Angels and Demons

Odious Catholic League President William Donohue had this to say about the forthcoming Ron Howard film Angels and Demons:

Finally, the pop culture offers many challenges. The film “Angels & Demons,” the prequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” opens May 15. Once again, the tag team of Dan Brown and Ron Howard have collaborated in smearing the Catholic Church with fabulously bogus tales. And once again, the message conveyed to the audience is invidious: the Catholic Church, which did more to keep the universities open and flourishing during the Middle Ages than any other institution, is painted as anti-reason.

Wasn’t the Spanish Inquisition part of the Middle Ages? Hard to believe anyone could think the Church of that time was anti-reason.

The Vatican has taken a far more mellow stand on the film:

However, L’Osservatore praised Howard’s “dynamic direction” and the “magnificent” reconstruction of locations like St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Much of the film was shot on sets that painstakingly recreated church landmarks.

The film offers “more than two hours of harmless entertainment, which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity,” L’Osservatore’s reviewer wrote. It’s “a videogame that first of all sparks curiosity and is also, maybe, a bit of fun.”

Well, I’m convinced! I’ve loved all four of Dan Brown’s novels and look forward to reading his new one. Sadly, The Da Vinci Code film was pretty bad, largely because of Tom Hanks soporific performance.

But it was still a masterful piece of historical scholarship, accurate in every particular, and occupies a place of honor among other great historical films like Amadeus and JFK.

Okay, I’m kidding. But you’d still do better to learn your history from Dan Brown than from William Donohue.


  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    May 7, 2009

    I seem to recall that the main antagonists of Angels and Demons are a secret society of radical atheist scientists trying to overthrow religion. If anything Donahue should be much more happy with the plot-line this time.

  2. #2 Phillip IV
    May 7, 2009

    Wasn’t the Spanish Inquisition part of the Middle Ages?

    Actually, it was part of Early Modernity: founded in 1478, it claimed most of its victims in the 16th and 17th centuries – not that that would make Donohue’s argument any less ridiculous. Praising the Church for ‘keeping universities open and flourishing’ through the Middle Ages makes about as much sense as praising leprosy for taking only half a leg.

  3. #3 Badger3k
    May 7, 2009

    I haven’t read it, but looked at the wiki page on it. If that’s true, the real villains don’t seem to be atheists or scientists, but that’s all I’ll say. Don’t want to give anything away if the page is accurate.

  4. #4 miller
    May 7, 2009

    Gee, the only reason I read Angels and Demons was because my Catholic high school assigned it as reading. It was okay, but I liked the Da Vinci Code better.

  5. #5 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 7, 2009

    Phillip V –

    The Early Modern period is generally said to have started in the sixteenth century. Looks like the Spanish Inquisition gets in just under the wire.

  6. #6 Joshua Zelinsky
    May 7, 2009

    You really enjoyed his books that much? That’s surprising. They were collectively wretched. Poorly researched, poorly thought out, poorly executed.

    Angels and Demons didn’t even get the right historical time period for when the Illuminati actually were around. And the central idea of the book, that the easy energy to matter conversion somehow is evidence for the existence of God is if it is at all relevant, evidence in the other direction.

    His other books were possibly worse. Decypher managed to mangle basic cryptography that a 7th grader could understand. Brown apparently doesn’t understand or doesn’t care to understand how public key crypto works, or how anything else works. The high level passwords used are also unbelievably short. These are but a handful of the problems.

    This is before we get to stylistic and other issues like all his characters sounding the same. If someone wants to read a good conspiracy novel they should read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. If you want to read some of the worst crap ever to become printed media then read anything by Dan Brown.

  7. #7 Phillycook
    May 7, 2009

    It’s going to be as unwatchable as The DaVinci thing.

    Hanks and Howard won’t be able to rescue Brown’s scribblings.

  8. #8 ask siirleri
    May 7, 2009

    haven’t read it, but looked at the wiki page on it. If that’s true, the real villains don’t seem to be atheists or scientists, but that’s all I’ll say. Don’t want to give anything away if the page is accurate.

  9. #9 Anton Mates
    May 8, 2009

    Wasn’t the Spanish Inquisition part of the Middle Ages? Hard to believe anyone could think the Church of that time was anti-reason.

    In fairness, the Spanish Inquisition answered to the Spanish Government. The Pope was pressured into approving its establishment, but didn’t have authority over it, and criticized it quite a bit later.

    Plenty of other inquisitions before that time were under papal authority, though.

  10. #10 Pseudonym
    May 8, 2009

    I must say, I liked A&D better than DVC. Not only was the typography far superior, it was clearer that the pseudo-history was meant to be fanciful, what with the theme of miracles and everything.

