Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Deep into Dan Brown's new novel, "The Lost Symbol," Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon gives a crash course on the number 33. Pythagoras, Genesis, Joseph, Jesus, Islam and the Masons, they're all in there, and they're all in there throughout the entire book. Langdon of "Da Vinci Code" fame is back, uncovering esoteric mysteries even as he skeptically dismisses them.

And by completely rational coincidence, Dan Brown is in our New York bureau at the very moment that I mentioned your name and your new book, astonishing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAN BROWN (Author, "The Lost Symbol"): Nice to be here.

SIEGEL: Good to talk with you. What do you think is the attraction that hidden wisdom holds for people in this age when you can Google just about any wisdom you want?

Mr. BROWN: You know, I think people love to learn, and I think people like to see the world they live in through a different lens, and that's really what these books do. They show you something that you might think you know about, something like Washington, D.C., or the church or symbols, and you get to see them through the lens of a specialist who has a slightly different take on things.

SIEGEL: A symbologist.

Mr. BROWN: Yes.

SIEGEL: He's in the - is he in the department of symbology, by the way? I could never understand that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROWN: Well, I think if this were the real world, he'd be in a department of semiotics.

SIEGEL: I see.

Mr. BROWN: But this is the fictional world, and he is in a department of symbology.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: You find that the discipline of symbology has more legs than...

Mr. BROWN: Than semiotics?

SIEGEL: Than semiotics, yeah.

Mr. BROWN: I think so.

SIEGEL: Robert Langdon is somebody who keeps on bumping into these hidden secrets, this lost wisdom, but he doesn't exactly believe in them, I gather.

Mr. BROWN: He is a skeptic. And despite what you may believe, I'm something of a skeptic, as well. And I think one of the reasons these books have found a mass appeal is that he is skeptical. He's diving into these conspiracy theories from the standpoint of somebody who doesn't believe them. And so you can be an intelligent reader and say, well, I'm sort of interested in this, but I really doubt it's real. And at every point, Langdon is right there with you, doubting it's real.

SIEGEL: Does Professor Langdon - does he get a new and different very attractive woman and perhaps intellectually gifted or descended from Mary Magdalene, whatever it might be, for every story, or does he, you know - is there ever going to be any permanence in this man's life?

Mr. BROWN: He is a blessed man in many ways, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, it's funny, I love building tension in the novels, and certainly having a female traveling companion, there's always a romantic and sexual tension. Even if it's not on the page, it's implied. I love the idea of smart women. I find that very attractive, and obviously, Langdon does, too.

SIEGEL: Super smart women, in this case. I mean, you know, world-class noeticists.

Mr. BROWN: Well, as I said, he's a fortunate guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Okay. To say that they've reached a large audience is an understatement. You are a super bestselling novelist, and "The Da Vinci Code," of course, was made into a hugely successful film. How does that change the way you write a book now that you are not just Dan Brown but the Dan Brown?

Mr. BROWN: You know, it's funny, I don't think it changes at all. I still get up every morning at 4 a.m. I write seven days a week, including Christmas. And I still face a blank page every morning, and my characters don't really care how many books I've sold.

SIEGEL: And if you're going to write about Washington, do you spend a lot of time in Washington walking around and doing field trips to see where everything is?

Mr. BROWN: Oh, without a doubt. I first saw Washington as a young kid. I think I was nine or so. I was fascinated with the museums. And as I, you know, grew up and had a fascination for art and architecture, you know, it is the great American city when it comes to art and architecture. And one of the luxuries of having written "The Da Vinci Code" is that I, you know, had access to all sorts of specialists in Washington who were very, very generous to open up the doors of some of these monuments and museums and great structures and give me behind-the-scenes tours. That was very exciting.

SIEGEL: Your father, I've read, was a mathematician or a math teacher, certainly.

Mr. BROWN: He is, and also a math textbook author.

SIEGEL: And did he introduce you to magic squares and things like Fibonacci series and casting nines? Was that part of your childhood?

Mr. BROWN: It sure was. On Christmas morning, when we were little kids, he would create treasure hunts through the house with, you know, different limericks or mathematical puzzles that led us to the next clue. And so, for me, at a young age, treasure hunts were always exciting.

SIEGEL: And a treasure hunt is not a very farfetched metaphor for a Dan Brown novel nowadays.

Mr. BROWN: No, that's - I think you hit it right on the head.

SIEGEL: Pretty literally. So in writing "The Lost Symbol," did you begin with the whole schematic of puzzles that get solved than the - instead of building the puzzle first and then writing the story around it? Does the puzzle get created as you go along with the story, or what?

Mr. BROWN: You know, it really depends on the puzzle and on the moment in the story. At least all of my novels begin with a big idea. And in this case, having written "Angels and Demons," I'd studied some particle physics and knew that there was this world of noetic science that was kind of out there. And it really had no relation to "Angels and Demons," but I knew I wanted to come back to it. And in the 10 years that, you know, between "Angels and Demons" and now, that field has exploded, and I became very, very interested with it.

So that really is this idea of a science that's tied to these ancient mysteries, the old and the new I love to tie together, and the codes, they really just - they serve a plot line.

SIEGEL: In this book, Freemasonry figures, to say it figures prominently is an understatement. This book is about Freemasonry and Freemasons. What's your sensitivity to a group that, you know, has, over the centuries, taken some pretty rough beatings for keeping its secrets? They were vilified by Hitler during his day.

Mr. BROWN: Sure.

SIEGEL: How sensitive are you to Masonic sensibilities?

Mr. BROWN: Highly sensitive. I mean, there's a point in the book where Langdon makes the point that misinterpreting people's symbols is often the root of prejudice. And part of what I hoped to do with this book is shed some light, from my perspective, on Masonic symbolism and Masonic ritual.

SIEGEL: But Professor Langdon says, you know, don't read anything evil into Masonic secrets, but he's always being proven wrong all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: The world is always much more mysterious than he says it is at first blush.

Mr. BROWN: Well, that is true, and that's one of the things that fascinates me about Freemasonry.

SIEGEL: What is it that fascinates you about Freemasonry?

Mr. BROWN: Well, you know, we live in a world where people kill each other every day over whose definition of God is correct. And here is a worldwide organization that, at its core, will bring people together from many, many different religions and ask only that you believe in a god, and they'll all stand in the same room and proclaim their reverence for a god, and it seems like a perfect blueprint for universal spirituality.

SIEGEL: It sounds like your next novel is going to be about Alcoholics Anonymous, at that rate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROWN: I haven't had the pleasure, but I guess if I follow in the footsteps of other authors, maybe someday.

SIEGEL: There's always the world of public radio, as well. We have numbers for stations and strange initials for things.

Mr. BROWN: The NPR code. That's my next novel.

SIEGEL: The NPR code, okay.

Dan Brown, thanks a lot for talking with us about your new novel, "The Lost Symbol."

Mr. BROWN: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: And you can read an excerpt from the novel, which is out today, at npr.org.

Tomorrow, we'll visit the headquarters of Scottish Rite Masonry here in Washington, D.C. That building is the setting for the first scene in "The Lost Symbol," and we'll talk to some real Masons.

Mr. BRENT MORRIS (Editor, Scottish Rite Journal): We made the very radical statement that men of different religions can agree that God exists. They can agree that God compels them to do good in the community, and then they can stop talking about religion.

SIEGEL: More on Masons and Masonic myths on tomorrow's program.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.