Musings

Robert Cotner, Editor


I

'd like to introduce you to one of the most remarkable individuals I've met in the past dozen or so years. His name is Robert Langdon, and he is a professor of religious symbology at Harvard University. He has written several books on religious paintings and cult symbology. I met him the day after he had given a lecture at the American University of Paris on pagan symbology hidden in the stones of Chartres Cathedral.

My recent experience with Langdon provided certain insights into his remarkable personality, which I'd like to share with you, for I know your own perspicacious sensitivities will find him a person of thorough integration. Through careful observation, I have discovered in him what we might best call mature innocence: he is often as surprised at the results of his own extraordinary intuitive powers as we who observe him are. It is as if his subtle intellect moves simultaneously on twin levels: a deeper power of mind operates on a particularly crucial and highly arcane issue seemingly without his awareness, while, on quite another level, he is busy about some matter, which we might call trivial. And suddenly, "Voila!" He discovers his mind has accomplished given necessary synapses, the complex issue is resolved, and the solution upon his lips.

I have found him to be a scholar of remarkable concentration. As such, he carries his intellect in an unassuming manner and does not display it as ostentation or use it for limited, private ends. It is because of the trust engendered by his benevolent and self-effacing manner, I suppose, that he is frequently called to Europe to speak and to serve as counsel for a variety of organizations who have need of his deep and sensitive intellectual acumen.

On assignment, he . . .

But I lead you on!

You know by now I speak of a character and not a person. The character is the product of mind of Dan Brown, and Robert Langdon makes his initial appearance in Brown's Angels & Demons (2000), a book remarkable for its insight, historical detail, and just plain old fashioned intrigue. Set in Rome, this novel brings Robert Langdon to the Holy See to foil a plot by the Illuminati to destroy the Vatican. He and CERN scientist Vittoria Vetra team to lead the reader in a remarkable sequence of revelatory encounters.

We meet Robert Langdon again in Brown's most recent novel, The DaVinci Code (2003), a much more controlled story, telling of Langdon's experience in Paris, solving the murder of the renowned curator Jacques Sauniere, who was also the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, the secret society charged with protecting the location of and truth about the Holy Grail. What a tale it becomes!

But the character of Langdon, as much as Brown's marvelous storytelling, fascinates me. Langdon is out of an earlier New England literary tradition. That is the tradition of human goodness as it emerged from the life and writing of the father of American Romanticism, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It may be best expressed in a letter RWE wrote to an unknown correspondent on July 3, 1841: "I am, like you, a seeker of the perfect and admirable Good. My creed is very simple, that Goodness is the only Reality, that to Goodness alone can we trust, to that we may trust all and always; beautiful and blessed and blessing it is, even though it should seem to slay me." We seldom find in modern literature a character, who consistently exhibits Emerson's spirit of Goodness in all of his doings as does Robert Langdon. I find him a worthy, new friend-in-books, where we all have so much kinship.


















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