Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” is a classic work I have not read yet which I have heard hauntingly detail’s the author’s journey into Hell while being guided by Virgil. Many people comment on how Dante’s poetic vision has had a profound impact on how people believe, see and understand Hell.
Without reading the legendary work but in a minor way grasping the impact that “Inferno” has historically had on literature and theology, the time had to come sooner or later for American author Dan Brown to the classic into one of his conspiratorial treasure hunts.
Brown’s “Inferno” is the fourth Robert Langdon novel (after “Angels & Demons”, “The DaVinci Code”, and “The Lost Symbol”). I have read “The DaVinci Code” and “The Lost Symbol” and wasn’t supremely impressed with either. Brown is not the grandest of writers. He comes up with interesting ideas relating to the intersection of theology, art and history and then tries to jumble clumsy mysteries interwoven with illogical cat-and-mouse chases. In the case of “The DaVinci Code”, Brown’s commentary on church history truly is fiction and he fails to accurately describe the beliefs of Gnostic mysticism. However, I have now read three of his books so I guess there is something there that keeps drawing me back. They are all really popular and deal with theological matters so, I guess, I’m mostly just curious.
Here is a compliment: “Inferno” is better than the other two Brown novels I have read. Brown begins with a Dante line, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Obviously, a theme but in relation to what is not really known until the reader is fairly substantially into the book.
Langdon (Tom Hanks plays the character in the films- “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels & Demons”) awakens in an Italian hospital in Florence with a bullet wound in the back of his head. No worries, just a grazing bullet. One of the doctors tending to Langdon is Sienna Brooks. Soon, a lady shows up on a motorcycle and dressed in black leather causes a commotion in the hospital wait room and starts firing a gun toward Langdon’s room. A doctor is killed. Brooks and Langdon escape to her apartment.
Here the audience settles in for the coming narratives about apparent James Bond-esque villains leaving clues to their devious plans strewn throughout old literature and famous Botticelli paintings (“Map of Hell” in this case). Langdon not only has to figure out what these antagonists are up too, he also has to figure out why the hell he is in Florence in the first place. The bullet wound left him with a temporary amnesia with no recollection of the past two days.
Furthermore, there is a shadowy character out on a boat somewhere who has some sort of business that caters to rich, elite, politician-type people. What does this Provost want and what is he up too?
The famed Harvard symbologist Langdon must sort all of this out in roughly 24 hours while being chased by Florentine Police and Carabinieri officers and the villains. He is a more highly educated Jack Bauer. This involves chases through the Boboli Gardens and through the Palazzo Vecchio and involves the Florence Bapistry among other historic sites.
If someone is a fan of Brown, they will enjoy the ride. Brown’s strength is not so much the basic conspiracy story plot but his narrated tour guides through the ancient sites and historical architecture/art. I suppose one can find this in an art history book written by an actual scholar/expert but if a reader wants a pop thriller wrapped around a written Florence tour, this book is a place to start.
I have to admit that Brown finds an interesting climax and way to conclude the novel. Sure, if one logically thinks back through the plot, they will find holes and lapses here and there but I give him credit for trying to avoid a complete good vs evil conclusion. He makes matters more complicated and may divide readers here when the end comes bringing revelations about the scale of what is happening. I won’t give anything else away.
Sony is preparing to begin production on the cinematic version of “Inferno” with Tom Hanks back and Ron Howard again in the director’s chair. I have told people this before: “The DaVinci Code” is one of the only multimedia experiences of my life where I have said the movie is actually better than the book. There is a chance “Inferno” may be a good deal of fun on the big screen.