Dan Brown is known for fast-paced thrillers with a strong thread of history, but says he doesn’t believe he’s done his job until he ties his plot to a problem in the modern world.
The best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code released his newest novel, Inferno, on Tuesday.
Inferno returns readers to the world of Robert Langdon, the tweed-jacketed professor of symbology who featured in The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.
'I think readers are smart people and they have a tendency toward people who are like them, not people who use guns and jujitsu to get out of tough situations' — Author Dan Brown
This time, Langdon is on the move in the picturesque streets of Florence, outrunning the police and a shadowy mercenary group, all while trying to stop a mad scientist. The catalyst for his adventure is Dante’s Divine Comedy, a 14th century Italian poem that came to define the modern version of hell.
Brown talked to CBC’s Q cultural affairs show on Wednesday from New York and explained why he turned to Dante for his book.
"Some level of Dante called to me as something new and simultaneously it felt like familiar ground. Solid ground for Langdon," he said, speaking from New York.
Divine Comedy and Mona Lisa
"The Divine Comedy is like the Mona Lisa, one of those creations that is, I guess you’d say transcendent. It transcends its moment in history and becomes a real cultural touchstone."
Having once been a teacher, Brown says he always wants to awake in his readers the kind of fascination he himself has in great works of art or literature.
"I try to write books that are mainstream that simultaneously educate, that simultaneously show people art and literature that they might not otherwise be interested in," he said.
Brown said researching his books is enjoyable, but he finds writing them a difficult process. He writes every day, from 4 a.m. to noon and says he spends a great amount of time distilling what he has learned so the plot moves forward on each page.
"I don’t dumb down, I do trim it," he says, admitting he often ends up with one page of text from every 10 he writes.
Why do readers like Robert Langdon?
Asked about the popularity of his hero Robert Langdon, Brown said he thinks of him as an "everyman."
"I think readers are smart people and they have a tendency toward people who are like them, not people who use guns and jujitsu to get out of tough situations," Brown said.
"This is somebody who uses his head. All of us have had that experience of getting out of tough situations with our heads and I think people identify with it," he added.
The modern problem Langdon confronts in Inferno is overpopulation, an issue that Brown says is a great concern for him. He says he wants to raise awareness of the issue.
His Inferno begins with a quote from Dante that describes those who ignore pressing problems in the world: "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
Pride the greatest sin
Brown says he was surprised to see that Dante consider pride the greatest sin.
"The prideful person feels immune somehow to the problems of the world, above them and maybe ignores them. The idea that ignoring the problems of the world is a sin is a scary thought. We’ve all been guilty at some point at turning a blind eye to the problems of the world."
Inferno is already a best-seller on Amazon, because of pre-orders, but Brown says he does not expect to top the success of The Da Vinci Code, which sold more than 80 million copies.