  11. #11 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2009

    Joshua –

    Picky, picky! As I recall The Da Vinci Code has a scene where a mathematician character struggles to recognize the Fibonacci sequence. Not too plausible. Don’t care. I found all his novels to be enjoyable page turners, which is all I was really looking for when I picked them up.

  12. #12 Sigmund
    May 8, 2009

    I didn’t mind the book of The Da Vinci Code but Angels and Demons was excruciating not for the church stuff but for his complete absence of knowledge about basic physics.

  13. #13 snafu
    May 8, 2009

    Well, there’s a quandry here. I’ve read the Da Vinci Code. And I’m ashamed to say I enjoyed it. Yet I still believe it’s goddamn awful trash. It seems to be a childish exercise taken from Thriller-writing 101: the action sequences, the shadowy assasin…and the worst thing is that the rest of Brown’s books appear to be the same thing with the characters changed.

    [As an aside, DVC has its free-to-view premiere in the UK on Sunday for those who haven’t seen it yet. what…just me? oh…]

  14. #14 Jan H
    May 8, 2009

    snafu has a point. I read A&D and DVC, and they really are a lot the same : both starting with a nightly call for help, the young female assistent (who is a relative of another character), the bad guys that are not that bad after all, the character unexpectedly turning out to be te real bad guy, the silly puzzles (I can’t read it! What is this? Some kind of code? oh wait, it’s written backwards! How clever of these Illuminati.), the urge of the author to constantly explain the obvious (as if the reader were stupid). Not really my cup of tea. And Eco’s Faucoult Pendulum really is the better alternative.

  15. #15 complex field
    May 8, 2009

    such criticism of poor Mr. Donohue. I’m sure he did not expect the Spanish Inquisition…..

  16. #16 Jud
    May 8, 2009

    I listened to the first half of Brown’s Deception Point on CD in a co-worker’s car on a business trip. When she offered to lend me the rest so I could finish listening, I politely declined, despite the fact that I have a 1-hour commute each way to and from work every day.

    The writing was so completely hackneyed, from hyperbolic introductory descriptions of stereotyped characters (Tough Lady Behind-the-Scenes Politico Character had been around Washington a few times and she was the toughest tough behind-the-scenes politico ever, let me tell you, with the cigarette habit and low manly voice to prove it…), to shopworn plot devices (Tough Lady wrings information from Southern Conservative Senator’s unwilling Slutty Staffer, who turns to putty in Tough Lady’s hands when exposure of Southern Senator and Slutty Staffer’s former dalliance is threatened, in the form of…wait for it…an envelope full of feelthy pictures!), that I could probably have figured out how the book ended on my own, if I’d wanted to waste any more time thinking about it.

    Guess that puts me in Josh and Jan’s column.

  17. #17 snoeman
    May 8, 2009

    I haven’t read Angels & Demons, but I found the Davinci Code annoying because of Brown’s constant reliance on…

  18. #18 snoeman
    May 8, 2009

    …cliffhangers as a literary device in almost every chapter.

  19. #19 anon
    May 8, 2009

    “Digital Fortress” started out with a bunch of NSA cryptographers discussing an interesting crypto problem in the presence of an uncleared civilian consultant, who had been brought in to help translate Japanese because nobody at Fort Meade knew anything about kanji. Brown’s credibility went downhill from there. I wasted a couple of hours on that book; I’m not wasting any more on Dan Brown.

  20. #20 Jr
    May 8, 2009

    I didn’t really like them as literature but what really pisses me of is his passing it of as semi-factual.

  21. #21 Blake Stacey
    May 8, 2009

    the Catholic Church, which did more to keep the universities open and flourishing during the Middle Ages than any other institution,

    It’s official: Bill Donohue is trapped in the year 1450.

  22. #22 Max
    May 8, 2009

    Jason, Amadeus was pretty laughable as history. An amazing and wonderful film for sure, but don’t get your history from it. (I only wish that the BluRay of it was the original theatrical version, which I like better than the Director’s Cut.)

    By the way Jason, speaking of movies, months and months ago you mentioned that you were going to watch the original Day the Earth Stood Still. Did you? And what did you think of it?

  23. #23 JimV
    May 8, 2009

    As I recall in at the start of The Da Vinci Code, the last man who knows the secret location has been mortally wounded by enemies who seek the information, but uses his dieing minutes to provide a set of clues which he hopes the hero can decipher so that the secret is not lost, at the risk of leading his enemies to the same secret. So the whole point of the novel is the race between the hero and the villains to discover the secret. Only at the end it turns out that there’s another branch of the secret society which still has the secret, and the man who left the clues knew that. So the clues and race were a waste of time that only put the secret at unnecessary risk.

