For months now, I have had friends and family telling me "You have to, have to, HAVE TO read 'The Da Vinci Code' (Doubleday and Co., March 2003)." But -- throughout much of 2003 -- I never had the free time to actually go crack open Dan Brown's highly acclaimed best seller.
But then came the week between Christmas and New Years. Which I spent down in Georgia visiting with Nancy's parents. Since things really do move a lot slower down there (More importantly, since the part of the Peach State that I was staying in -- the backwoods of the Northeast -- was virtually an internet-free zone), I suddenly found myself with time on my hands. Lots and lots and LOTS of time on my hands.
So -- hoping to kill a few hours -- I eventually found myself picking up a copy of "The Da Vinci Code." Read the thing cover to cover in a couple of hours and ...
I don't get it. This is the book that's been on the best sellers list for months now? The great new historical thriller that everyone's been raving about?
Don't get me wrong. "The Da Vinci Code" is an entertaining enough read. But it's basically an airplane book. You know, the sort of thing that you read on a long flight to help the time pass. Fun but forgettable.
The book's plot adheres closely to the strictures of the thriller genre. Only three or four pages in, "The Da Vinci"'s somewhat laughable hook (I.E. An elderly curator at the Louvre has been shot in the gut by a brutal albino assassin. Since he has only 20 minutes to live, the curator must move quickly if he is to leave a vitally important message behind) is dropped into place.
Brown then quickly introduces the book's hero: Robert Langdon, a bookish but handsome Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University. As we meet the character, Langdon is being roused out of a deep sleep at a Parisian hotel by a member of France's Judicial Police. Less than an hour later, Robert's at the Louvre himself, standing over the body of the elderly curator, trying to determine the significance of the extremely odd position of the corpse.
Of course, anyone who's read more than a couple of thrillers knows that the real reason that the Judicial Police have called the professor in to consult is that Langdon himself is one of the chief suspects in the curator's murder. And Police Inspector Bezu Faches has just begun tightening the noose (I.E. getting Robert to inadvertently implicate himself in the crime) when who should arrive but the brilliant but beautiful young cryptologist, Sophie Neveu.
And why did Inspector Faches call in a cryptologist? Because -- of course -- the elderly curator had scrawled a mysterious message on the floor just before he expired. Sophie's there to help unravel the code ... but also because the corpse on the museum floor happens to be her estranged grandfather.
I know, I know. The plot of "The Da Vinci Code" sounds pretty silly and clichéd when you strip it down to its bare bones like that. But Brown writes well enough and keeps things moving at a fast enough pace that -- even when the coincidences start really piling up -- you're still willing to cut the author some slack.
"And why is that, Jim?" you ask. Because "The Da Vinci Code" is really two books in one. The surface story deals with Robert and Sophie racing around Europe, trying to solve this ancient mystery with the French police and various villains hot on their heels. But just behind this -- serving as the main mechanism that drives the book's plot -- is a somewhat radical rethink of the history of the Catholic Church and (more importantly) the private life of Jesus Christ.
Now some of you may be aware of the controversy surrounding "The Da Vinci Code." That this novel has upset many members of the Catholic faith for suggesting that not only was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene, but that Mary was actually carrying his child while Christ was crucified.
Now -- not being much of an expert when it comes to religious matters (my area of expertise is actually pretty limited; I can speak authoritatively about the Mouse, the movie industry and musical theater ... but after that, I got squat) -- I can't really say if Brown has his facts here straight or not. But -- that said -- I have to admit that the guy has put together a pretty compelling tale about what may have been going on behind-the-scenes for the past 2000 years.
"But is it true?" you ask. I say "Who cares?" I don't really look for great revealing truths whenever I'm reading on airplanes. I just want to be entertained/distracted for a few hours. And "The Da Vinci Code" did that. It made me forget that I was stuck at Nancy's parents' house for a few hours. Which -- believe you me -- was a very GOOD thing.
Anyway ... why am I bringing up a book like this on a website that primarily deals with the Walt Disney Company? Well, if you can believe it, Brown -- as part of his book's narrative -- suggests that Walt Disney may have actually played a role in perpetuating the myth of the "Holy Grail." Dan points to the studio's 1959 release, "Sleeping Beauty" (with its tale of a beautiful young girl hidden away from the public's eye) as something that was deliberately done to reinforce church doctrine.
Jeese, I don't know about that one. But the author also has his hero wear a Mickey Mouse watch (which -- if I'm remembering correctly -- is also supposedly to have some sort of pseudo religious significance: that Mickey's position on the watch face closely mimics the pose of one of Leonardo Da Vinci's more famous drawings, "The Vitruvian Man" ... or something to that effect.) So I guess professor Robert Langdon can't be all bad.
Again, let me stress here, that "The Da Vinci Code" isn't great literature. It's sort of a schizophrenic volume. Part standard issue thriller, part would-be expose of the church's hidden history. Whether this book will work for you really depends on how open-minded you are. Whether you can readily accept alternate versions of history. As well as some fairly clichéd writing.
I know that this isn't really all that strong a recommendation for "The Da Vinci Code." But -- to be honest -- I wasn't really all that impressed with Dan's book. Given all the fuss that this book has caused (as well as the months and months it sat on the best sellers list), I guess maybe my expectations were just set too high. All in all, I found the "Da Vinci Code" to be a mildly diverting read.
If you too would like to read what all the fuss is about, then we suggest
that you pick up your very own copy of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci
Code" from Amazon.com by clicking on the link to the right.
Your cost will (unfortunately) remain the same (though Amazon is currently
offering this best seller for 40% off!) But -- if you go there through
us -- we get a tiny cut of what you spend. So help keep Jim Hill behind
the computer where he belongs and pick up your copy of "The Da Vinci
Code" through the link to the right.