The Holes in Dan Brown’s “Inferno”: Interview with Gary Jansen

Gary Jansen is the first (presumably of many) to have put out a book exploring the fact, fiction, and errors in Dan Brown’s new thriller, Inferno.  He just released The Infernos of Dante and Dan Brown: a Visitor’s Guide to Hell. The Secret History of Art also published two articles on the subject, one in a Daily Beast article and one in this column.  But with lightning speed, Jansen produced an entire book exploring the subject.

We spoke to him about his process:

I wrote a column for The Daily Beast a day after “Inferno” came out noting 10 research “boo-boos” in the book.  But to be honest, those were just the first 10 I came across (considering I had a really narrow deadline), and I thought to myself that there could be a whole book addressing these.  What is one of the big errors that you mention in your work?

That’s a great question. You know when I’m reading fiction for pleasure I’m probably a lot more lenient when it comes to historical and factual details than I would be if the author was writing non-fiction. When I was reading Inferno I just wanted to have a good time but I read your article and you have a great discerning eye. There were a couple of times when I thought that Brown had gotten a detail about Dante incorrect, but then I checked it and he was right. It was I who mis-remembered. I do think Brown mentions that there are nine circles in Purgatory. There are only 7 actually. Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain is named after the Mount of Purgatory. Each section of the mountain represents one of the seven deadly sins.

You got this book of your out really fast.  As a reviewer I tried to get an advance copy, but couldn’t get one, so I imagine you, too, had to read and write quite frantically after the release.  How did you do it so quickly?

You know I don’t think my wife and kids have forgiven me for going MIA the week the book published. I started reading Inferno the day the book was released and then would read on the train coming to work and late through the night after getting home. I worked on the writing for two days during the weekend after the book was released. I was mentally exhausted at the end of it. I’m not sure I’m going to do something like that again! Now, my ebook isn’t a long book…It’s only about 40 pages and as I say in my introduction it really serves as an extended footnote on both Dante and Dan Brown’s Infernos. I already had in mind how I wanted to approach my overview of Dante and a few of its attention-grabbing characteristics that Brown’s readers might be interested in. Now, as Dan Brown says in his book there are people who dedicate their entire lives to exploring and examining the Divine Comedy so my ebook was never meant to be an exhaustive examination of Dante. It’s more a work of appreciation for two of my guilty pleasures. And then I looked at a couple of themes in Dan Brown’s book that I found interesting and explored those using the prism of Dante’s work. I didn’t want to give away what happens in Brown’s Inferno so I think you can read my eBook either before or after his book and hopefully it adds a new layer of meaning to it.

For people like me, who enjoy Brown’s books but are bothered by the research errors, could you recommend some really good, fun works of fiction that are also very well-researched?

I love recommending books, so thanks for the opportunity to do so. Over the years a number of people have pointed out a few of Umberto Eco’s books as great recommendations and I would absolutely agree. Foucault’s Pendulum and The Name of the Rose are really well-researched and make you think. They aren’t necessarily the easiest reads, but they you do learn a lot about history in them. Also, Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth is good read. He takes some liberties with the history in that book too and there are some questionable scenes that go on far too long, but I enjoyed it very much.

Thanks for your time, Gary, and best wishes.

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