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“Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code” are two thriller novels written by Dan Brown. In “Angels and Demons” the main protagonist Harvard Symbologist Robert Langton is called to help after leading CERN scientist Leonardo Vetra is brutally murdered and is found with the name of an ancient brotherhood ‘Illuminati’ branded on his chest. Upon the discovery that highly dangerous anti-matter has been stolen by the killer, Langdon and Vetra’s daughter Victoria head to Vatican City to pursue the killer and recover the weapon. “The Da Vinci Code” follows a similar structure, Robert Langton is enlisted by the French Judicial Police to the Louvre museum to help understand the murder of curator Jaques Saunière. Unknown to him he is a suspect and after learning this he flees with Saunière granddaughter Sophie on a quest to uncover Saunière’s clues. Both novels belong to the thriller genre and elicit the moods characterised by this genre using similar ideas, techniques and features.
In terms of plot, “Angels and Demons” and “Da Vinci Code” follow a very similar storyline. In both Robert Langdon is awoken in the night for his expertise in Symbology to aid at inconceivable crime scenes. The two novels appear to parallel in this aspect, in “Angels and Demons” Langdon is brought to CERN to make sense of Leonardo Vetra’s Corpse: “The late Leonardo Vetra lay on his back, stripped naked, his skin blueish-grey. His neck bones were jutting out where they had been broken, and his head was twisted completely backward, pointing the wrong way” The body is in horrific shape, Brown’s initial description reveals to the reader that this has been no ordinary murder. Vetra has fell victim to an extremely violent, his killer has been both powerful and skilled as indicated by his rotated neck. The reader’s interest is increased by the brand on Vetra’s chest: “The raised, broiled flesh was perfectly delineated …the symbol flawlessly formed…Illuminati” Brown undoubtedly captivates the reader’s attention, not by the physical brand itself but the word ‘illuminati’ and the weight it carries. In this detail, he sets the plot of his novel in motion and establishes the theme of conspiracy. Langdon’s introduction to the body of Jaques Saunière in “The Da Vinci Code” is also significant. Saunière too is found naked but by his own doing, positioned in a bizarre, unnatural fashion which he did himself in his last moments: “His arms and legs were sprawled outward in a wide spread-eagle, like those of a child making a snow angel…” He also appears to have drawn a symbol on his navel using his own blood as ink: “Saunière had drawn a simple symbol on his flesh – five straight lines that intersected to form a five-pointed star. The Pentacle.” This chapter of the novel serves as a ‘hook’ much the same. Brown very quickly complicates the crime, the twist that Saunière did it all himself renders the novel completely unpredictable for the reader at this point. The Symbol of the pentacle introduces the theme of religion. In both novels, Brown truly ‘commences’ his plots, introduces themes and above all stimulates curiosity and surprise in the reader associated with the thriller genre through his description of both corpses.
Furthermore, the similar structure “Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code” share is what makes them such successful thrillers. In “Angels and Demons” Brown always has two or even three storylines playing against each other. From chapter to chapter we jump from the protagonists Langdon and Victoria working together to uncover the disastrous plot against the Vatican to the Hassassin who’s always one step ahead. The fact the protagonists are always catching up to the supposed main antagonist just for him to advance again, both in terms of clues and location wise is what makes “Angels and Demons” such a fast-paced novel and exciting to read. In comparison “The Da Vinci Code” is more complex in terms of the amount of characters involved at each point, it adopts a similar yet diverse structure. The same is true with the idea that two situations are happening at one time, yet each situation features the perspective of two characters. For example, in chapter 6, Langdon has been brought to see Saunière’s body and we witness Captaine Fache and Langdon discussing religious symbols etc. relating to Saunière we know all that Langdon knows as we drift in and out of his thoughts. Hence, we believe he is at the crime scene as an aid to the police. However, at the very end of the chapter we change to Lieutenant Collets take on the same situation from Saunière’s office: “Le moment de verité, he mused. Smiling, he closed his eyes and settled in to enjoy the rest of the conversation now being taped in the Grand Gallery.” Which leaves the reader learning that all is not what it seems, in fact, Langdon is being taped in the hope he incriminates himself as he is the prime suspect. This is indeed a cliff-hanger as the next chapter follows Silas, an antagonist, at the Church of Saint Sulpice.
This structure works particularly well in “The Da Vinci Code” as throughout the novel, Langton and Sophie are being hunted by the authorities, thus, Brown skillfully alternates between the two parties to make the chase more suspenseful and gripping. While the structure of these two novels is on the surface the same, Brown has adapted each to relate to the storyline to maximise the suspense felt by the reader.
Finally, both novels effectively use a third-person narrative. “Angels and Demons”, however, employs an omniscient narrative while “The Da Vinci Code” does not. The style of narration works particularly well in “Angels and Demons” since Brown can let the reader into all characters’ thoughts from the most prominent characters such as Robert Langton to Gunter Glick. This range complements the complexity of the plot creating more dramatic tension and at times irony. The narrative also adds an extra layer to the novel as the narrator foreshadows events to come, leaving the reader trying to comprehend present events while anticipating how they relate to events further in the novel. “‘Friction,’ Kohler said. ‘Decreases her aerodynamics so the fan can lift her.’ He started down the corridor again. ‘One square yard of drag will slow a falling body almost twenty percent.’
Langdon nodded blankly. He never suspected that later that night, in a country hundreds of miles away, the information would save his life.” Since there is very little description in Brown’s Foreshadowing, it creates a whole other level of suspense.
In terms of narration, Dan Brown uses a third-person non-omniscient narrator in “The Da Vinci Code” just as skillfully. Since “The Da Vinci Code” is almost the inverse of “Angels and Demons” as Robert Langdon is being ‘hunted’ not doing the hunting, being unable to fully know the next moves of the French Judicial Police, for example, is what makes the plot so thrilling and keeps the reader on edge. If we knew exactly what Bezu Fache was thinking at all times, we wouldn’t be surprised when for example Langdon discovers he is, in fact, a suspect.
“Angels and Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code” are two successful mystery-thriller novels written by Dan Brown which share similar storylines and structures yet employ a different narrative technique to elicit feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety in his readers.
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