by Simon Cox,
Author of Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction
It was April 2009, and I was just arriving at the London Book Fair at the Earls Court Exhibition Halls. I was intending on catching up with friends, my UK publisher, and having a general look at what was new in the publishing world. However, I knew that something remarkable had happened the minute I had arrived. An air of excitement and expectation filled the packed halls, and smiles were emanating from all around. Grown men were close to tears.
I instantly knew what had happened: the new Dan Brown book had been announced.
This was to be the start of nearly five months of manic preparation and debate. Clues and hints would be given out, opinions bandied about, and crazed supposition would fill thousands of web pages. However, let’s wind back the clock to the publication of Brown’s previous Robert Langdon thriller, The Da Vinci Code, in 2003.
Back then, Dan Brown was a semisuccessful author of several thrillers, one of which was the first Robert Langdon novel, Angels & Demons, published in 2000. Sales had been average to poor, and Brown’s publisher decided to take a gamble with The Da Vinci Code, sending out ten thousand free copies to bookstores and their book buyers, reviewers, and trade professionals. The plan worked, and soon sales really began to take off.
At the time, I was the editor in chief of a U.S.-based newsstand magazine called Phenomena. The Da Vinci Code was starting to cause quite a stir within the alternative-history genre that I inhabited; in fact, several authors that I had worked for as a researcher had their work credited as source material for Brown’s book. (Phenomena even ran an article “casting” the movie version of The Da Vinci Code, should it ever come to pass. For the record, not one of the actors we thought would be so terrific in the roles of Dr. Robert Langdon, Sir Leigh Teabing, and the book’s other characters was cast for Ron Howard’s 2006 film starring Tom Hanks.) Eventually a small London publisher approached me about writing a short guide to The Da Vinci Code. The book, Cracking the Da Vinci Code, went on to become an international best seller in its own right. I subsequently wrote Illuminating Angels & Demons, a companion to Brown’s other Langdon-based novel.
Intriguingly, the dust jacket of the U.S. hardcover edition of The Da Vinci Code seemed to contain clues hinting at the next novel in the series. This fascinated me, and I found out all I could about these clues and the secrets that they potentially held.
Time passed, and rumors began circulating that a title had been chosen. The new book was to be called The Solomon Key — an apparent reference to a medieval book on magic with the same title. Impatiently, I began researching all that I could about this centuries-old text, which supposedly was written in Italy during the Renaissance but claimed a lineage that went all the way back to King Solomon himself. Perfect material for a Dan Brown thriller, I thought. Brown’s publishing team registered a new website, solomonkey.com, and everything seemed poised for the new book to arrive soon.
More time passed . . . and more time passed . . . and still no definitive word about the new book, though plenty of fresh rumors abounded: Brown had scrapped the book; there would be no follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. Brown, exhausted from having fended off a high-profile copyright-infringement lawsuit in London, had decided to take an extended break from writing. It was even claimed that the 2004 movie National Treasure, starring Nicolas Cage as a treasure hunter seeking a mysterious war chest hidden by the Founding Fathers, had stolen so much of the forthcoming book’s thunder that it required a complete rewrite. The unsubstantiated allegations were completely fanciful, of course, but they replicated over and over like a virus on the ever-conspiratorial internet sites that monitored the story, sending the rumor mill into overdrive.
Then came the 2009 London Book Fair. Only a couple of months before, I had predicted to my UK publisher that the announcement would indeed be made at the London event. More in hope than expectation, it has to be said, but accurate nonetheless.
A press release was handed out by Brown’s publishers, and suddenly a new title presented itself. The Lost Symbol, to be published on September 15, 2009. What could such an enigmatic title mean? What was lost? Which symbol? The race was on, the game was afoot, and I rushed headlong into research-and-reading mode. What you hold in your hands before you is the outcome of that labor.
Before long, a new website appeared, at www.thelostsymbol.com
, though nothing but a holding page was evident for quite a while. Then, out of the blue, the site added links to a Dan Brown Facebook page and Twitter feed. Excitement grew to fever pitch, as thousands of people became Facebook and Twitter followers of Dan Brown overnight.
