What's Going On / Bonus Thoughts on The Lost Symbol

Posted by Alex Jordan on

The Intertron is working and I'm enjoying my new place, which also means I'm scurrying back and forth between my desktop computer and laptop to polish up the graphics on Around The World. As the last Development Diary showed, I'm really unhappy with how that water looks. The remake of the Secret of Monkey Island pulled it off much better with simple 2D refraction, so I'm experimenting with that right now. More about that soon.

And since I have your attention, here's some more Spoiler-rific rumination on The Lost Symbol:

The Big Bad of the book, Mal'akh, is actually Zachary Solomon, Peter Solomon's son. All right? This becomes patently obvious the moment Dan Brown ambiguously begins describing Mal'akh's history as a prisoner in the same Turkish prison that Zach got imprisoned in while transporting hard drugs.

Brown narrates the scene as a vague prisoner overhearing Peter Solomon vowing to leave his son in jail and teach him a lesson rather than paying the warden a bribe to spring him. Sure, fair enough. The idea that some prisoner would then use this information about Zach Solomon's personal wealth to murder Zach for his money makes a bit of sense, sure. But Brown makes it clear that this maneuver is borne of righteous indignation, that some unnamed prisoner is shocked, shocked that a father would knowingly leave his son in jail to teach him a lesson.

Did Brown really think that any rational human being in jail, with their own shit to worry about, would bother being indignant that a father would leave his son behind? Any other prisoner wouldn't give a shit! Let alone this vague second-person-descriptive "he" prisoner. Yes, Brown, "he" actually means "Zach". I'm confident that everyone and their duck figured that one out.

Despite the fact that Brown completely botched hiding the villain's actual identity, the Zach/Mal'akh's resultant actions make sense. It's already proven that the guy is completely without conscience. It's a natural step to hatch a plan with the warden, murder another prisoner beyond recognition and pass it off as Zach, gain his freedom, murder the warden, and then escape to Greece with his personal wealth to continue being a hedonist playboy. Sure, that all makes sense.

And then things start to unravel. When he turned 18, Peter Solomon offered Zach the choice of great personal wealth or great wisdom. His dumbass son chose the wealth and fucked off to Europe to do blow and eventually get arrested. It's perfectly reasonable for a character as backward as Zach to blame his father - rather than himself - for giving him an "impossible choice" and then suffering for what he himself did once he made that choice. The spoiled idiot who blames everyone but himself is a fine archetype, and works pretty well.

But once Zach escapes to Greece and grows bored with the hedonist's life, should the reader really believe that Zach remembers the choice his father offered him and become obsessed with Freemasonry, the Ancient Mysteries, and gaining ultimate wisdom? It's possible, but a bit hard to swallow. Aside from plotting his escape from prison (and moving from drug usage to first-degree murder in the process!), it's not like Zach had demonstrated much intellect to warrant this. Still, I'll bite.

Disbelief must be suspended as Zach gets all 'roided up and tattooed and turns into this malevolent crusader for knowledge. I'll admit, that sounds kind of cool. But to then proceed to torture and murder his way through his family to gain that knowledge? Granted, it's been established that (a) Zach blames his father for his lot in life, and (b) he's earned his Murder Merit Badge by the time he returns to America to unravel the Ancient Mysteries, but how the hell does that explain his actions towards his family?

First, he breaks into the Solomon home on Christmas Eve to retrieve the Masonic pyramid. He inadvertently kills his grandmother, whoops. While doing so, since everyone assumes Zach is dead, he poses as the person who killed Zach, and for some reason is even more surprised and hurt when his father tries to kill his son's murderer!

I mean, honestly, does Brown expect us to believe that some combination of Zach's douchebaggery and his tendency to misstate or obscure relevent information (like, "Hi, I'm your son") allow him to take yet more abuse (in the form of shotgun pellets, a bullet to the shoulder, and a fall into a river) and still not reflect on his personal choices having something to do with the fact that he keeps getting screwed in life? Pathologically blaming someone else, I can buy. Pretending to be someone who your father really hates and subsequently tries to kill, because he loves the person you actually are but haven't told him you are? And then using that motivation to, years later:

  • Kidnap your father and chop off his hand
  • Try to kill your aunt
  • Kill your aunt's research assistant
  • Destroy your aunt's research
  • Kill anyone else who gets in your way


Teabing, I could buy. He was an intellectual snob and a round-the-bend academic who wanted to gain knowledge of the Holy Grail and fuck over the Catholic Church at the same time.

Camerlengo Vintresca, I could buy. He was a devout who was watching his Church crumble around him, saw his mentor seemingly betray him, and identified that betrayal as a fatal blow to Catholicism. Although he kind of, um, overreacted, everything he did, he did to save the Catholic Church.

Zach Solomon is a whiny emokid that should have OD'd and died like any other wealthy drug addict with the same lack of brains and reasoning. Instead, he reaches some level of Zen Stupidity to fuel a revenge plot that only happens because he doesn't bother telling anyone who he is.

I mean, doesn't Zach bribing his way out of prison and returning to America to simply manipulate his family make far more sense?

I know Brown needed a compelling Big Bad, but, seriously. Zach-as-Mal'akh was just kind of insulting.