Illuminatus’s monument on the reverse of the American currency. He had a large black mole on his cheek of exactly the same colour as his large black cassock.

Scientific accuracy (p.51):

Sophie was crestfallen. Her crest fell at the rate of ten metres per second per second, which is the terminal velocity of any object dropped under the influence of Earth’s gravitational pull.

Malapropisms? (p57):

There was a pregnant pause. Not, perhaps I should clarify, a pause that lasted nine months. That would be more than pause, quite frankly. It would be more like a hiatus. Rather, a pause that contained within it the possibility of something that would only later come to light. A pause that might make you sick in the mornings.

Dan Brown’s overexplaining, on p. 79:

‘But,’ Teabag pointed out, ‘you said marry.’
‘Did I?’ said Sophie. ‘Really? That must have been a Freudian slip. I meant murder.’
‘Ah,’ said Robert. ‘A Freudian slip, really? One of those occasions, identified by the great Austrian psychotherapist Sigmund Freud, who as we all know was born in 1856 in Vienna and died in 1939 in London, when the subconscious mind subtly changes what we intended to say, replacing the word with one that carries some significant emotional cathexis from our Id?’
‘Yes,’ said Teabag, ‘one of those.’

In a reference to DB’s rubbish etymology for “sincere”, AR provides one of his own:

‘Mafia,’ said Sophie, ‘means my faith — ma-fia. It’s a spiritual designation, associated from its earliest days with the Papacy and the Catholic Church. But that’s only to say that it is a manifestation of a deeper secret organisation. They have tentacles everywhere — in Hollywood, where the Godfather films were made. In N.A.S.A., where the moon landings were faked. Here in Britain, where the Royal Family are run as a complex scam.’

One of the book’s shocking revelations is the existence of “Leonardo’s twin sister”, “Eda”. Here there is some informational value and the “truth by association” trick, with the author mentioning Shakespeare’s sister (actually, this one) and Dorothy Wordsworth (although it keeps to the spirit of the original, by not saying anything that is actually true).

The first mention of the Mona Lisa seems to be on p. 97, where it is described thus:

‘[…]Think of the Mona Lisa… Leonardo’s most famous image.’
‘Ah yes. The original smiley,’ said Robert, nodding. ‘Only not so yellow. Or so circular.’

There’s a lot more in the book, especially about cods (“The secret sign of the Cod [..] visible in any map of central London”) but I will let you discover all those shocking revelations by yourselves.

As a final shot, towards the end of the book (p. 165) there’s this:

[..] He had been shot in the stomach.
Robert, uncoiling from his instinctive flinch, smelt the tang of cordite in the air, and looked to Sophie. Cordite is an explosive propellent made from two chief ingredients, nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, to which has been added […]

I don’t mean criticisms of Dan Brown’s lying about history, or his utter ineptitude in matters like cryptography (for an author who writes books about it). I refer solely to criticism of his “literary” style, which includes “Even Dan Brown must live. Preferably not write, but live” from Salman Rushdie, “complete loose stool-water” and “arse gravy of the worst kind” from Stephen Fry, “intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese” (and of “Jokes for the John”) by Stephen King, but most of all Geoff Pullum’s brilliant bunch of posts at the Language Log. In what has been described (by a coauthor, it must be admitted) as “the funniest bits of stylistic criticism since Mark Twain took on Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” (itself a “tour de force“, read!), Geoff Pullum pointed out:

A quick search reveals at least
The Givenchy Code: An Homage and A Parody by E.R. Escober
The Givenchy Code (Code, Book 1) by Julie Kenner
The Dick Cheney Code: : A Parody by Henry Beard
The Da Vinci Mole: A Philosophical Parody by “Dr. Ian Browne”
The Michelangelo Code: A Parody by Kaye A. Thomas
Da Vinny Code by by Carson Leah,
not to mention the same book published as The Va Dinci Cod with evidently minor changes.

Update [2009-09-18]: The Guardian has a piece on Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences.

Edit: If you’re looking for more criticism of Dan Brown (writing only), you can find a lot of them through Google: say this and this.

Update: Post–Lost Symbol (which I haven’t read, but a friend said it was so bad he would “never read a book again”), there is more: Cradled in his palms: The genius of Dan Brown by Steven Poole, and Sam Anderson at New York Magazine set up the “Vulture Reading Room”. It begins with another sharp parody by him, and the rest of the observations are fun too.


Written by S

Sun, 2008-12-28 at 23:45:27

9 Responses

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  1. Ha, brilliant! Was it you who showed me those posts on The Language Log by Geoff Pullum? Thoroughly enjoyed those. But this book looks like essential reading (along with The Da Vinci Code, just to get the context, would you say?)!


    Sat, 2009-03-21 at 01:57:38

    • Possibly :) They are the same posts mentioned in the first “footnote” above.

      This book is fun, but I wouldn’t say it’s so good that reading The Da Vinci Code is an acceptable price to pay. :-)


      Sat, 2009-03-21 at 03:09:39

  2. Haha! I wonder if I can find that book here in India. :D

    Nice blog, stumbled across it while Googling for something completely unrelated.