    I’ve seen worse than this. There was a fantasy book which postulated a lighter-than-air metal, but had the heroine rescue someone by dropping the metal down to him from above. But Dan Brown is currently in second place on my list of authors guilty of major plot malpractice. Of course there are a lot of books which I know better than to start, or start but don’t get into very far.

    So there are probably lots of worse authors than Brown, but enough better ones that I don’t lack for good reading material. He’s in the range where I normally wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend against him, but it bugs me: did he and his editors and proof-readers spend months on that book and never notice the logical flaw, or did they notice and it and not think it worth their time to correct it? Neither is conducive to the kind of rational society which I would like to see humanity progress to.

  24. #24 Kurt
    May 8, 2009

    Off topic, but I was just checking the new selections over at the Sci Am book club, and guess what I saw?

  25. #25 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 8, 2009


    I was joking about Amadeus and JFK being masterpieces of historical scholarship! I did, however, enjoy both films. I have not yet gotten around to seeing The Day the Earth Stood Still, either the original or the remake. It’s on my Netflix queue, but has been pushed down a bit since I have recently developed a West Wing fetish that must be sated. (I’m now part way through season four!)


    Have you ever seen the movie Cube? It’s about a group of strangers who are trapped inside a gigantic cube. The cube has been subdivided into many smaller cubes. Each room thus has six exits, leading to others of the small cubes. The catch is that some of the rooms are booby trapped. Entering them means certain death in some horribly gruesome way.

    At some point they discover that each door has a number attached to it. Somehow they realize that rooms labeled with prime numbers are safe to enter. Happily, one of the strangers is a math prodigy, so each time they approach a door she dutifully starts scribbling on a piece of paper, desperately trying to determine if the number is prime. At one point they come to an especially difficult one. The math prodigy just can’t seem to get a handle on it, while the other characters pressure her angrily. Tension mounts while she frantically tries to solve the problem.

    The number is something like 10,275.

    No point, but your comment made me think of that for some reason.


    The link you gave leads to a log-in screen. But on the off chance that it’s a link to my Monty Hall book, thanks for mentioning it to me. Just today I received my courtesy copies of the book. Very exciting! The official release date for the book is June 4. Don’t worry. It will be blogged…

  26. #26 Bill
    May 9, 2009

    Maybe we sometimes forget that these books are fiction. Historical accuracy is not required. I enjoyed Angels and Demons more than The Da Vinci Code, and thought they were both a good read, maybe because my enjoyment was not hampered by having too much historical knowledge. Why the Catholic church reacts at all to these books is a mystery to me. These books will not pass the test of time, along with most of what comes out of Hollywood, but they’re not meant to be classics, just entertaining fluff.

  27. #27 Free Radical
    May 9, 2009

    Bill, I wish I could agree with you that page-turning fiction is harmless fun and historical accuracy is not required – actually, by and large, I DO agree with you. That’s because I don’t assume that everything I read on the printed page is accurate, but there are literally hundreds of millions of people who do – people not assisted by the fact that Dan Brown CLAIMS historical, geographic and architectural accuracy that he doesn’t come within light-years of possessing.

    I have personally met people who said, without any hint of embarrassment, that they were devout Catholics until they read the Da Vinci Code, but that they don’t know what to believe now – they can no longer trust anything they’ve been told now that Dan Brown has revealed the Church’s lies. Normally I think the Church’s moral panics about literature are wildly counterproductive, but in this case I think there’s much to panic about.

  28. #28 Free Radical
    May 9, 2009

    Not, of course, that I care. To clarify, I find literary inaccuracies that distress the Catholic Church delightful, but fiction also has the potential to cause problems for REAL people. That’s what I’m saying.

  29. #29 Jr
    May 9, 2009

    I have also met one person who took them seriously as history. He was not a catholic anyway so there was no benefit from it.

  30. #30 Kurt
    May 9, 2009

    The link you gave leads to a log-in screen.

    Yikes! Why would vendors who want to sell stuff require visitors to create an account before viewing their site? I thought companies were a little more web-savvy nowadays.

    Anyway, you’re absolutely right, it was your Monty Hall book. Since that link wasn’t productive, I see that Amazon has your book listed as already released.

  31. #31 Kurt
    May 9, 2009

    Getting back on topic, when my mom read The Da Vinci Code, it made her start questioning some of her religious beliefs (she is Catholic). Of course, she knew the book was fiction, but just being exposed to alternate possibilities somehow allowed her to break free from some ingrained beliefs. She followed it up with some of Bart Ehrman’s books, and now has a quite broadened view of her religion. So even though it was indirect, I would still have to give Dan Brown a little bit of credit for that.

