This discussion guide was first published on Culturewatch in 2009.
Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is woken by the ringing of his telephone in the early hours of the morning. The caller is Maximilian Kohler, Director of CERN, the largest particle physics research facility in the world. He wants Langdon’s help because of the murder of one of the CERN scientists who has been branded with the seal of the Illuminati. Langdon is an expert on the secret brotherhood, but along with other academics believes it to be no longer in existence. The evidence of the brand suggests otherwise. Langdon is flown in a super-fast experimental plane to CERN where he meets the Director and Vittoria Vetra, the adopted daughter of the dead scientist. She was engaged in research with her father into anti-matter which has the potential to be an unlimited energy source for the future – but which could cause a devastating explosion if allowed to come into contact with ordinary matter. Vittoria believes their work to be so secret that nobody else in the world knows about it, but they are dismayed to discover that a canister containing a deadly droplet of antimatter has been stolen.
The canister turns up in the Vatican, filmed by a wireless security camera which has been moved from its normal location. None of the Swiss Guard knows what the canister is, nor where it is, nor what will happen when the countdown timer reaches zero at midnight. Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra hasten to the Vatican to inform them, but discover that the Swiss Guard have other priorities. Today is the day of the conclave to elect a new Pope, but four cardinals – the main candidates for the papacy – have disappeared. These apparently are unrelated until a man claiming to act for the Illuminati telephones to say he will kill one cardinal an hour before midnight when the antimatter will explode. It appears that the brotherhood is fulfilling a 400-year-old promise to destroy the Vatican – and the Church. Langdon must crack a series of clues from the seventeenth century if they are to have any hope of averting a disaster.
Dan Brown – an ex-songwriter and English teacher – is best known for his runaway bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, but all four of his novels have a strong following. The first, Digital Fortress, was published in 1999. It was based around the secretive world of the USA’s National Security Agency, and the theme of secrecy and conspiracy theories has been constant in his work since then. Deception Point (2001) is also set in the world of covert security operations. Angels and Demons, first published in 2000, and his fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code (2003) both centre on secret societies which are enemies of the Roman Catholic Church. In both novels the hero is the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon who is awoken from his sleep to bring his expertise to bear in finding an explanation for the murder of a man whose body bears some grizzly decoration. In both cases it is by solving ancient symbolic clues left in works of art that he is able to save the day and win the girl.
In an interview on his website, Brown says:
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. www.danbrown.com
Angels and Demons combines the worlds of high-energy physics and established religion with some long-standing conspiracy theory to make a story which is part thriller, part romance and part art history detective story.
How would you describe Vittoria Vetra’s beliefs about religion and the nature of reality? How do these beliefs help to shape her personality? What else makes her the kind of person she is?
Do you agree with the camerlengo? Do you feel that Angels and Demons is ultimately an attack on Christian faith or a defence of its place in a scientific world? Why?
’We all benefit from a sense of contact with divinity . . . even if it is only imagined.’ (p. 369)
What do you put your faith in? Why? How would your life be different if you could be sure God is there and can be known personally?