Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dan Brown vs Apollyon

One of the worst demons to be found regularly tempting the writing kind is the heavy-fisted apollyon known as The Adverb. He's a tempter, alright, but worse, he's a bully. The beast will NOT stay at home, and, unfortunately, he packs a very large punch. Some folk, however, seem to welcome his blows. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Nora Roberts, and most famously, Victor Appleton II are three of his most willing victims.

Now, there is bad writing, sure, but, then there's BAD WRITING. But, you say, beauty is in the eye, etcetera. And we all agree on that. I think (and Robert Louis Stevenson thought so, too) that Sir Thomas Browne is as high as the eye on the pyramid. I love Sir Thomas' baroque word usage, I love his O altitudo of concept and phrasing. But there are others who deride and despise him. I don't talk to those people, of course. They're loathly philistines. But, just as bad, there are even some who have openly dismissed, as obscure or ornate and pedantic, novels like Hadrian the VII and so, of course, have missed out on wonderfully picturesque sentences like:

1. "She openly had been accumulating combustability these five years"

2. "the dark man with the cruel face of a Redemptorist"

3. "he loathed the cad's Herkomeresque-cum-Cameraesque technique"

4. "anxious to sneer at unhaloed poverty"

I don't know what a Redemptorist does, but I don't want him doing it to me. And the technique of the cad! Why, surely only a cad would employ such an annoyingly-described technique? The obscurity of the term, I think, contributes to the image of the character so termed. Yes, a lot of Hadrian the VII is awkwardly phrased, but one would be hard put to say this or that sentence is actually bad. "Unhaloed poverty", for instance, strikes me, with the concentrated wealth of its connotations, as both descriptively concrete and satisfyingly ambiguous. But then, examine those above sentences again (and they're a fair sample of the novel in question): neither Sir Thomas Browne nor the author of Hadrian the VII ever gave much time to The Adverb.

One can still be a good story-teller and yet a bad writer. This is obvious. David Lindsay, for instance, throughout his (shall we say metaphysical?) novels, is consistently a nearly laughably bad writer. Especially in A Voyage To Arcturus. But the plot of that book and the ideas it insistently introduces are fantastic, even powerful, sure-fire hooks following sure-fire hooks, and the reader is drawn to the end of the story. Edgar Rice Burroughs is another terrible writer, but where is a more workman-like story-teller? His books have been selling better than Bre-X fraud for years now, not to mention all the movies and merchandising accompanying his stories. So it all comes down to personal taste, doesn't it? Still, there's no excuse for bad writing.

The worst example of such writing in these perilous times has got to be Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. You know the book I'm talking about, I don't even have to link it. Has there ever been a book with a more ridiculous plot? A book, that is, outside of the Boy's Own Adventure genre? But let's leave the plot behind, shall we? I mean, it's not really a plot in the first place, is it? More like a conspiracy theory, and like all conspiracy theories, completely unoriginal—which is fine, unless you're purporting to tell the truth, or a version of it, which Dan Brown does give his readers cause to believe he is doing. So it comes as no surprise that one can find the same plot in books like Holy Grail Across the Atlantic, or, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. What one will look for very hard before finding in those books, however, is the clumsy writing which seeps out of every paragraph of Dan Brown's most famous book. One example only, that's all I'll provide, five little words on the very first page of Dan Brown's novel.

a thundering iron gate fell

Do I even have to say any more? Why is this gate thundering? Has it heard about the soft-lumber situation in British Columbia? Did it finally figure out how to defeat the "Open Sesame" of that little Arabian brat? A gate can be permitted to groan, I suppose, but that's a stock cliché, and the reader will groan, too. But thundering? And it was thundering as it fell! This door has more personality and character arc than the Genuine People Personality doors on Douglas Adams' Zaphod Beeblebrox's The Heart of Gold. Those doors were a joke, of course. But so is this one. Dan Brown no longer exists, I think. Somewhere, a giant scaly Adverb is fingering clean pages of prose, little adverbs oozing from his soft-clawed fingers and leaving silvery tracks across the now-ruined text. Look! He is raising his eyes! We are all in mortal peril.

Reading: Sarah Binks + Paul Hiebert
Van Lear Rose + Loretta Lynn

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