Book: Decoding the Lost Symbol by Simon Cox
Simon Cox, a native of Britain who lives in California, took time away from his research of alternate history and organizing his vast collection of CDs to talk to us about his new book, Decoding The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Expert Guide to the Facts Behind the Fiction, which demystifies Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.
As everyone in the universe probably knows by now, Brown specializes in complex puzzles and codes based on real life organizations, rituals, works of art and architecture. Brown’s work has been seen by some as travel literature as well as thriller. That leads to criticism for inaccuracy by as many people as those who follow his hero, Robert Langdon’s travels around Rome, Florence, and now Washington D.C.
In a sense, Simon Cox stalks Dan Brown. Since Angels & Demons, Cox has quickly followed each Dan Brown book with a book that explains the facts behind the thriller. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Me: I was expecting more debunking. You are actually rather easy on Brown.
Simon Cox: I actually admire the way Brown has brought some subjects into the public eye. He got so much hammering for The DaVinci Code. We have to remember they are novels.
Me: And since they are fiction, why do we need factual explanations?
SC: I think so many things in the Lost Symbol people are going to wonder about, they are going to be confused, they are not going to know what it’s all about, they are not going to understand what the deeper elements are, that’s why I thought there was room there for a guidebook if you like.
Me: In Decoding the Lost Symbol, you explain that it would be impossible to immediately get from Freedom Square to the Metro Stop that Robert Langdon takes and that there is quite a distance from the stop nearest the National Cathedral to the Cathedral itself. (Both actions are key to the action of The Lost Symbol.) Any other general cautions for tourists who take the book as travel literature?
SC: You shouldn’t use this book as a guide for Washington D.C. Because if you do, you are going to have a very strange trip. (He gives the example that although the amazing piece of art, Melancholia, by Albecht Durer is in the National Gallery of Art, and seems to contain an important clue for his work, Langdon looks it up on the computer. Cox says following the book is always caveat emptor.)
Me: Because you has researched alternate history all over the world, do you personally travel a great deal?
SC: Research for me has always been an excuse for travel. I did a book on Atlantis because it gave me an excuse to travel to the Mediterranean and other places.
Me: Do you have time for reading other than the voluminous research you do?
SC: As far as fiction, Dan Brown is about it. When it comes to travel, I have a huge collection of travel journals, especially the older ones. I have a wonderful Baedecker from 1896, of Egypt. I still use it as a guide to see some of the places that are off the beaten track.
I find modern guide books a bit stale. There is not much personal comment in those books. I am a huge fan of Wilfred Thesiger, and especially his books about travels in the Middle East. The Arabian Sands… Southern gulf of Oman and Yemen, which I visited. ..I enjoy visiting that region because it is almost like a blank canvas, because there has been so little research and archaeology in some of these places.
Me: I have to ask, have you ever met Dan Brown?
SC: I have not met Dan Brown, or his wife, who does the major research for his books. (Other than before he came famous, when they corresponded because Cox was doing a magazine feature in a magazine he edited) And I don’t have any idea what he thinks about my books. But I’ll tell you what, I like to meet him and buy him a pint at my local pub and thank him very very much for paying my mortgage.
Besides his web site and somewhat neglected blog, you can keep up with Simon Cox at Twitter (@FindSimonCox)
My thanks to Simon & Schuster imprint Touchstone for a review copy of this book. Washington Monument photo by Zach Stern. It is well worth clicking on the photograph to explore more of his pictures at flickr. And look at his names. He calls this one mournument.
Note: Links here to Amazon help you shop easily, and although it costs you no more, I make a few cents. So thanks.