DAN BROWN. The Da Vinci Code (2003).

26 Dec

Conspiracies are afoot, and these aren’t run-of-the-mill conspiracies of the sort that allegedly take down mere U.S. presidents. In fact, the fate of the Western world’s dominant religion is at stake. For two millennia, two institutions have vied to claim the true legacy of Jesus Christ, and now their largely secret struggle has erupted in the form of a quadruple homicide. The Catholic Church, with the ultraconservative modern sect Opus Dei as its vanguard, looms on one side; a secret society called the Priory of Sion, which traces its origins to the medieval Knights Templar and its mission to the time of the Crucifixion, huddles on the other. DaVinciCode.jpg Caught between those mighty institutions is Robert Langdon, a professor of “symbology” at Harvard, who has come to Paris on what he had hoped would be a quiet scholarly visit. In the opening sequence of this tale, the French Judicial Police summon Langdon to the Louvre so that he can shed light on the outlandishly brutal murder of Jacques Saunière, head curator of the museum. (Three other killings occur at roughly the same time.) The scene crime is awash in blood—and in symbols. It doesn’t take a symbologist, however, to surmise that Saunière was a man who knew too much.

Might the same be true of Langdon? The Louvre episode, he quickly discerns, was one move in a grand and deadly game. Multiple parties are tangling over a fabulous quarry—the Holy Grail!—and Langdon has no choice but to join the fray. Clues to the meaning and location of that legendary object are said to appear in the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, and that’s where the pseudo-discipline of symbology comes into play. With help from Sophie Neveu, a French cryptographer who happens to be the granddaughter of Saunière, Langdon follows the clues purportedly left by da Vinci (along with a welter of other puzzling signs) on a trail that leads from Paris to London and finally to a destination that may be the Grail’s final repository. The interlocking conspiracies that Langdon unearths along the way are as momentous as can be, casting doubt on the faith of billions, and they give heft to what is otherwise an old-fashioned quest saga.

Outraged critics have attacked this outrageously popular thriller for being riddled with errors and predicated on fraudulent sources. On that front, they are on firm ground: Brown claims more truth for his tale, and takes more creative license with history, than he really should. Yet many critics have also heaped scorn on Brown’s writing style, and much of that criticism is beside the point. His prose displays neither subtlety nor originality, but it’s eminently true to its purpose—which is to thrill. The standard that applies to high adventure differs from that of high literature, after all. Readers will learn little about the inner life of Robert Langdon or Sophie Neveu, and they will care even less. But those who admire raw storytelling verve will find it in these pages.


Posted by on December 26, 2013 in American, Novel, Puzzle


2 responses to “DAN BROWN. The Da Vinci Code (2003).

  1. John

    December 27, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    I think what Brown did what not so much “fraudulent” as is it was sloppy research that resulted in a collage of theories about — among other topics — the origins of the Virgin Mary and analogies he draws to non-Christian religions that include a female/male dichotomy in creation myths and theological dogma. Parts of what he talks about are based on existing, suppressed documents (the Gospel of J, for example) but much of what he does is throw a lot of theories and ideas into a blender resulting in a sensationalized Catholic Church of conspiracy very suited for a pulpy thriller. The most interesting part of the book to me was his discussion of the eradication of the goddess from most Christen religions. I don’t care that he takes Joseph Campbell’s ideas and mixes them up with passages taken from anthropology and archeology texts. He managed to arouse my curiosity to do my own research and find books about this fascinating topic.

    • Mike

      December 28, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      It seems to me, John, that your response to this book tracks pretty closely to mine. I enjoyed it on a couple of levels. First, it’s just a fun romp of a novel. The plausibility of the story, the quality of the writing—these things recede in importance if a writer can get you to keep turning those pages, and Brown does that. Second, like you, I was fascinated by the religio-historical material, and even though I didn’t take Brown’s rendition of it all that seriously, the book did spur me to look for information on which parts of it are grounded in truth. I gather that in interviews Brown has been annoyingly coy about the veracity of certain obviously contrived elements of his plot, but it’s easy enough to distinguish between the flaws of the author and the flaws in his work.


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