It is well-known that Dan Brown likes to engage in fun games with his readers, often setting 'treasure hunts' through which they can get access to more information about his work than is readily available. Perhaps the most significant example was the cover of his bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, in which a number of codes were embedded that, when solved, gave hints to the topics that would be discussed in the next book in the series. By solving these ciphers, I was able to write a book predicting the content of The Lost Symbol some five years before it was released.
With the publication date of Brown's next novel Inferno now set (which, incidentally, seems to have been deliberately chosen in order to encode the value of Pi), what can we find if we search around for other possible clues to the strange topics that Dan Brown might explore this time? Taking a look at his website, we find a number of little puzzles waiting to be solved, one of which takes this form:
While at first glance this square of letters and numbers might look like gibberish, it's actually quite easily solved - it's a Caesar Square, where instead of reading left to right, top to bottom, we should instead read top to bottom, left to right. Doing so gives "MS408 Yale Library", the call number of a certain manuscript within Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library: the Voynich Manuscript.
Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript — named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912 — are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.
Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: 1) botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species; 2) astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures; 3) a biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules; 4) an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms; 5) pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, and 6) continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.
If we go to the 'Secrets section' of Dan Brown's site, and put 'Voynich Manuscript' into the input box, we are taken to the video summary that I've embedded at the top of this page. Is this just a fun little piece of information that Dan Brown felt like sharing, or is it related to the topics in his upcoming book Inferno. As I explore in my eBook Inside Dan Brown's Inferno (available on Amazon for just $2.99), there is good reason to believe so.
Not just because of the rather professional nature of the video (which suggests it might have been created deliberately for publicity purposes) and the fact that other videos from Brown also hint at other topics in the book, but also because of the apparent provenance of the Voynich Manuscript. Dan Brown's Inferno will be set (at least for a significant amount of time) in the birthplace of the Renaissance: the city of Florence, in Italy. And the Voynich Manuscript is believed to have originated in Northern Italy around the time of the Renaissance (with some researchers even theorising that it might have been created by Leonardo da Vinci). The links seem to obvious to ignore - Da Vinci, northern Italy, the Renaissance, a book of uncracked codes. If I'm correct in predicting that the manuscript will be mentioned in Brown's next book, it makes Inferno all the more attractive for those who love hidden history topics.
Below, I've embedded a full-length documentary on the Voynich Manuscript (The Book That Can't Be Read). You can view high resolution scans of the Voynich Manuscript at the website of the Beinecke Library.
And of course, you can discover more about the likely topics and locations in Brown's next book by grabbing a copy of Inside Dan Brown's Inferno from Amazon for just $2.99.