La Mappa dell’Inferno

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The image above is by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. It provides a foundation for Dan Brown’s book, Inferno, which I have just finished reading. I will try to write this without spoilers….

Deeeeeep breath…..And as a disclaimer, I was not aiming for a history lesson, or a factual account. I was aiming to be entertained. That being said, there were a few things with which I had major issues….

The Robert Langdon series as a whole is prettydecent – quite entertaining. They’re fast reads, fast paced, and have enough history and accuracy to be, well, entertaining. If you’re reading them for any sort of historical significance, you might want to try something by Stephen Ambrose instead. (You know, minus the plagiarism stuff….) They all follow the same basic storyline, and have some sort of Renaissance or culty tie. They’re all about secrets and fun stuff.  It’s kind of like the same sort of recipe Final Fantasy uses: The world is on the brink of X, and only you and your team can save it! I’m not knocking this recipe – I played most of the Final Fantasy games and loved every one. So I wasn’t horribly surprised, or put off, when this book ended up being: Handsome, rugged, famous, brilliant professor meets attractive, slender, inevitably brilliant female. They have an adventure, on the run, dealing with symbols and scavenger hunts across countries, and solve the mystery at the end. Yay!

That being said….I figured there were some historical inaccuracies, and linguistic ones as well. I didn’t think I’d be as annoyed by said linguistic ones as I was – that was surprising for me. The historical inaccuracies, ok. Take them or leave them. It’s like exposing holes in a movie plot. The linguistic ones, however….

Now, “symbology” isn’t a word. Most people know this. You’d think that after 4 books, you’d figure it out too. But no. Dan Brown continues to say Robert Langdon is a professor of Symbology. I believe the term he’s searching for is “iconography,” but don’t let semantics get to you – he’s a professor of symbols, and he’s world famous, so I suppose he can make up his area of expertise. I’m also pretty sure people that have read this book now believe it is a real word, and are searching for it in college catalogues. Ok, we’ll let that one slide, but we won’t be happy about it.

This one, however, really got to me. There were a good number of passages in Italian, and despite my outward appearance, I happen to be Italian. What’s more, I’m fluent. It’s like he used Google Translate to say things he wanted to, but in print they’re a little stiff and formal. Additonally, when he typed in said phrases, the English translation wasn’t really….right? And I know it’s nitpicky, but Dr. Sienna Brooks, the child prodigy with an IQ of 208 and a knack for languages and blending in as a native, should probably know that her Italian diction makes her stand out like a sore thumb.

There are lots of oddities that many other professors of art and art history, as well as history buffs have pointed out. These don’t bother me as much, but they’re a little off. Sienna doesn’ t know a plague mask, Robert misquotes lots of things, the entire painting on which the story revolves is much like, but worse than, Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights: You can’t see most things without a magnifying glass. On a more personal level, calling Manila the “gates of hell” seems a bit harsh – sex trafficking, attempted rape, and 6-hour traffic jams make it hell? Apparently they have never been to Africa.

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Then, there are things about the entire franchise that irk me. (1) The girls are all super brilliant, but end up as damsels in distress. They can’t figure anything out themselves. They’re always troubled and Robert Langdon helps them somehow.  They also always seem to become inexplicably attracted to Langdon. (2) How many mysteries can there be, that one man can solve, that end up changing the course of history and shaking the very foundations of our spiritual beliefs? At least this one brought a lot of morality into it – could you ever conceive of doing what the villain wanted? But again, spirituality, morals, values….always the same sort of questions. (3) You already cast Tom Hanks. You keep referring to Robert Langdon as an “Indiana Jones” type, and because you made the mistake of choosing Tom Hanks over Harrison Ford (or a Harrison Ford type), now we’re stuck with a sort-of-lame, sort-of-passive, sort-of-boring “adventure” person, instead of someone handsome, adventurous, rugged…someone these brilliant girls could really be attracted to. Let’s face it: I have more faith that Robert Langdon is more like Sterling Archer than the guy from Castaway.

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I suppose, though, I read this book to be entertained. And I was thusly. I just won’t be referencing it for my next art history argument, or for my newest intellectual sex-symbol genius professor fantasy.



  1. This was funny. I was particularly delighted by the Boondock Saints reference. Need to rewatch pronto! Anyway, I think you’re totally right about the Langdon books – how many world-changing mysteries AND brilliant damsels in distress CAN that one man save? And they really need to recast Tom Hanks at this point – The Lost Symbol isnt even in pre-production yet, so by the time Columbia gets around to Inferno, Hanks is going to be on his way to 70. And not Sean Connery-70 either.

    1. I’ll be honest – when I was reading the Italian, I thought “This is how Anna must have felt when she heard Scarlett Johansson say “Oh zhimoy” in The Avengers.”

      You should read it for the entertainment factor alone, but take it with a mound of salt.

  2. I feel as though I’ve read Angles and Demons four times. World threatening crisis, treasure hunt with an attractive female sidekick, day is saved. A little variance in plot would be nice.

  3. I ‘love’ the way sir isaac newton is a part of every single secret society he mentions. At one point I had to stop reading and laugh out loud at the idea that sir isaac newton was flitting about from so many secret society meetings, in the hooded black cape, he had no time for anything else.

    1. …wait, he isn’t part of every secret society in the world??? I swear I saw him on campus last week week, walking around at Yale, part of Skull and Bones.

  4. Symbology is a word, is in the Oxford dictionary just because you’ve never heard it and they don’t have it it your 1978 Miriam websters doesn’t mean it’s not a word. It’s the study and use of symbols. Do som fact checking before you blog.

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