Angels and Demons: The Making of an International Thrillerby Dan Brown
The Internet Writing Journal, May 2000
Angels & Demons was inspired in a bizarre location. I was beneath Vatican City touring a tunnel called il passetto--a concealed passageway used by the early Popes to escape in event of enemy attack. According to the scholar giving the tour, one of the Vatican's most feared ancient enemies was a secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati--the "enlightened ones", a cult of early scientists who had vowed revenge against the Vatican for crimes against scientists like Galileo and Copernicus. I was fascinated by images of this cloaked, anti-religious brotherhood lurking in the catacombs of Rome. Then, when the scholar added that many modern historians believe the Illuminati is still active today and is one of most powerful unseen forces in global politics, I knew I was hooked...I had to write an Illuminati thriller.
Most people have never even heard of the secret brotherhood of the Illuminati. Secret societies like the Illuminati go to enormous lengths to remain covert. Although many classified intelligence reports have been written on the brotherhood, few have been published. Conspiracy theories on the Illuminati include infiltration of the British Parliament and U.S. Treasury, secret involvement with the Masons, affiliation with covert Satanic cults, a plan for a New World Order, and even the resurgence of their ancient pact to destroy Vatican City. Separating Illuminati fact from fiction can be difficult on account of the massive quantities of misinformation that has been generated about the brotherhood. Some theorists claim this plethora of misinformation is actually generated by the Illuminati themselves in an effort to discredit any factual information that may have surfaced. This concealment tactic--known as "data-sowing" is often employed by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Photo of CERN's underground detectors for analyzing particle collisions.
Antimatter plays a startling role in Angels & Demons; it is an utterly terrifying discovery. Many people want to know if antimatter is real - it is. Antimatter is the ultimate energy source. It releases energy with 100% efficiency (nuclear fission is 1.5% efficient.) Antimatter is 100,000 times more powerful than rocket fuel. A single gram contains the energy of a 20 kiloton atomic bomb--the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In addition to being highly explosive, antimatter is extremely unstable and ignites when it comes in contact with anything...even air. It can only be stored by suspending it in an electromagnetic field inside a vacuum canister. If the field fails and the antimatter falls, the result is a "perfect" matter/antimatter conversion, which physicists aptly call "annihilation." CERN is now regularly producing small quantities of antimatter in their research for future energy sources. Antimatter holds tremendous promise; it creates no pollution or radiation, and a single droplet could power New York City for a full day. With fossils fuels dwindling, the promise of harnessing antimatter could be an enormous leap for the future of this planet. Of course, mastering antimatter technology brings with it a chilling dilemma Will this powerful new technology save the world, or will it be used to create the most deadly weapon ever made?
Another fascinating experience I had while researching the book was having an audience with the Pope. However, I hasten to say that the term "audience" can be misleading. I did not sit down and have tea with the man. I was fortunate enough to be granted what is known as a "semi-private audience", which takes place in a special room inside Vatican City. The Pope came out and spoke to a group of us for about half an hour. Then he prayed and blessed us. An interesting side note--before we entered the audience room, the Swiss Guard frisked us looking for...not weapons...but concealed containers of water. I later learned that any water present in the room when the Pope said a blessing instantly becomes "holy water," and the church did not want any of us taking holy water outside of Vatican City and trying to sell it.
Angels & Demons includes an unusual graphical element never before seen in a work of fiction: the ambigram. Many people have written to ask how those symbols were created. Ambigrams are words drawn to read identically right side up and upside down. Its an ancient artistic technique that figures prominently in the mysteries of Angels & Demons. Ambigrams can be very unnerving when you first see them, and almost everyone who sees the ambigram on the novel's cover invariably stands there for several minutes rotating the book over and over, perplexed. Whether or not someone is a thriller reader, sneaking a peak at the Angels & Demons book cover is certainly worth a trip to the bookstore's thriller aisle.
The Great Seal on the U.S. dollar bill.
How could all this Illuminati symbology end up on the most powerful currency in the world? The occult symbology on the back of the U.S. one dollar bill is a source of great consternation for modern symbologists. The design (originally by Charles Thomson) was presented to the U.S. Treasury in 1935 when the Illuminati brotherhood was widely accepted to have spread from Europe into American and infiltrated the brotherhood of the Freemasons. At that time, many Masons were upper echelon government officials. Vice President Henry Wallace was one of them, and most academics now believe the design for the Great Seal was lobbied for by Wallace. Whether he made his decisions as a covert Illuminatus or innocently under their influence, nobody will ever know, but it was Wallace who convinced President Roosevelt to use the design. Of course, conspiracy theorists enjoy pointing out that Franklin D. Roosevelt was also a high-ranking Mason.
Both my last book, Digital Fortress, and Angels & Demons deal with secretive topics-covert spy agencies, conspiracy theories, classified technologies, which require extensive research. I am constantly amazed how much "secret" information is readily available out there if one knows where to dig. The Freedom of Information Act, of course, is a great resource, primarily because it can lead to specific individuals who are knowledgeable in a given field and sometimes are willing to talk about it. In many cases, understandably, these contacts prefer to remain nameless, but sometimes depending on what they've told you, they like being acknowledged in the book. Occasionally, research is simply a matter of finding the proper printed resource. For example, the detailed description in Angels & Demons depicting the intimate ritual of Vatican conclave--the threaded necklace of ballots...the mixing of chemicals...the burning of the ballots--much of that was from a book published on Harvard University Press by a Jesuit scholar who had interviewed more than a hundred cardinals, which is obviously something I never would have had the time or connections to do.
