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Offbeat – 16 May 2013

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The villains in James Bond and Indiana Jones stories share similar traits: they want power or wealth. Those are rapidly becoming ‘old-skool’. The new breed of villain has simplified things. His or her coda is summed up in one easy word: ‘destroy’.
I’m busy reading the new Dan Brown romp, ‘Inferno’. I haven’t finished it yet. Normally I would be able to power through the thing in a couple of hours but I’m down to a few minutes at a time as far as the thing of relaxation is concerned. One of the things I like most about it is that the chapters are short and easy to read in a few minutes.
It draws on Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ to set up it’s plot. That’s as literary as it gets. I downloaded a free copy of Dante’s poem from the web, and am wondering if and when I will ever get to read it. At least if some schmo asks me if I have read it, I’ll be able to smile and say, “I have a copy.”
There’s nothing particularly ‘great’ to Dan Brown’s book. It’s just a fun bunch of quick moments of adrenalin, like a series of light snacks, lined up on a table. Choose how you approach it and devour at your own pace.
He started the story in the middle of the action, which is a bit of a disappointment as it doesn’t do much for the build-up. Those bits that explain things are interspersed here and there.
Dante’s Hell is reconfigured a bit like a combination bicycle lock. All that Langdon has to do is twist and manipulate the circles of Hell to get to the end. And survive the chase scenes. And so on. Think Indiana Jones or James Bond here.
The villain appears to have been revealed in the first ten chapters. Sometimes you can spot how a writer is trying to keep the villain hidden by the way the writer avoids saying certain things. If my betting on the baddie is wrong, that could be a nice surprise.
My guess is it is predictable. The premise, that someone wants to terminate lots of lives, with extreme prejudice, certainly is. That’s an interesting place to visit.
The villains in James Bond and Indiana Jones stories share similar traits: they want power or wealth. Those are rapidly becoming ‘old-skool’. The new breed of villain has simplified things. His or her coda is summed up in one easy word: ‘destroy’.
The idea is not particularly new. In stories, it is normally attached to the idea of a ‘new beginning’, usually with some form of religious root. In Constantine, the angel Gabriel tries to reawaken humanity’s compassion by creating Hell on Earth. In another Dan Brown novel, the villain tries to give rebirth to Christianity by destroying the Vatican with antimatter.
The most successful storytellers pick up what is going on in the souls and heads of their audiences. They take from the maelstrom of ideas and feelings and crystallize the most seductive threads into stories which they feed back to their viewers, readers and listeners.
If you take this as true, then it is easy enough to understand the strand. But you don’t have to spin it out of the thread of tales: you can also find it in the news. Massacres happen on the flimsiest of pretexts. Politics and religion are the thinnest of veneers. Behaviour points not to violence calculated to achieve an end, but violence for the sake of violence.
School shootings, the Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans, and all the blood spattered excesses leave the media without reasonable explanations, and the field of psychology does not appear to have any easy explanation, otherwise they would probably have told us in clear, concise terms.
One of the threads that is emerging, both in Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’ and in reality, is the idea of population pressure. It’s an idea that is well-known in the realms of resource and environmental economics, but it is rarely seen in terms of societal interaction.
There may be something in the idea that large groups and population pressure are toxic to individuals and smaller groups. At a certain point of population pressure, the smaller entity will be triggered to attack the larger group, and that religion or politics will be a minor variable.
If this is the case, then violence should be predictable. It’s not something I am going to dwell on though. I’m just going to stay away from crowded places.

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