The newest novel by Dan Brown (have you heard of him?) went on sale today. Here's a Q&A with the author of Inferno, a book that USA Today calls "as close as a book can come to a summertime cinematic blockbuster."
refers to Dante AlighieriÂ´s The Divine Comedy. What is Dante's significance?
What features of his work or life inspired you?
The Divine Comedy"”like The
Mona Lisa"”is one of those rare artistic achievements that transcends its
moment in history and becomes an enduring cultural touchstone. Like Beethoven's
Ninth Symphony, The Divine Comedy speaks
to us centuries after its creation and is considered an example of one of the
finest works ever produced in its artistic field. For me, the most captivating
quality of Dante Alighieri is his staggering influence on culture, religion,
history, and the arts. In addition to codifying the early Christian vision of
Hell, Dante's work has inspired some of history's greatest
luminaries"”Longfellow, Chaucer, Borges, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Monteverdi,
Michelangelo, Blake, DalÃ"”and even a few modern video game designers. Despite Dante's enduring influence on the
arts, however, most of us today have only a vague notion of what his work
actually says"”both literally and symbolically (which, of course, is of great
interest to Robert Langdon). A few years ago, I became very excited about the
prospect of writing a contemporary thriller that incorporated the philosophy,
history, and text of Dante's timeless descent into The Inferno.
you start on a new book, do you begin with the writing or the research? Do you
enjoy doing one more than the other?
Research definitely drives everything I do. Before beginning the writing
process, I spend a lot of time exploring worlds in which I intend to set the
book. In Angels & Demons, those
worlds included Vatican City, particle physics, and the ongoing battle between
science and religion. In Inferno, the
worlds include Florence, Venice, the writings of Dante Alighieri, as well as a
frightening new science that I believe has the potential either to save
humankind or to destroy it.
did do your research for Inferno? How long did you spend on it?
Researching Inferno began with six months of
reading, including several translations of The
Divine Comedy, various annotations by Dante scholars, historical texts
about Dante's life and philosophies, as well as a lot of background reading on
Florence itself. At the same time, I was poring over all the new scientific
information that I could find on a cutting edge technology that I had decided
to incorporate into the novel. Once I had enough understanding of these topics
to proceed, I traveled to Florence and Venice, where I was fortunate to meet
with some wonderful art historians, librarians, and other scholars who helped
initial phase of research was complete, I began outlining and writing the
novel. As is always the case, when a book begins to take shape, I am drawn in unexpected
directions that require additional research. This was also the case with Inferno, which took about 3 years from
conception to publication.
With respect to
the process, the success of these novels has been a bit of a Catch-22. On one
hand, I now have wonderful access to specialists, authorities, and even secret archives
from which to draw information and inspiration. On the other hand, because there
is increased speculation about my works in progress, I need to be increasingly
discreet about the places I go and the specialists with whom I speak. Even so,
there is one aspect of my research that will never change"”making personal
visits to the locations about which I'm writing. When it comes to capturing the
feel of a novel's setting, I find there is no substitute for being there in the
flesh...even if sometimes I need to do it incognito.
kind of adventure will Robert Langdon face this time? Can you give us any sneak
peak at the new novel?
Inferno is very much a Robert Langdon thriller. It's filled with codes, symbols,
art, and the exotic locations that my readers love to explore. In this novel,
Dante Alighieri's ancient literary masterpiece"”The Divine Comedy"”becomes a catalyst that inspires a macabre genius
to unleash a scientific creation of enormous destructive potential. Robert
Langdon must battle this dark adversary by deciphering a Dante-related riddle,
which leads him to Florence, where he finds himself in a desperate race through
a landscape of classical art, secret passageways, and futuristic technology.
was the most exciting idea or story that you found in your research?
For me, one of
the most exciting themes of Dante's Inferno is the portrayal of pride as the most serious of the seven
deadly sins"”a transgression punished in the deepest ring of hell. The notion of
pride as the ultimate sin dovetails perfectly with Greek mythology, in which
hubris is responsible for the downfall of the archetypal hero. In mythology, no man was more prideful than the
man who considers himself above the problems of the world"¦for example, he who
ignores injustice because it does not affect him directly. This notion is reflected in a famous paraphrasing of
Dante's text: The darkest places in hell are reserved for
those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. This is a recurring
theme of the novel.
made Florence the ideal location for Inferno?
No city on earth is more closely tied to Dante Alighieri. Dante grew up in
Florence, fell in love in Florence, and began writing in Florence. Later in
life, when he was exiled for political reasons, the longing he felt for his
beloved Florence became a catalyst for The Divine Comedy. Through his enduring
poem, Dante enjoyed the "last word" over his political enemies, banishing them
to various rings of Inferno where they suffered terrible tortures.
you have a favorite place to visit in Florence, like a library or a
Every visit to Florence should include a trip to the popular highlights"”The
David, The Uffizi Gallery, The Boboli Gardens, and Il Duomo. In addition, there
are a number of other locations that I find particularly inspiring. The Laurentian
Library contains a breathtaking staircase by Michelangelo as well as archives
of ancient manuscripts that are literally chained to their shelves. Palazzo
Vecchio's spectacular Salone dei
Cinquecento is home to one of the great unsolved mysteries in art history,
which remains an enigma to this day. And the Battistero di San Giovanni boasts a dazzling mosaic cieling that is
said to have terrified the young Dante Alighieri and later inspired his
enduring vision of hell. All of these locations make an appearence in the new
great detective in your novels, Robert Langdon, shares your birth date as well
as your place of birth. What else do the two of you have in common?
Langdon and I both share a fascination with history, symbols, and
codes, but this is where the similarities end. Langdon is far more daring and
exciting than I am. He is, in many ways, the hero I wish I could be.