More on Dan Brown’s Inferno

Readers of my columns in the Review Atlas will be familiar with my opinion that Dan Brown is a terrible writer. Terrible, but a crowd pleaser.

This opinion is shared by Robert Pogue Harrison in the latest New York Review of Books (Oct 24, 2013). [Don’t ask me why they mailed their issue so far ahead of the delivery date.]

Pogue writes about Professor Langdon’s opening lecture on Dante, “Like everything else in this astonishingly bad novel, Langdon’s lectures lacks verisimilitude. Delivered in a great hall to over two thousand people who gasp, sigh, or murmur at every commonplace remark, it serves as a narrative ploy to convey rudimentary information about Dante to the uninformed reader.”

I’ve taught the Inferno often enough to both recognize its incredible richness and my limitations in understanding it. The language isn’t the problem, since anyone who knows Italian can read a well-footnoted edition that explains the obsolete words and obscure references, but the combination of social norms in a changing society, Catholic theology in an era of stress, and tumultuous politics as expressed by an intensely partisan poetic genius.

Let it be noted: seldom do poetic geniuses stand back dispassionately and observe the contemporary scene.

Langdon does. Or thinks he does. This paper cutout that represents Dan Brown’s view of himself, alas, doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

As Pogue says, “Brown’s novel has a case of characters, to be sure, yet it has no interest in tracking the inner motivations of the souls or probing the muddled sources of their motivation. His characters are so thoroughly vapid and cartoonish that one suspects that Brown deliberately refrained from giving them any psychological density for fear that this would merely create friction on the high-speed rails on which his thriller races along.” Then the killer line, “The good news, for readers who go along for the ride, is that the novel reaches its destination quickly.”

None too quickly for me, though i will probably pick up his next novel. There is something about a terrible accident that makes people crowd in to look.

Literature is the heart of a liberal education, and one must read bad literature to know what good literature is.

If there were no hell, could we properly appreciate heaven?

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