Cradled in his palms
The genius of Dan Brown
September 16, 2009
Oh, so apparently some guy named Dan Brown has written some new book? The extract soon gets to the point:
The thirty-four-year-old initiate gazed down at the human skull cradled in his palms.
Mmm, beautiful. “Cradled in his palms”. One can feel the reverence with which the initiate is delicately holding this human skull. But tell us more about the skull, Mr Brown!
The skull was hollow,
That is useful information, for now I am no longer visualizing one of those solid skulls?
like a bowl,
Even better — hollow like a bowl, not hollow like, I don’t know, a syringe, or an asteroid hollowed out by aliens. The image is now irresistibly vivid! A human skull, hollow like a bowl!
But wait, Mr Brown, why are you telling us that this particular skull is “hollow, like a bowl”? Are you subtly setting up the idea that the skull contains some liquid?
filled with bloodred wine.
Ah — now this is why Dan Brown is Dan Brown. A lesser author would have been satisfied with a lesser liquid — having the human skull (hollow like a bowl) contain, I don’t know, some gazpacho soup or Ready Brek. No one but Dan Brown could have thought of filling the human skull (hollow like a bowl) with “bloodred wine”.1 It is an image of menacing ingenuity, through which Mr Brown is really beginning to establish a kind of superior Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom atmosphere.
The author then types on with some description of a big room, but it is no shame for us to admit that his best work is already accomplished: the concept of an initiate holding a human skull (hollow like a bowl) filled with bloodred wine and cradled in his palms is a kind of chorus that insists on being heard again, and it is not long before the reader is thus pleasured:
The initiate had been told every room in this building held a secret, and yet he knew no room held deeper secrets than the gigantic chamber in which he was currently kneeling with a skull cradled in his palms.
A skull cradled in his palms. Imagine! Almost as though it were a human infant. I must admit my eyes glazed over again after this at the further description of the big room and whatever, but only because I was aching to see what the author would do with his inevitable third treatment of the concept “skull cradled in his palms”. I was not disappointed:
Steeling himself for the last step of his journey, the initiate shifted his muscular frame and turned his attention back to the skull cradled in his palms.
Only a second-rate writer would vary such a winning formula. The first-rate writer knows the true value of incessant repetition. Indeed, I suspect this stunning symbol-sequence, “skull cradled in his palms”, must owe its majestic power to some actual black sorcery, because when I had finished reading the entire extract, I found myself cradling my own skull in my palms?
- Later on we are told that “The crimson wine looked almost black in the dim candlelight”, but that’s the lighting director’s problem, so fuck you. ↩