  32. #32 JMax
    May 9, 2009


    I can identify in some way with your mother in that I first started to question religion at an early age due to my infatuation with Greek/Roman/Norse mythology and noticed some similarities with Christianity and religion in general.

  33. #33 Free Radical
    May 9, 2009

    Kurt – Bart Ehrman is terrific, and I can’t say I’m upset at anything that leads people to his books. I glad to hear they’ve affected someone, since he kind of intends them to pull the rug out from under people in a way they do far, far less often than I would expect.

  34. #34 DuWayne
    May 10, 2009

    I actually found The Da Vinci Code rather amusing in a Ludlumesque brain candy sort of way. Brown is definitely not high on my list since I started school and have little enough time for entertainment reading (I have Between Two Worlds: The Construction of the Ottoman State to get me through my break before the summer semester). But given my predilection for cheesy spy/conspiracy thrillers, I imagine that I’ll get around to Angels & Demons at some point.

    Free Radical –

    I really don’t see getting upset that fiction occasionally makes people believe erroneous bullshit.

    I absolutely love John Le Carre, but don’t assume that George Smiley’s world bares any resemblance to British intelligence. I really enjoyed Clancy’s earlier novels (yes, I really did), but excepting when he describes naval vessels and aircraft, I tend to assume that he knows very little about the reality he writes about. I also found Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminati novels terribly big fun, but manage to avoid believing that there is a worldwide conspiracy that is run by reptile people.

    Yet in all the aforementioned cases, there are morons who believe they are gospel. I daresay that really doesn’t say much about the authors or their writing, rather it speaks volumes about people who are painfully credulous – far beyond the pathological credulity that I have to work extra hard to compensate for in my own life.

  35. #35 BaldApe
    May 10, 2009

    “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental. If you can’t understand that, it’s your problem, not mine.”

    At least that’s what I would say if I made a real movie or wrote a novel.

  36. #36 JimV
    May 11, 2009

    Jason, thanks for your comment. That’s another good (bad) example of things that make me go huh? The scriptwriters couldn’t have checked with anyone who got at least a B in any (non-remedial) college math course to see whether it was hard to tell that number wasn’t prime?

    On the disclaimers for fiction issue, one of mys sisters who had about a 99 average in high school came out of the movie “JFK” convinced that the CIA had assassinated Kennedy, because, “They couldn’t put that in a movie if it weren’t true.” I agree with other commenters that the responsibility of fiction authors for that sort of thing ends after they give a disclaimer, but I wish they would place it prominently in big, bold letters so that I would waste less time arguing with people. Also, in some cases I think the publishers or movie producers downplay such disclaimers to attract bigger audiences.

  37. #37 Jr
    May 11, 2009

    “I agree with other commenters that the responsibility of fiction authors for that sort of thing ends after they give a disclaimer,”

    Well that is close to my position*. But of course Dan Brown had the opposite of a disclaimer. (What would that be? A claimer?)

    In the place where other authors mention that the story is fictional he has a page with the title “Fact” claiming that the Priory of Sion is real and that Newton, Victor Hugo and Leonardo Da Vinci was among its members. He also claims that all descriptions of architecture, artwork, documents and secret rituals are accurate when they are anything but.

    *Though I wonder how far you would extend that principle. Though you think “Birth of a Nation” was a fine movie since it clearly was fictional?

  38. #38 Ruth
    May 12, 2009

    I found Digital Fortress to be quite a page-turner, but I was highly irritated by the final ‘puzzle’. Brown has a room full of some of the best cryptological minds in the US agonising for almost an hour over the meaning of a clue that would have taken most crossword enthusiasts (and took me) about 10 seconds to solve.

  39. #39 Michael Kremer
    May 12, 2009

    Spanish Inquisition: Not really medieval. Also not really early modern. Mainly: Renaissance.

  40. #40 Michael Kremer
    May 12, 2009

    Dan Brown novels: the school of bad writing.

  41. #41 Michael Kremer
    May 12, 2009

    “The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned. Here is the paragraph with which the book opens. The scene (says a dateline under the chapter heading, ‘Prologue’) is the Louvre, late at night:

    Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, 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.

    I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don’t do it in describing an event in a narrative.”

    “The writing goes on in similar vein, committing style and word choice blunders in almost every paragraph (sometimes every line).”

    “Brown’s writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.”

    Read the whole thing. It’s a lot shorter than a Dan Brown novel and also a lot more fun.

  42. #42 amcik
    September 27, 2009

    Dan Brown novels: the school of bad writing.

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