Tourism boards are only all too aware of the Dan Brown effect.
When the best-selling author, who’s shifted over 200million copies, features any given location in his Robert Langdon series, visitor numbers dramatically spike.
Paris featured heavily in the astonishingly successful thriller, The Da Vinci Code and following its 2003 release, saw a record surge in figures including over 600,000 extra sightseers at the Louvre.
Rome witnessed a similar increase after appearing in Angels and Demons with literary tourists clutching copes of the novel, flooding the Vatican.
And now Florence and Venice have both happily capitalised on ‘the Dan Brown economy’ after starring in his 2013 novel, Inferno, where excursion operators offering tours of key sites from the book are struggling to cope with the demand.
Makes sense that other international locations want to exploit this lucrative spectacle.
“I have beautiful coffee table books of every beautiful country in the world, sent to me on a weekly, daily basis. Literally from everywhere you could imagine,” he gingerly explains. “Visit Andorra; Visit Budapest; Visit Japan; Visit Ecuador; Visit Sri Lanka. They’re all over my house, wherever you look.
“It’s funny I did a press conference last year with a lot of the usual questions. And finally a woman’s hand shot up and she said, ‘When are you coming to China?’ And I said I don’t know, and she asked again, she asked three times, ‘when are you coming?’ And I said I would love to come soon.
“And she sort of scrunched her face and said, ‘but when is Robert Langdon coming to China? When will that be?’”
On-set of the big screen treatment of Inferno, we meet in the ornate halls of Florence’s Pitti Palace, surrounded by frescos and works by Raphael and Caravaggio.
Outside Tom Hanks, who plays Harvard symbologist Langdon, and co-star Felicity Jones, sprint up and down steps in the city’s fabled Boboli Gardens. They repeat the sequence nearly a dozen times. The atmosphere is electric.
No less for Brown. Despite the billion euro box office success of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, seeing his words come to life in a Hollywood blockbuster never gets old.
“To watch these talented people interpret my work, it’s just an honour and a privilege. I can’t quite fathom sometimes how lucky I’ve been to entrust these books to titans of the industry like [director] Ron Howard. It’s sometimes quite surreal.”
As the actors wrap on another action-fuelled day of shooting on the €130million epic which sees Langdon scramble to uncover the secrets of Dante’s Inferno to help stop the outbreak of a global epidemic, Brown explains to me the gestation of the story, beginning its inception in his teenage years.
“I’d read The Divine Comedy when I was 14 or 15 and then again in university. I loved it, I thought it was such a contemporary feeling for something that was written in the 13th century, I’ve always been fascinated by it and I think I’ve always known, since I started writing Langdon books that I would write about Dante and Inferno. And I was
really waiting to figure out how to fold that into the modern world. I didn’t want to write a book that was sort of stuck in the past, I wanted to write a book that felt modern and was relevant to the modern reader.
“And I’ve written about the church many times but Dante shaped the modern vision of hell. Yet the Bible says almost nothing about hell, our vision of hell was created by Dante. That was in my head.
“And with the scientific aspect, it always has to be something that I’m passionate about. Overpopulation is something I’m really concerned with and I wanted to educate myself further. And I figure, I’m worried about it, my readers will be worried about it too. So that’s why I choose it.”
Reportedly worth over €160million, the pleasant tempered, fair-haired 52 year-old who previously enjoyed an existence as a song-writer, has endured relentless scathing criticism frequently brand his wildly successful tomes ‘bland’ and ‘grammatically woeful.’
He visibly rolls his eyes. “Everybody has different taste. Some critics love what I do, some hate what I do, same with the readers. It’s funny, when I first started writing, for all young artists who are critiqued, it hurts. You want everyone to love what you do. But that’s not how it works. At some point you realize, ‘Oh, I’m just going to write the book that I want to read,’ and I hope people share my tastes but I don’t expect everyone to like what I do.
“And if you don’t, put down my book and stop reading. It’s as simple as that.”
Collectively inspired by his academic father, Richard G Brown; his favourite teachers while attending high school in New Hampshire and professors from alma maters Amherst College and the University of Seville, Brown claims Robert Langdon’s popularity with readers and cinema goers alike is primarily down to his every man persona. Something he says is sorely lacking from fiction on page and on screen.
“Langdon is like all of us. If he gets in a bind, he can’t pull out a gun or use jujitsu to get out of it, he has to use his mind. And that’s the way most of us are. We’re simple people who don’t have superpowers. But find ourselves in tough spots and have to use our intelligence to get out of it. Maybe that’s why these books are successful and the movies as well because people like to see someone like them having an adventure.
“The greatest heroes in my life were teachers and they call it the noblest profession for a reason. How fun is it to watch a teacher save the world, rather than Superman!”
**Inferno is in cinemas October 14