Steadily, these new media outlets began to reveal tantalizing clues and tidbits of story line. With each revelation, I furiously took notes and researched everything I could find. It was as if a whole new world were opening up. It was a cornucopia of material, and I started ordering more new books for my library to cover some of the subjects mentioned.
Some of the clues actually gave coordinates to several locations, such as the so-called Bimini Road. This unusual underwater structure off the island of Bimini in the Bahamas is claimed to be a man-made edifice and a remnant of the lost island of Atlantis. I had spent two summers on Bimini a number of years back as part of my research for a book about Atlantis. “Great,” I thought, “now I have a head start on some of the material.” Coordinates were also given for the Great Pyramid of Giza, the last standing wonder of the ancient world and another place with which I was intimately familiar. Then there were coordinates to Newgrange in Ireland, a monumental passage tomb built around five thousand years ago. The stone structure is famous for its alignment to dawn on the winter solstice, when a narrow beam of light briefly illuminates the floor of the chamber. I had just visited Newgrange with the author and Freemason Chris McClintock.
Possible adversaries and secret societies were hinted at. Ciphers, codes, and cryptograms were revealed. Historical figures were mentioned. It was all adding up to a furious game of who could be first to reveal the answers to the clues. Websites sprang up detailing the background and history of some of the people, places, and groups being mentioned. It was an internet feeding frenzy.
Then I remembered something: Bishop Manuel Aringarosa, a character from The Da Vinci Code, whose name had a hidden meaning. Aringa is the Italian word for “herring”; rosa means “red.” Dan Brown liked to throw multiple red herrings into the mix. I began to look at the Twitter and Facebook clues in a new light. What if many of these were indeed red herrings? What if I were immersing myself in subjects that weren’t included in the published book? That’s when I stopped even looking at the Facebook and Twitter pages. After all, everything would be revealed on the day of publication, September 15.
Even this date, we were told, was part of the puzzle; chosen specifically for the book’s release. I began to check almanacs, history books, websites, conspiracy theorist blogs, but found nothing. Then it hit me: 09.15.09; 9 plus 15 plus 9 equals 33. So it was true. The Freemasons, and specifically Scottish Rite Freemasons, would be a central theme of the book — something that had been hinted at on the dust jacket of The Da Vinci Code years ago.
Then, before I knew it, publication day arrived. I began reading The Lost Symbol furiously. When I finished some twelve hours later, I realized that my suspicions had proved correct: many of the clues leaked over the previous months on Dan Brown’s Twitter and Facebook pages were indeed aringarosa — red herrings. There was no Morgan affair; no Aaron Burr; no William Wirt (and the strange story of his skull); no Knights of the Golden Circle; no substantial mentions of Albert Pike; no Benedict Arnold; no Confederate gold; no Babington plot; no Alexander Hamilton and the origins of the New York Stock Exchange; no Sons of Liberty; no Lost Colony of Roanoke; no Robert Hanssen, the U.S.-born Russian spy; no Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.
Cleverly, there was no Key of Solomon, either. Instead we have a family with the surname of Solomon, who hold the keys to the eventual outcome. The Great Pyramid figures in the story, though not prominently and not in the context that many had thought.
Dan Brown and his publishers had managed to pull off something of a coup, keeping the plotline of The Lost Symbol pretty much under wraps until the day of publication (although a couple of U.S. newspapers did print reviews the day before, in defiance of the publisher’s embargo). It was an amazing feat, especially considering that the book’s print run exceeded five million copies, and it guaranteed Brown a huge amount of media and public attention.
So: what did we end up with? Is The Lost Symbol a worthy successor to Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code?
The Lost Symbol is, in the end, a pretty good thriller that keeps Robert Langdon on his toes and involves some big themes and historical enigmas. However, it’s the deeper, more hidden elements of the book that I believe will have the most impact over time. Between the lines of the novel, Dan Brown has attempted to write something akin to a hidden Hermetic text. It’s a bold and ambitious undertaking, and one that I applaud him for. Indeed, the last ten chapters of the book and the epilogue are more or less an extended treatise on Deism, Hermetic thought, and religious tolerance.
