The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. The epigraph to the novel begins with a misquote from John F. Kennedy who called them the “hottest” places. But the quote is not from Dante’s Inferno, but rather an analysis of Canto 3: 34-42.
Brown begins the Robert Langdon series with a claim to facts. Inferno is no different, although the statement and assertions are modest. The difficulty is in separating fact from the fictional novel that follows. This can and should be a purely intellectual challenge, and I have in the past used the novels as a starting point for students and introduction to research and the means to draw lines between the factual and fictional.
Dan Brown tweeted the quote with the question on May 3, 2016 : “Who uttered this paraphrasing of Dante’s words… and in what context?”
Here is the claim of FACT in Inferno:
All artwork, literature, science, and historical references
in this novel are real.
‘The Consortium’ is a private organization with
offices in seven countries. Its name has been changed
for considerations of security and privacy.
Inferno is the underworld as described in Dante
Alighieri’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, which
portrays hell as an elaborately structured realm
populated by entities known as ‘shades’—bodiless
souls trapped between life and death.”
In my own 33 Keys to Unlocking The Lost Symbol: A Reader’s Companion to Dan Brown’s Novel, I addressed this issue of fact vs. fiction.
Langdon is an avid swimmer, who works out in the early morning at 4:45 AM on a Sunday in Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. (But the pool is open early mornings only for age-specific groups, not for individual swimming—just one little stretching of the facts.) Separating fact from fiction is the overriding demand upon Brown’s readers. The author himself invites the scrutiny. In Angels & Demons he had simply
declared as “Fact” the existence of CERN and of antimatter. In his “Author’s Note” he assured us:
References to all works of art, tombs, tunnels, and architecture in Rome are entirely factual (as are their exact locations). They can still be seen today. The brotherhood of the Illuminati is also factual.
In The Da Vinci Code he states as “Fact” the existence of the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei. Brown delights in
daring to obscure the traditional boundaries of fiction and the real world. In The Lost Symbol we are confronted with another page of “Facts”: a 1991 document locked in a safe of the CIA whose cryptic text contains the phrase “It’s buried out there somewhere.” “All organizations in this novel exist.” This is a far cry from claiming that everything to be revealed about the Freemasons, the Invisible College, the Office of Security, the SMSC and the Institute of Noetic Sciences is true. But uninitiated or unwary readers may extend the carefully phrased claims into something more sinister. The “Fact” sheet concludes: “All rituals, science, artwork, and the monuments in this novel are real.” To state that something is “real” is hardly a revelation, but even this statement, as we shall see, needs some qualification.
Notwithstanding Brown’s assertions that precede the action of his novel, the copyright page clearly states: “This book is a work of fiction.” Dan Brown is a writer; his goal is to entertain and perhaps inform his readers. His talent and artistic ability are to transport us to exciting locales, unlock doors to unknown secrets, open our eyes to familiar images, and revisit history. His novels have driven readers to explore on their own the places, artworks, architecture, and geography that they encounter. To a large degree the overwhelming popularity and success of his works worldwide are due to this stimulation of reader curiosity.
I am one of those curious readers, in search of the facts behind the fiction. This book is a journey by way of 33
Keys to the novel. What is the reality, where is the fiction? Brown spent years researching the book and fills his pages with an extraordinary amount of information. To explore it all could take months, if not years, even for those who carry their Blackberries or laptop computers connected to the Internet. There are dozens, hundreds, and in the case of the Masons and conspiracy theories, literally thousands of websites and their pages can be multiplied tenfold.
Brown almost anticipates the search when he has Langdon admonish his students that “‘Google’ is not a synonym for ‘research’” (98). No it isn’t, but from the director of the CIA Office of Security to Katherine Solomon and her assistant, all use Internet search engines to gather relevant and valuable information.