November 08, 2004

Oxen, sharks, and insects: we need pictures

A number of readers have written asking me not to quote any more of Dan Brown's prose. I'm sorry, I know how you feel, but I have some... uh... angels and demons to exorcize. I have a few more linguistic observations about his wildlife similes and other imagery in both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

You may recall that, as Dan Brown tells it in The Da Vinci Code, after Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway (catch up here and here if this means nothing to you), "the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas." (Among other things, this led me to muse on whether a 76-year-old curator, entirely on his own, could possibly constitute a heap.) Well, I see that a new treat is in store for Dan Brown fans. The current issue of The New Yorker carries an advertisement for a recently released illustrated edition of The Da Vinci Code. A full-color illustrated edition with more than 150 pictures! If a picture is worth a thousand words, that's 150,000 words of value right there. The picture in the ad shows the book open to the first page, with the words quoted above clearly legible, and on the left-hand page opposite is a full-color frontispiece showing the masterpiece under which Saunière collapsed: Caravaggio's The Death of the Virgin.

I don't know yet what else they decided to include pictures of. I'm rather hoping there is one for the beginning of Chapter 4 of The Da Vinci Code, where it says, "Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox." Moo! Grrr! I really crave a picture of that.

Maybe one day the earlier book, Angels and Demons, will have, along with its unauthorized guidebook, an illustrated edition, so I can see pictures corresponding to some of its deeply weird descriptions. Dan writes at one point that the constantly angry Commander Olivetti of the Vatican Guard "entered the room like a rocket". (Would a rocket be better or worse to be in a room with than an angry ox? You can see how a picture might help.) At another point in the novel someone says something Olivetti doesn't like, and we read that "His eyes went white, like a shark about to attack." Now, as my friend Ari Kahan reminds me, this isn't quite right: a shark rolls its eyes up for protection not before blundering into its attack unable to see, but at the instant of the attack itself: if you see the eyes go white, it may be too late for you: count your arms and legs.

But actually the shark stuff may not matter very much, because it soon turns out that they're not shark eyes at all: we read that Olivetti says something with "his insect eyes flashing with rage."

So I'm trying to picture him mentally. A rocket? A blind shark? An enraged insect? When Dan Brown is doing the describing, you really need pictures.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at November 8, 2004 07:04 PM