Is The Lost Symbol Dan Brown’s Great Work?


By Neal Comment

We were poking around the archives trying to find this particular item we’d written years ago about Dan Brown‘s prose stylings, pursuant to something we wanted to say about The Lost Symbol, when we came across a post from January 2008 referencing a WSJ article wondering when the novel would come out—and the answer Jeffrey Trachtenberg got out of Stephen Rubin back then was this: “Dan Brown has a very specific release date for the publication of his new book, and when the book is published, his readers will see why.”

(Rubin used to be the publisher of the former Doubleday Publishing Group, resigning when it was dismantled late last year; he was rehired a few months later in a “publisher at large” capacity, giving him wandering rights throughout Random House.)

So, let’s say we believe Rubin’s “very specific release date” assertion: Why September 15? Originally, Trachtenberg observed that September 18 was a significant date in the Masonic history of America’s founding fathers, but close, as they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Meanwhile, we can’t say we’ve gone over the book line by line, we don’t recall any internal evidence that the story takes place on any particular night, let alone the night of September 14 or 15. (Please feel free to correct us if we’ve overlooked the clues.)

Personally, we were going to go with the absurdist notion that Brown was privately celebrating the birthday of Italy’s King Umberto II, implying that he himself is the second coming of Umberto Eco, or of fellow conspiracy theory popularizer Oliver Stone. But then Wikipedia told us September 15 was the second day of the Eleusinian Mysteries, specifically, the day of the rites’ public commencement, and there’s this whole line of speculation that the secret rites of the Freemasons can be traced back to the Mysteries…

(UPDATE: Before you get too far into the theory we’re about to lay out, we have heard back from a spokesperson at Doubleday, who tells us: “The significance to The Lost Symbol release date is classic Dan Brown fun: September 15, 2009 or 09+15+09=33,” which is a number of great significance for Freemasons.)

Now, this may just be crazy talk, but one of the most significant developments in 20th-century ceremonial magic was the rise in popularity of individualized sigils—rather than simply manipulating the handed-down symbols of traditional occultism, Austin Osman Spare pioneered the creation of abstract designs to which personal meanings and intentions were ascribed. Subsequent “chaos magicians” such as Peter Caroll picked this ball up and ran with it; then there’s the elaborate twist known as the hypersigil, defined by Wikipedia as “an extended work of art with magical meaning and willpower.” Or, to put it another way, you could write a book filled with all sorts of symbolism, some of which might be apparent to readers and some of which might be kept hidden from them, but all of which would be charged by their attention—the application of millions of human consciousnesses all ruminating upon the same sets of symbols and concepts.

You could even call it an “intention experiment,” if you wanted. (But why, you ask? We can get into that later…)

As we say, this may all be nonsense, and the September 15 date simply a matter of exigency. But we wouldn’t rule out all possibility of some deliberate allegorical layers of meaning in a novel in which [MILD SPOILER ALERT] a man is dragged down to the sub-sub-basement of the Capitol Building in the early evening and finds himself standing atop the dome to witness the next morning’s sunrise—would you? As for having said novel officially published on a date which commemorates very specific mythic imagery… well, we’ve seen stranger things happen in this business.