Benjamin Baruch Woody
Every year I have the same thought. “Is Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum the greatest novel ever written?” I guess I sort of know that this is preposterous. As a former English major I have been conditioned to know that the Canon is set. The greatest works are the usual suspects: War and Peace, Ulysses, Moby Dick, and many more. Yet somehow every year when I reread FP (that’s what I will call the novel going forward) I am again stunned, delighted, entertained, and just generally moved by a work of literature. The Italian Umbert Eco was a polymath. Novelist, professor, philosopher, historian, semiotician; I could go on. He is most famous for the novel The Name of the Rose which was also made into a movie of the same name starring Sean Connery. I think the real reason I love Umberto Eco’s writing is that, when reading him, you are spending a lot of time inside the mind of probably the smartest person you have ever come in contact with.
FP is about many things but the main focus (I believe) is how conspiracy theories are started, propagated, and, perhaps, sustained. This is a particular focus of Eco’s. His novel The Prague Cemetery covers the same ground, although it examines a much more sinister invention, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. FP almost parodies a certain genre of book. I have never heard a term to describe this genre of book, so I am inventing one. These books are now called (only by me) Gnostic Procedurals. Gnosticism is a varied and complicated system of beliefs, philosophies, and history, but I have always equated it with hidden knowledge.
The prototype of a Gnostic Procedural is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown has made approximately 267 billion dollars writing books in this genre, some better than others. The usual design of a Gnostic Procedural goes something like this: an expert in ancient history (hidden or not) is somehow thrown into a race to save something (this varies wildly) because he or she (usually a team of both) becomes privy to either explosive information or a controversial object. The information usually has to do with some hidden knowledge about history. The object will usually be something well-known but lost (Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail, etc.). There is almost always a secret society that has knowledge of and obsession with the hidden knowledge. This secret society is usually trying to keep the hidden knowledge concealed, either for nefarious or altruistic reasons. Usually some evil organization is trying to gain control of either the knowledge or object and exploit whatever power the knowledge or object will bestow upon the antagonist.
I love Gnostic Procedurals. Many of them are terribly written. I don’t care. I think that I love them because I was taught, by Umberto Eco and FP, the formula of the perfect Gnostic Procedural. I will read thousands of these books always searching for a book to rival FP. I intellectually know that I will never find one but that doesn’t mean I am stopping. One day I will find Atlantis.
Below I have compiled a list of Gnostic Procedurals. These are ones that I have personally read and think they are definitely worth reading:
The Eight by Katherine Neville
The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan
The Righteous Men by Sam Bourne
There are a couple of non-fiction books I want to comment on. Much of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is based on the “non-fiction” book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. This book lays out an amazing story which I will not spoil for you. One huge part of the case made in both of these books is that the bloodline of Christ has been protected for hundreds of years by a shadowy, but powerful, organization called the Priory of Sion. Turns out that the Priory was the fabrication of a Frenchman, Pierre Plantard. Still a great read.
The books of Graham Hancock are a must-read if you are remotely interested in hidden knowledge. Hancock makes a pretty good case for hidden knowledge in science, history, archaeology, and geology. He has many books but my favorite is Fingerprints of the Gods.