Secrets of Dan Brown: He Doesn’t Like Faulkner

It will not come as a shock to literary critics, but Dan Brown admits he doesn’t much like William Faulkner. Headlining the Miami Book Fair in November, Brown had this to say about the 1949 Nobel Laureate, widely regarded as one of the key figures in the ascendancy of American literature in the 20th century: “Some readers are deeply entrenched in literary fiction or classics. They don’t care for my books. I don’t care for William Faulkner. I don’t beat up William Faulkner or people who read William Faulkner. It’s just my taste…. I just write the book I would love to read.”

Other highlights from interviews in an article in the Miami Herald by Connie Ogle:

“Whether you are a writer, a chef or a painter, all you have to guide you is your taste,” says the author of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, The Lost Symbol and most recently Inferno, an adrenaline-fueled puzzle that combines the artistic and architectural glory of Florence, Italy; Dante’s The Divine Comedy and a breakneck race against time. “All you can do is create the painting or the sculpture or the symphony you like. You can’t guess what people are going to like. You put it out there and hope people share your taste. People will like it or they won’t.”

“Publishing is an interesting business,” says Jason Kaufman, the Doubleday editor who has worked with Brown for 15 years. “There are always a handful of authors who take off into the stratosphere. You can’t predict where they’ll come from or what type of book it will be. If 12 years ago you said that a novel about a character who’s an art historian and religious symbologist, who deciphered ancient codes and was a Harvard professor, would become such an unprecedented commercial success, people might’ve looked at you funny. … I think what Dan does so well is combine unlikely elements, and he does it in such an interesting way he makes the material very accessible for a wide group of people. He just has such an innate curiosity about history and art and religion and codes.”

All those elements play vital roles in Inferno, in which Langdon wakes up in a Florence hospital with an aching head wound and a bad case of amnesia. The only thing he knows: Some people seem to want him dead. Rescued by a beautiful doctor who, naturally, harbors secrets of her own, he finds himself pitted against a madman who has calculated that overpopulation will bring about the end of the world — a modern day Inferno, if you will — and he plans to do something drastic to stop it.

The keys to thwarting him lie hidden throughout Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance. And though the book leans most heavily on Dante for inspiration, the art lover in Brown couldn’t resist involving Sandro Botticelli’s famous Mappa dell’Inferno, a grotesque vision of what Dante imagined.

“I’m a very visual person,” Brown says. “A lot of the locations and artwork are really characters in the book.”

Brown, 49, had known for a long time he wanted to write about Dante’s Inferno. He came to The Divine Comedy the way many of us do: via the classroom. The Phillips Exeter Academy grad — he grew up on the campus, as his father was a math instructor there — read a “watered-down” version in Italian class and was even then amazed by its accessibility.

“It’s a very modern text for something written in the 1300s,” he says. “Of course, I love worlds that are full of symbols and religion, and The Divine Comedy is packed with both. I always try to write about something old and something new simultaneously, like combining the Vatican and antimatter. So I sort of always had my eye out for some modern twist on Inferno. The key was: How do I bring in a modern angle? How do I make it relevant to modern readers?”

The key was creating a villain who sees Dante’s Inferno not as literature but as prophecy, a zealot who believes he must destroy a big chunk of humankind to prevent its demise and provides intriguing moral complexity to the story.

“I love the gray area between right and wrong,” Brown says. “The most interesting villains are the ones you’re not sure if you should root for or against. I think it’s a great question — would you kill half of humanity to save humanity? It’s a conundrum. There’s no right answer. But the wrong answer is to do nothing, to bury your head in times of moral crisis. You can argue his methods are insane and dangerous, but someone could argue they’re the lesser of two evils.”

Read more here.

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