Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Attacking the Da Vinci Code

Continuing the unfortunate trend in America to use the terms “lie” and “liar” to attack any opinion, statement, conclusion, characterization or concept that someone strongly disagrees with, critics of the best-selling novel The DaVinci Code are ratcheting up their attack on author Dan Brown for being everything from anti-Christian to a heretic to a fraud. This spring will see publication of a welter of Brown de-bunking or defending books and articles, with titles like “Breaking the DaVinci Code,” “The Da Vinci Con,” and “Dismantling the Da Vinci Code.” And this is just beginning: wait for the movie, which should be in the works any day now.

Why all the foofarah? The Da Vinci Code is an improbable chase mystery that weaves its plot from an eclectic morass of theories, opinions, fables, factoids, trivia, rumors and outright nonsense, supposedly all leading to the conclusion that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, and that the Catholic Church’s efforts to suppress that “fact” are only equaled in their strangeness by the activities of a secret society sworn to prove it to the world. Or something like that. The novel compensates for clunky plotting and inconsistent character behavior with an unusual volume of provocative sidebars on cryptography, art, mathematics, architecture, and history that should send even minimally skeptical readers to the internet or the library. The problem seems to be that many readers are swallowing Brown’s fictional concoction hook, line and sinker, leading alarmists to conclude that Brown has set out to destroy Christian dogma with “lies” and “fabrications.”

Beyond a doubt, Brown’s scholarship is easily dismantled. He misstates many facts, relies on others that are dubious at best, and trots out sources that have been authoritatively shown to be wrong, badly researched, or worse. But he does so in support of an old fashioned page-turner that is redolent of nothing so much as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and I don’t recall Egyptologists having conniptions over that entertaining silliness, or any books being published to prove that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were out to sully the Old Testament. Yes, Dan Brown begins his tale by stating that the historical facts in the book are “true.” What does that mean? This is a novel. Anything the author does to increase a reader’s willingness to be immersed in the story is a fair tactic, including starting a book with a phony statement of authenticity. Horror writer H.P. Lovecraft was fond of beginning first person narratives, invariable written in the cell of an insane asylum, with chilling statements like, “As I write down, in my miasma, the dim memories of the blood slurping sloth people who rose up from the mire that summer night, the only thing I can attest to for certain is the absolute truth of my tale.” Was Lovecraft lying (this is written in the assumption, perhaps rash, that there are in fact no “sloth people”) when he wrote such claptrap? Of course not: he was trying to write an entertaining escapist fiction, just like Dan Brown.

Ah, but many people believe Dan Brown’s fiction. Why? One reason, a major one, is that sloth book reviewers have insisted on representing Brown’s historical graffiti as valid scholarship. These blurbs are typical:

“Brown doesn’t slow down his tremendously powerful narrative engine despite transmitting several doctorates’ worth of fascinating history and learned speculation. The Da Vinci Code is brain candy of the highest quality.” – Chicago Tribune

“Dan Brown’s conspiracy-theory thriller is the pulp must-read of the season…an ingenious mixture of paranoid thriller, art history lesson, chase story, religious symbology lecture and anti-clerical screed.” –

“Dan Brown masterfully concocts an intelligent and lucid thriller that marries the gusto of an international murder mystery with a collection of fascinating esoterica culled from 2,000 years of Western history.” –

Did any of these reviewers actually make the effort to research whether Brown’s facts were legitimate or hooey? Clearly not, because if they had they would not have represented his work as history. It is their lazy characterizations, more than any writings of Brown, that have transformed a novel, which by definition is largely or partially untrue, into the collection of “malicious lies” attacked by so many.

There are ethical issues here that cannot be glossed over so quickly. If Brown’s objective was indeed political and religious, if he really intended for his fictional work to undermine the Christian faith with the use of flawed and manipulated history, then the attacks, or at least the rebuttals, are more justifiable. Even in this circumstance, however, it is difficult to accuse an advocate of using deception when he chooses a medium that announces itself as fantasy to all who encounter it. The worst that can be said is that such an effort cynically exploits reader deficits in intellect and initiative.

Perhaps a novel would be a despicably effective way to spread acceptance of, for example, Holocaust denial. Perhaps a novel is the perfect vehicle to spread malicious lies “ethically,” because the form can be used to make a weak historical argument seem compelling. That is a discussion for another day. Nobody should be “deceived” by The Da Vinci Code, because the accuracy or inaccuracy of most the facts it contains can be easily researched by anyone who has fingers and a modicum of intellectual curiosity.

Dan Brown is not a liar; Dan Brown is a novelist, and thanks to having a knack for controversy, a very rich one. His novel is far from a deathless classic, but it deserves criticism as a work of fiction, not as a sinister work of subversive history.

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