Friday, January 30, 2015

'The Unauthorized Dan Brown Companion' on 'Deception Point'

Having just finished audio-reading Deception Point by Dan Brown, I decided to pick up The Unauthorized Dan Brown Companion, edited by John Helfers, off my bookshelf. You may recall from my review of Breaking the Da Vinci Code that I enjoy reading nonfiction books about Dan Brown's fiction. I love books about books in general.

Skimming through the first chapter, "Dan Brown: The Man and His Fiction," I realized I didn't know anything about Dan Brown as a person. I discovered that:

- He was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, which is also the birthplace of the American novelist John Irving (The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp).

- He attended his hometown's prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy boarding school, where his father was a mathematics teacher.

- His mother was a performer and teacher of sacred music.

- He then went to Amherst College in Massachusetts. Amherst is the home of the Emily Dickinson Museum, and it possesses about half of Dickinson's manuscripts. Dickinson attended Amherst Academy, the secondary school that was the predecessor of Amherst College. Amherst College was all-male until 1960.

- He also studied art history in Sevilla, Spain. The book doesn't say whether or not he earned a degree.

- His first career choice was musician, but he was shy and awkward when performing in front of people.

- After abandoning his musical career, Brown taught English and creative writing at Phillips Exeter.

- The first book he wrote was a book of limericks.

- Brown and his wife Blythe Newlon - a painter and art historian - co-wrote a humorous dating guide called 187 Men to Avoid under the pen name "Danielle Brown."

- His first novel, Digital Fortress, was inspired in part when one of his students was visited by the Secret Service after joking about killing President Clinton in an e-mail. He set part of that novel in Sevilla.

The next interesting chapter is the fifth, "From Indiana Jones to Robert Langdon: Great Academic Heroes in Fact and in Fiction." The list is as follows:

Indiana Jones
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)
Dr. Benton Quest (Jonny Quest)
Fox Mulder
Sherlock Holmes
Buckaroo Banzai

On Indiana Jones, I have most definitely had a crush. I mean, Harrison Ford, right? I think I watched Temple of Doom about a thousand times when I was kid. Indy was smooth, suave. He knew what to do in every situation. Best of all, he was an archaeologist! That's what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I was constantly checking Egyptology, archaeology, and anthropology books out of the library. My childhood fascination with Indiana Jones was, no doubt, a key moment in the development of my sapiosexuality.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one classic I never read. Perhaps I should; according to Helfers' book, "Sir Percy ends up married to the most beautiful, most intelligent woman in the known world..." If he can appreciate the world's most intelligent woman, he sounds like a keeper. Also, it is said that with this novel, the Baroness invented the superhero genre.

I'm pretty sure I read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park only after seeing the movie, and I'm also pretty sure I had a crush on Dr. Malcolm as played by Jeff Goldblum.

I vaguely remember watching Jonny Quest as a small child - I watched many Hanna-Barbera cartoons - but I cannot specifically remember Benton Quest. "Buckaroo Banzai" is a name that only sounds vaguely familiar - maybe from an '80s movie I was too young to watch.

Now, Fox Mulder - I had quite the crush on him for a while. It's a bit weird to me, though, that the list is exclusively male. If anyone should be on this list, it's Dana Scully. She was the scientist. If I remember correctly, she was a physician. Mulder was more of conspiracy theorist than an academic. In fact, I'm pretty sure Indiana Jones is the only college professor on this list.

Of course I love Sherlock Holmes - in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, on Elementary, and in the Guy Ritchie films. (I watched the initial episode of the BBC Sherlock, "A Study in Pink," but it failed to arouse my interest.) Holmes isn't, strictly speaking, an academic, but he was inspired by a real-life one, a professor of medicine.

Indeed, the fictional men of this list are attractive to me. It seems that some female fictional characters who are known for both their intelligence and their adventurous side could have been added. What about Lara Croft, tomb raider? Like Indiana Jones, she's an archaeologist. (Okay, so she's from a video game and a movie, not from a book.)

Michael Tolland can certainly be added to the list of sexy action-scientists.

The largest portion of this book is the concordance, consisting of alphabetical entries of people, places, and things found in Dan Brown's novels up to The Da Vinci Code. The most interesting entries are from the first two Robert Langdon novels, because they have all that great art and architecture in them. I didn't really learn much more about the science of Deception Point, but some of the more interesting entries include:

The Lincoln Bedroom: "Though President Lincoln never used it himself, his son Willie died in the bed of typhoid fever at age 11, in 1962. Ever since, numerous sightings of Lincoln's ghost in the room have been reported by White House guests." In the novel, Michael Tolland tries to amuse Rachel Sexton with a terrible impression of Lincoln's ghost. This is shortly before he tries to seduce her with his knowledge of jellyfish mating rituals.

Olivine: "A material silicate that crystallizes from magma rich in nesium and iron but low in silica. Also called chrysolite, olivine's characteristic yellow-green to olive-green color gives the mineral its name. Transparent olivine can be cut into gemstones known as peridot. It is one of the most common minerals on Earth by volume and has been discovered in meteorites, on Mars, and on the moon."

Red Room: "The Red Room in the White House originally served as the president's antechamber for the Cabinet Room or the President's Library...It remained yellow until 1845, when First Lady Sarah Polk furnished the room in crimson and ruby and it became known as the Red Room," So really, it has nothing to do with Fifty Shades of Gray.

Seahorse mating: "Seahorses are the only known species on the planet in which the male gets pregnant. Seahorses mate for life, and they will even mate across different seahorse species. The female packs the male's breeding bag with nutrients, then snuggles up close to deposit orange-colored eggs inside for the male to fertilize. When mating they link their tails together and do a kind of dance.

"Gestation is only three weeks, resulting in the live birth of between fifteen and one thousand five hundred baby seahorses!...Amazingly, seahorses can get pregnant again almost immediately."

Skyquakes: "Skyquakes are earth-shaking booming sounds, often described as sounding like cannon fire. Louder than thunder or the sonic booms created by aircraft, they often occur on bright, sunny days and are unaffected by weather.

"Skyquakes have been witnessed all over the world and throughout history, including by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1808. Though scientists postulate that some skyquakes are caused by the testing of secret aircraft or meteors disintegrating in the atmosphere, there is still no definitive answer as to what they are."

Sphyrna mokarran: "Sphyrna mokarran is the scientific name for hammerhead sharks...There are nine different species of hammerhead sharks, ranging from three feet in length to twenty. Found in warm water near the coastlines, they are the only species of sharks to travel in schools."

I like sharks. Top predators are good for their environments, and the ocean needs its sharks. They are beautiful fish. They may occasionally eat a person, but not out of maliciousness. They're simply a hungry animal trying to survive.

I like science and history. That's some of what I enjoy when I read Dan Brown's books.

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