Ever since The Da Vinci Code, I, like many readers, have been hooked on Dan Brown. I purchased his two previous novels, Deception Point and Angels & Demons, and devoured them quickly. I waited patiently for The Lost Symbol, and devoured it just as hungrily as soon as I could get my hands on it. Brown’s unique mixture of history, urban legend, and the ever-popular crime drama genre makes for fantastic reads. While I realized after reading two of his books, The Da Vinci Code and Deception Point, that Brown uses a relatively unwavering plot formula for his novels, I didn’t much care because the history and the urban legend parts gripped me so completely.
It wasn’t until I finished Brown’s latest book, Inferno, that I realized that his formulaic approach is not confined to his plots. It also seems to apply to his women.
The female characters in Brown’s novels, much like his slowly uncovered mysteries and plot twists, are similar across all of the books. A little too similar. While his plots are familiar, each one involves a different secret society or corrupt government/religious agency that keeps the ideas fresh. The same, I’m afraid, cannot be said about his women.
Take for example, Brown’s most popular book, The Da Vinci Code (which at one point sold more copies than any book ever printed except the Bible). We, as readers, are taken on a journey through the eyes of Robert Langdon, the character who we follow in most of Brown’s novels, with the exception of Deception Point. Langdon is roped into a potentially fatal adventure through Europe, tracking The Priory of Sion, Brown’s choice of secret society for this novel, and the clues they left behind as each important member of the society is murdered. Alongside Langdon for this crazy ride is Sophie Neveu. Sophie is an analyst for France’s version of the FBI and she is assigned to one of the murder cases. She whisks Langdon away on this incredible journey to find the clues each victim left behind. Sophie is brave, witty, and quick on her feet. We are first introduced to her when she saves Langdon from being wrongfully accused of murdering one of the members of The Priory of Sion. She gives him her cellphone and a number to call, telling both Langdon and the agent present that it will give him access to an urgent message from the American Embassy. Instead, the number leads Langdon to Sophie’s own answering machine which informs him of the agency’s suspicions of him and her belief that he is innocent. Sophie then aids Langdon’s escape from the agency’s watchful eyes, an escape that involves a tracking device, a bar of soap, a window and a getaway car.
Throughout the novel, Langdon provides the historical expertise and resources while Sophie helps him escape from the authorities that are after him. She is kickass in every situation and every near-capture moment leaves you breathless with admiration for her.
However, the same character shows up again in Brown’s Inferno, just released a few months ago, only this time he has named his kickass woman Sienna Brooks. Sienna is a young woman who first appears to Langdon as a nurse in the hospital he wakes up in located in Florence, Italy. He has no recollection of how he got there or what he had done for the previous forty-eight hours. In the first few pages, Sienna helps him escape an assassination attempt and hides him at her apartment. From there, she leads him once again on a crazy journey through Europe. They form a relationship that is familiar to a veteran Brown reader; Langdon provides the historical knowledge and the woman, Sienna in this particular case, provides the kickass skills needed to evade all of the different authorities and secret societies bearing down on them.
While I appreciate Brown’s portrayal of strong female characters (The Da Vinci Code is focused on a female-worshipping society, for crying out loud!), I don’t appreciate his own personal twist on the Mary Sue character. Brown seems to be recreating the same woman in different scenarios; he gives her a different name and different backstory each time, but it still feels like the same woman in every book.
It is worth noting that none of these women seem to end up in any kind of personal relationship with Langdon by the end of the books. Brown is not creating the same romantic interest over and over again. I think this is a good sign for the representation of women in Brown’s novels. They are not simply acting in the interest of pursuing Langdon and they do not win him in the end, for the most part. Brown is not recreating a sexualized woman character at all. I think this fact lends Brown’s fiction a more feminist air than many other works.
The issue that I seem to be having with Brown’s novels, in sum, is the lack of creativity in the crafting of his female lead characters. They represent strong women, women who are intelligent and unafraid and distinctly feminine but not overly sexualized, but it seems as though Brown was only able to create this perfect female character once. So he renames her in each new Robert Langdon adventure. There seems to be no news as of yet about a new Robert Langdon installment from Brown, but I can only hope that the next books will show a little variance in his women.
Megan Tripp is a junior WLP major who drinks way too much coffee and watches and re-watches Gilmore Girls way too often. She likes shiny things and looks forward to making a career out of making things up and writing them down.