The novel raises the question of whether technology will save us or destroy us. I believe science will save us...although I tend to be an optimist. Obviously, science has wonderful potential to control disease, create new fuel supplies, engineer efficient food sources, and even allow us to migrate to new worlds. The problem, of course, is that every technology is a double-edged sword. The rocket engine that carries the space shuttle can also carry warheads. The medical breakthroughs that can eradicate disease--genetic research, for example-if misused, can bring about the end of the human race. The question is not whether or not science will expand to meet man's growing needs, but whether man's philosophy will mature fast enough that we can truly comprehend our new power and the responsibility that comes with it.
The novel describes some pretty bizarre CERN experiments. Those experiments are entirely real -- and the results are absolutely staggering. In the last few years scientists have found themselves face to face with facts that force them to rethink the world in which we live. Their discoveries have implications not only on the physical realm but the philosophical and spiritual as well. The heroine of Angels & Demons is actually one of these CERN scientists-a brilliant marine biologist whose a specialist is "Entanglement Science." Entanglement science is the study of the interconnectivity of all things. Many of the marine experiments she runs in the novel are real-life experiments that have been run in the last few years. And as anyone who has read Angels & Demons can attest, the results are unnerving. There are those who believe science will someday prove God exists. Either way, scientists are certainly starting to tackle some of life's most profound spiritual questions. Of course, these sacred questions have always been the domain of the clergy. And a new battle is raging over who will be providing answers to life's deepest mysteries... science or religion?
Secrets and mysteries interest us all, I think. Certainly, I find them interesting, which is why my novels so far have been about a classified intelligence agency and an ultra-secretive brotherhood. For me, writing about clandestine material keeps me engaged in the project. Because a novel can take upwards of a year to write, I need to be constantly learning as I write, or I lose interest. Researching and writing about secretive topics helps remind me how fun it is to "spy" into unseen worlds, and it motivates me to try to give the reader that same experience. Lots of people wrote me after Digital Fortress amazed that the National Security Agency is for real. I've already started getting similar mail from Angels & Demons--people shocked to learn about the Illuminati brotherhood, antimatter technology, or the inner workings of the Vatican election. My goal is always to make the character's and plot be so engaging that readers don't realize how much they are learning along the way.
The Swiss Guards outside the Papal Apartments in the Vatican.
The characters in Angels & Demons battle with some tough moral issues... primarily regarding the battle between science or religion. People ask me which do I think will ultimately win the war. That's a difficult question because in many ways I see science and religion as the same thing. Both are manifestations of man's quest to understand the divine. Religion savors the questions while science savors the quest for answers. Science and religion seem to be two different languages attempting to tell the same story, and yet the battle between them has been raging for centuries and continues today. The war in our schools over whether to teach Creationism or Darwinism is a perfect example. We live in an exciting era, though, because for the first time in human history, the line between science and religion is starting to blur. Particle physicists exploring the subatomic level are suddenly witnessing an interconnectivity of all things and having religious experiences...Buddhist monks are reading physics books and learning about experiments that confirm what they have believed in their hearts for centuries and have been unable to quantify.
For the launch of the book, I wanted to do something different. We set up a virtual tour of the novel at the book's website. The Angels & Demons virtual tour is actually a lot of fun. Much of the novel's story is a chase across modern Rome--through catacombs, cathedrals, piazzas, and even the Vatican's subterranean Necropolis (City of the Dead.) Because all the locations and artwork in the novel are factual and can still be seen today, we decided it would be fun to offer a real-life photo tour of all the places in the story. The tour includes plenty of things few people have ever seen--CERN's underground accelerator, the Vatican secret archives, antimatter canisters, even an indoor skydiving facility. It's also a way for readers to confirm some of the novel's more startling information. (You can tour the novel at the website, www.danbrown.com.)
Now that Angels & Demons is on the shelves of the bookstores, I'm already hard at work on the next novel. After writing about the covert National Security Agency and the clandestine brotherhood of the Illuminati, I found myself hard pressed to come up with a more secretive topic. Fortunately, I recently learned of another U.S. intelligence agency, more covert even than the National Security Agency. This new agency will figure prominently in the next novel. Until then, of course, mum's the word.
**Dan Brown was born and raised in the small New England town of Exeter, New Hampshire. The son of a teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, he grew up in a house full of books on a street where John Irving used to live. After graduating from Exeter and from Amhearst College, Dan followed in his father's footsteps by teaching English at Exeter. His bestselling debut novel, Digital Fortress (St. Martin's Press, 1998) is a heart-pounding techno-thriller about a beautiful and brainy NSA cryptographer who must defeat a madman's sick plan to cripple the U.S. intelligence community. Digital Fortress has just been released in paperback. When he's not writing or touring for his latest book, Dan can usually be found hiking, playing tennis or squash, or indulging his passion for music composition. His latest novel is Angels and Demons (Simon and Schuster, 2000). His website is located at danbrown.com