Actually, I have finished reading the novel way back in 2007, so it doesn’t bother me at all that I’m going to miss the movie version, which is currently making its rounds in cinemas everywhere.
Besides, I was never a fan of best-selling books turned into movies. Sure, some of the best movies of all time were actually based on equally popular novels. Gone with the Wind, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, even The Silence of the Lambs, the Narnia movies, Harry Potter (at least, the later ones) and so many others matched the legendary reputation of their book counterparts, or immortalized many fictional characters, like James Bond. And yet, for every movie that at least gave justice to the book version, ten movie adaptations of some books will end up as mediocre or trashy version of the book, achieving mainstream success mainly because of the immense popularity of the book. Such were the fate of so many books and other literary works in the past few years, such as the Bourne trilogy, The Golden Compass, Devil Wears Prada, Beowulf and, in particular, unarguably one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while: Twilight. I suspect that Angels & Demons will also end up with the same outcome, much like the previous movie The Da Vinci Code.
For the record, I acquired A&D simultaneously with the other novels by Dan Brown, namely The Da Vinci Code, Digital Fortress and Deception Point. Of these, A&D and DVC features the same protagonist: Robert Langdon. He is a professor at Harvard and a noted symbologist, having written many books on the subject.
I knew that A&D came first before DVC, publication-wise and within the timeline of the two novels. The events that happened in A&D occurred a year before the incidents in DVC. Dan Brown’s novels were typically criticized for using formulaic plots, and the two Langdon novels are no exception. The two novels started with the murder of a very prominent person. Langdon will receive a communication from a person related to the murdered person, requesting for his expertise in his field to help solve the crime. He will be paired with a female character that has a direct relation to the murdered person. What follows is a “treasure hunt” and a chase, until the final confrontation. The chase is slightly different between the two novels. In DVC, Langdon is on the run because he’s the primary suspect for the murder, in A&D, he is on the hunt for the murderer, the antagonist in the story, by following him thru the “treasure map”. It doesn’t end in the final showdown, though, as the plot will reveal a twist that’s going to shatter the fabric of the story. A&D was better than DVC in my opinion because the twist was well-implemented and revealed better. But for the record, the plots are well-suited for movie adaptation.
However, there’s more to Brown’s novels than the plot. One of the defining characteristics of the two Langdon novels was the use of heavily sensitive topics in science and religion. DVC, of course, has been very controversial because it questioned the authenticity of the Bible. But more than that, the novels revolve around something exaggerated as ancient conflicts that have spanned centuries, enacted by secret societies. In DVC’s case, the conflict involves the growing Church and an ancient organization that supposedly holds the secret artifact that can topple the very foundation of the Church. The organization was the Priory of Sion, the relic was the Holy Grail.
Whereas DVC aims to discredit religion, A&D treats religion in a completely opposite light. This time, the novel aims to reconcile science and religion, considered to be something like oil and water, completely immiscible. This time, the conflict is about the Church’s claim of being the sole holder of the Truth, and the threat of Science to make religion obsolete because of Science’s monopoly on modern-day miracles.
The murder involves Leonardo Vetra, one of the chief scientists in CERN, and a unique one as well, because in addition to being a scientist, he’s also a priest. The identity of the secret organization was also revealed: The Illuminati. What’s more shocking was how it was revealed, by having it branded on the chest of the victim. Moreover, the seal is unique because it was symmetrical, revealing the same word when rotated 180°, a perfectly crafted ambigram, proving the authenticity of the organization. The murder was initiated presumably by the head of the organization, Juno, by enlisting the help of another ancient cult, the Assassins.
While the novels were completely fictional, they were made more realistic by supplying facts based on extensive research to support any information on the book, similar to the style used by Michael Crichton (who wrote Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain and Timeline, among others) in writing his books. Brown’s books, however, leans less on scientific matters and more on fields on humanities such as history, linguistics and others. Langdon’s character as a symbologist is just fitting, because on many instances, he had to explain the history behind the involved groups, the significance of pyramids, obelisks, pentacles and many other symbols, or the etymology of a word. Trivia nuts (like me) will no doubt revel in the wealth of information they can absorb from Brown’s novels, such as the origin of many words such as villain, why the Eiffel tower is an appropriate symbol for France, the mysterious appeal of Mona Lisa and the beauty of PHI, the golden ratio which is also known as the divine proportion (PHI, which has the value 1.618, is defined as the ratio of a line segment to the line if the ratio of the line segment, which is the longer one, to the whole line is equal to the ratio of the smaller segment to the longer segment). In fact, A&D is worth reading if only to see the ambigrammatic Illuminati seals and the mythical “Illuminati diamond,” which was described as “a flawless diamond, born of the ancient elements with such perfection that all those who saw it could only stand in wonder.” Trust me, you will too.