“Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco


Kind of tedious towards the middle while wading through voluminous minutiae of secret societies and medieval history, but I am glad I plowed through it all.  The final 100 pages or so are pretty good.

The narrator is a researcher/editor at a small vanity press which begins to specialize in occult works.  For fun, he and two co-workers take ideas from various manuscripts and weave them together into a large overarching plot, what they call “the Plan.”  The Plan is a creation of the Templars, who stumbled across ancient knowledge of telluric lines while crusading in the Orient.  The lines point to a source of natural energy; if someone controls the source they control the Earth itself, including weather, earthquakes, etc.  For some reason the Templars can’t act on their knowledge immediately (can’t recall the reason or if it was actually “revealed” in the book), so they split up the secret amongst six groups, along with plans to re-combine periodically over the next 600 years.  The secret is a map and a method: the special map is to be placed below a pendulum swinging in the Conservatory in Paris on a certain date, when sunlight from a certain window will illuminate a strip along the floor; the spot on the map where the pendulum arc and the light cross marks the location where the Earth can be controlled.

Sounds good and overly-complicated, just the sort of thing the Templars would do, right?  Except it’s all made up and in fact, the one “secret coded message” that kicks it all off can also be convincingly explained as a medieval listing of business transactions.  But still, word of the Plan attracts the attention of a certain secret society (perhaps led by the Comte de Saint-Germain, or someone who thinks that’s who he is) which assumes it is all too real.  This spells Big Trouble for our heroes since the group expects them to also have the all-important map; denying it actually exists must mean that the secret really is a juicy one!

Really the book is not about the Plan at all; it’s about the psychology behind the occult and secret societies.  Why are they attractive? First it is fun and exciting:

“Believe there is a secret and you will feel like an initiate.  It costs nothing.”

Next, it provides excuses:

“There can be no failure if there really is a Plan.  Defeated you may be, but never through any fault of your own.  To bow to a cosmic will is no shame.  You are not a coward; you are a martyr.”

Assuming all the secret societies have no real legs to stand on, maybe the real big secret is that there is no big secret?

(Then again, there may be a second interpretation to the book: the Plan is real; they just happened to stumble upon the truth and became entangled in events beyond their capacity to control.)


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