My mom loaned us a copy of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", and I've let it rot on my shelf for a few months. Over the weekend, I decided to give it a try to see why everyone is talking about it. Wow, it was a real page-turner. It was like reading the depth, the history and the secret conspiracies of Umberto Eco while reading the pace and twists of Michael Crichton. Seriously, the best of both authors, and I finished this in less than a day.
The gist of the novel is that an American professor studying religious symbolism gets mixed up in a situation where the high-ranking members of a secret society are murdered. The last one to die feels like he needs to pass on his secrets, so he encodes them in a way that his granddaughter and the professor can figure it all out. The secret is a version of the Holy Grail, though the Grail is not really a cup or anything physical here, but rather an alternate history of Christianity which has been suppressed.
The "Grail" in Brown's book is a treasure trove of documents and manuscripts that provides confirmation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife (Brown details evidence that Da Vinci is promoting this idea in "The Last Supper") and had kids together, starting a female-dominated bloodline that has stretched down through the ages. The Catholic Church is desperate to keep this quiet while others are just as desperate to get it out in the open. Meanwhile, the French police are desperate to bring someone to justice for all the murders that have taken place, and they think the professor is responsible, so he spends the whole novel basically on the run from them (and the chase is fun and fast-paced).
As you might imagine, Brown is probably taking a lot of liberties with Christian history, and I know the fundmentalist Bible-thumpers have their panties bunched over this bestseller. They're almost as pissed about the success of this book as they are about "Fahrenheit 9/11", which will pass through $100 million in another week or two. I've now seen two or three books that claim they refute Brown's harmful propaganda, etc., and there is apparently a whole cottage industry (on Amazon) of books trying to confirm or deny many of the things Brown claimed in his novel. I'm hardly a scholar of this field, so I wouldn't know where to begin on what to believe. All I know is that it was a good story, and I'm definitely going to look into his other books (his upcoming book is right up my alley, looks like: "Illuminati").
I'm interested in reading further on lots of the stuff Dan Brown talked about. Like I said, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff. My problem is that I wouldn't know which of the many "Da Vinci" books would be a reliable reference, and I'd hate to waste my time on something that turns out to be full of crap. I absolutely loved Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" (excellent Sean Connery movie, too), and I really wanted to like "Foucault's Pendulum", but that book was just too damned hard to read. I didn't have the patience for it. Both of those books deal with old European religious history and have very complex plots with satisfying twists at the end.
"Rose" is about a murder investigation in a 14th century monastery, and you will really learn a lot of interesting stuff about history by reading it. "Pendulum" is set closer to modern times when a small group decides to publish a lot of crazy conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar and their connections throughout history, and they find out they've accidentally hit a little too close to the truth (or at least the truth as some people believe it). These books remind me of the feeling I get when watching that BBC show with James Burke (?) called "Connections", only the books require the kind of sacrifice of time and devoted attention that no TV show could ever match.Posted by Observer at July 20, 2004 06:59 AM
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