    Fri, 2009-03-27 at 18:49:51

    • Thanks!
      The book is probably hard to find, given that it appeals to fewer people than Dan Brown does. ;)


      Fri, 2009-03-27 at 19:28:14

  3. Very nice post!

    First, a confession. I come by your blog once every few days and start reading, and promise myself that I’ll comment. But each post is so full of amazing, hilarious, fascinating links that I end up opening about 25 tabs by the time I’m halfway through, and meander off.

    Allow me to construct an obnoxious and utterly wannabe analogy. My usual procedure of reading a blog is like a random walk: read something, open a link in a new tab, read that, open whatever links _that_ has in another tab, then come back to the first thing, etc. Most blogs I read (written by real people; I’m sick of information porn from crowdsourced sites like reddit and viscerally hate automated aggregators like Google News) are one-dimensional in that they speak of this or that about one topic, and link to articles on the same topic. Fine. A smaller fraction of blogs are about analogies and observations, and usually speak of a couple of unrelated topics and draw relations. Still fair enough. But a blog like this is truly different in that there’s such a colossally vast spectrum of things written about that it is literally multi-dimensional. And just like a random walk in dimensions > 2, the probability that I’ll return to my starting point is necessarily < 1 :-) [*]

    But atrocious alibis aside, this post is fantastic! I was laughing my ass off reading the snippets you chose! The funny part is that I actually quite like Dan Brown novels _because_ the overexplaining serves as a first neutron [#]. And 'rubbish etymology' for sincere? Come on! What will you claim next? That Fornicating Under Consent of King is
    not the true etymology? Cold facts ruining a beautiful story, bah! :-)

    Speaking of Dan Brown's plots, there's this small Southpark clip I'm desperately trying to find. It's been a long time since I saw it, and again I'm reconstructing entirely from memory: It's near the end of the episode, and there is an impasse in the plot. Two scientists (detectives?) find some strange phenomenon. They start an outrageous sequence of connections and leaps of logic, and in a jiffy everything is solved. Have you seen that episode?

    [*] Polya is said to have explained it thus: "A drunk man will eventually certainly come home, but a drunk bird will be lost forever" :-)

    [#] First neutron – [I'm sure there's a nicer standard English word/phrase for this, but I don't know it, and don't know how to find out] something that starts off a chain reaction of related events, like recursively reading articles on a topic. In this case, it's about things that I normally have no chance of ever learning about, like art or architecture. There's no way any of my traditional information sources will link to that, and these give me something to start wikiing about :-)


    Mon, 2009-10-12 at 15:02:06

    • Hi! Thanks for the comment… and apologies for taking so long to reply. I was going through a work-related crisis (which is still not over, but…).

      [It’s flattering that you find so much interesting here, especially when it’s intentionally intended to be otherwise :-), in the following sense. I feel quite ambivalent about the process of blogging itself, and don’t know how concerned to be about the fact that what started as a little hoarding corner began to dangerously metamorphosize into a “blog” and even have readers… So from time to time I post some stuff that I expect would be intensely uninteresting to anyone else, in order to make it clear, in a passive-agressive marking-territory kind of way, that I do not intend to ensure that any of this is entertaining to anyone. :P]

      My problem is not with overexplaining *per se* — every science-fiction story is doomed to do so to some extent — but that everything he says is utter bullshit. The plot of one of his books even *depends* on denying a fact about the uranium and plutonium bombs that every schoolchild knows. Even his trivially veriafiable claims (such as that “Mona Lisa” is an anagram of “Amon L’Isa”) turn out to be worthless, as they mean nothing. I don’t think there’s a single true sentence in all of his books put together. Despite this, he continues to churn out books prefaced with “Everything in this book is FACT”.
      And when he does explain, he invariably insults the reader’s intelligence. The Freud example is a good one (although it’s from the parody, not from Dan Brown) — firstly, everyone knows what a Freudian slip is, and secondly, even to someone who doesn’t, Freud’s date of birth and residence are of absolutely no value in understanding the thing. (And thirdly, no one on earth talks like that, but let’s let that pass for now.)

      I haven’t seen many Southpark episodes, actually… so not that one, sorry.

      BTW, even if you don’t read Geoff Pullum’s posts about Dan Brown, you should read Mark Twain’s “Fenimoore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” — it’s just brilliant, and seems to have directly brought down the reception of the whole genre from admiration to amusement. :-)


      Sun, 2009-10-18 at 22:44:11

  4. […] Dan Brown’s apocalypse, which can only be preferable to reading any more of his dross; […]

  5. […] Soll ich mich noch zum Stil von Brown äußern? Aber ich glaube, diese Kritik ist schon lang genug, und auf dem Fach gibt es kompetentere Kritiker; daher hier nur zwei Links: hier und hier. […]

  6. Wow…I actually sorta like Dan Brown’s books but this got me rolling with laughter. It’s just brilliant and I’ve got to admit, brutally honest.


    Thu, 2018-09-13 at 09:02:38

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