The Freemasons are the secret society of choice this time around. I’m sure that there will be those who see Freemasonry as a covert, sinister movement intent on power and blasphemy. I see it rather differently. I am not a Freemason, nor will I ever be one. But I do know many Freemasons. Indeed, Ian Robertson, one of the chief researchers for this book, is a Freemason, as is my friend Chris McClintock, author of the soon-to-be-published Sun of God book series on the origins of the Freemasonry and its symbolism. Neither of them is in any way sinister, nor are the countless other Freemasons that I know and respect. I like the stance that Dan Brown has taken with Freemasonry within The Lost Symbol. Many commentators thought that the Masons would, in effect, be portrayed as the “bad guys,” but this is not the case. In fact, Brown makes a convincing argument for Freemasonry being a tolerant and enlightened movement with some interesting and forward-thinking ideas.
While it should be said that Freemasonry is a secretive society, it is not a secret society. Membership is easy to research and find out about, and most members are not shy about letting you know that they are within the craft, as it is called. Since the heyday of Freemasonry in the eighteenth century, it has attracted men of a certain social standing and, to an extent, still does. But the group has become more welcoming as of late, and I hope that this trend continues.
One of the things I wanted to get across within some of the entries of this book is that maybe it’s not Freemasonry we should be wary of — instead maybe we should fear the real secret groups and societies of which we know very little or nothing. Then again, maybe we are simply chasing shadows, wisps of rumor and supposition that have tormented us for millennia; a fear of secret and hidden things that, in the end, may not be that secret or hidden after all. Another thing worth noting is that although many of the people mentioned in this book were not Freemasons (Pierre L’Enfant springs to mind), or at least we have no evidence that they were, they would have been intimately familiar with the society and its workings. Many of their contemporaries and peers would have been members, and the craft would have been all around. It seems likely, for instance, that Thomas Jefferson, though we have no direct evidence of his membership in a Masonic lodge, did have sympathies with the Masonic ideals of brotherhood, enlightenment, and religious tolerance.
Once again, like my previous guides to Dan Brown’s books, this book is laid out in an easy-to-read A-to-Z format. There are some sixty entries in all; fewer than in previous guides. This was deliberate, as I wanted to give you a much more in-depth took at some of the themes, places, people, and groups featured in the novel.
The BBC in the United Kingdom once called me “a historian of the obscure,” a title that I like very much indeed. I have aimed to bring you some of that history of obscure and hidden subjects within the pages of this book. If you feel the urge to look deeper and delve further into some of the interesting subjects highlighted here, take a look at the bibliography and start building your own library of esoteric and arcane subjects. Just make sure that you remember to sleep and eat while familiarizing yourself with the ancient mystery traditions — it’s an addictive pursuit but also a very rewarding one, and one that I hope many of you will undertake.
If you want to talk about, debate, or extol any of the subjects in this book or the novel itself, head over to my website at www.decodingthelostsymbol.com
, where you will find a forum for debate and articles and blogs. If you want to contact me directly about any of the issues raised, I have my own Facebook page under my name and can be found on Twitter too (@FindSimonCox).
Writing this book was a lot of fun, and it has given me a newfound respect and admiration for the men who founded a new and fledgling nation in America, at the end of the eighteenth century. As a British writer and historian, it’s a period of history that I was not that familiar with and I have really enjoyed the research and subsequent writing about this tumultuous time. The Founding Fathers really were incredibly enlightened and forward-thinking men, who guided the formation of a republic with steady hands and an unwavering resolve. I will forever look at them, and this period of time, in a brand-new light from now on.
I hope you enjoy Decoding The Lost Symbol, and find its contents enlightening and interesting. I pass it on to you with the hope that you will find it as fun to read as it was to write.
The above is an excerpt from the book Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction by Simon Cox. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2009 Simon Cox, author of Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction
Simon Cox, author of Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction, was the founding editor in chief of the successful newsstand magazine Phenomena. Having studied Egyptology at University College London, he went on to work as a research assistant for some of the biggest names in the alternative history game, including Graham Hancock, Robert Bauvel, and David Rohl. He splits his time between Britain and the United States.