The DaVinci Code
© 2003 Dan Brown
I don’t know that there is any point in introducing this book: given the controversy of its plot developments, I think it is safe to say that the whole of the English-speaking western world is aware of the book. It is controversial enough to merit books written about it criticizing Brown’s research, both from orthodox Christian and nonreligious skeptical circles. The book was turned into a movie during my first year as a skeptic, but I avoided reading it based on a bit of snobbery: I dislike reading books that are popular, having acquired an irrational pride in not being a trend-follower sometime in high school.
I disregarded that snobbery this week and read The DaVinci Code, it catching my eye while on special display the library. The imminent release of Angels and Demons, the movie version of The Da Vinci Code’s sequel, is undoubtedly what merited the book being put on display. As most readers are undoubtedly aware, The Da Vinci Code is a mystery/thriller novel that relies on Catholic and pagan symbolism as clues. The book and mystery begin in the Louvre, where the museum director has suddenly taken dead after arranging his body in an odd fashion and leaving behind a number of clues. The nature of the clues brings in Harvard religious symbolist Robert Langdon and Paris cryptologist Sophie Neveu. Both are quickly thrown into a conflict that is much larger and older than they are — a conflict that has been on-going for two thousand years. The mystery that unfolds and the thriller-esque story that is told will lead to a continent-wide manhunt of Langdon and Neveu, who are pursued by police authorities, Swiss bankers, and a fundamentalist Catholic cult, Opus Dei. The story ends in revelations that have the potential to shake the foundations of Christianity — namely, that Jesus married and had a child, and that his wife (Mary Magdalene) had been designated to lead his church before Peter ran her off to France. Brown combines this with the loss of the “sacred feminine”, or the replacement of nature and goddess worship with the more stern and penis-centered monotheistic religions.
As a mystery thriller, I must say I really enjoyed the book. Although I’ve seen the movie (my disdain for fads not withstanding, I enjoy Tom Hanks movies) and so new all of the plot twists ahead of time, Brown kept my attention and I enjoyed the book completely. I cannot and will not comment on Brown’s scholarship: I took this book as a mystery novel, not an expose of the Catholic church. What I will say is that I don’t understand the connection between Mary Magdalene and goddess worship. Even if she was the bride of Jesus, and even if he was a god-thing, the worship of her can’t simply translate to worship of an Earth-Goddess. The connection is tenuous at best for me. Beyond this, my only complaint was that the initial set of clues seemed to be entirely too thorough for belief. I find it hard to believe that a man shot in the stomach was able to think up a way to write three lines of clue that had double and triple meanings — but perhaps French museum directors are really clever.