Media : The Passion of Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code: crap or fiction?

Here’s the thing: As a kid, I never did like that game “Follow the Leader.” Somehow this anti-lemming attitude followed me into adulthood, which is probably why I’ve always gravitated toward punk rock. This and this alone kept me away from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, despite the gajillions of copies sold and the number of friends that berated my obstinacy. I just didn’t want to leap from the cliff like everyone else.

Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown has courted, and benefitted from, controversy surrounding his book’s alleged basis in fact.

A few months ago, though, I finally gave in, motivated of course by the opportunity to attack yet another author who I suspected was getting far more attention than he deserved. Long story short: As a storyteller, Dan Brown is a genius, but, as a writer, he sucks like a White House intern. Just like George Lucas, the guy has no right putting to paper the fantastic ideas floating around in his noggin. One-dimensional characters, undistinguished prose, and location descriptions that read like tourist guides just fuck it all up.

Worse, what can only be perceived as feckless marketing ploys perpetrated by Brown have reduced what would have been the page-turner of the decade into The Last Temptation of Christ Redux. Because the novel claims to be derived from historical truths, albeit presented in an obviously fictional framework, it has become a target for critics who believe Brown has deliberately represented his work as a genuine exposé of orthodox Christianity’s past. They’re right, too. Ultimately, a novel about history’s greatest deception — supposedly — is itself a well-executed deceit.

The historical deception in question is no longer the secret it once was. Leigh Teabing, a grail researcher in The Da Vinci Code, explains the conspiracy best: “Behold the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but he was a father. Mary Magdalene was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ.” Heady stuff, right? It’s a dramatic re-imagining of Biblical history that serves as the impetus for a chase story á la Indiana Jones. In fact, it should just be called Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code — except, of course, Dr. Jones was a brilliant man of heroic action, while Code’s Dr. Robert Langdon is a brilliant pussy who favors Hamlet’s theories on reaction. Ultimately, the Catholic Church is painted as history’s Legion of Doom, a portrayal made all the more acceptable by its recent efforts to cover up a history of harboring pedophilic priests.

This take on the Church has obviously pissed off the Vatican, prompting at least one cardinal to call Brown’s novel proof of “anti-Catholic” prejudice. Still, it is just a novel and no one in his or her right mind would’ve debated this or any other element of it had Brown not included a note at the front of his book: “FACT: All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” In addition, flip to the back of the book and you’ll find a list of sources to validate his research — suggesting all that you’ve read is drawn from academically sound research. By including this note and sources, Brown elevated his novel into a form of non-fictional fiction, from which readers began to perceive his “historical facts” as well, historical facts. Thus began the controversy, created by Brown. With a gajillion copies sold, you can see where his efforts got him and now maybe even understand why so many are determined to prevent readers from interpreting The Da Vinci Code as anything other than fiction.

Brown’s claims on his website that the book’s factual elements are only interpreted and debated by fictional characters is a cheap cop-out, as is suggesting that our perceptions of history can’t be trusted because the winners wrote the history books. Furthermore, by stating that he does believe in the conspiracy he wrote about, he has consciously added more fuel to the fire — more proof that the controversy is intentional.

More insulting, however, is how he markets The Da Vinci Code as impeccably researched. Rather than an assault on Christian teachings, it is, in fact, an assault on secular reasoning. There are so many blatant factual holes here, you might mistake it for I-94 after the spring thaw. Let’s explore some of my favorites, many of which have helped to fill the pages of more than a dozen books debunking Brown’s claims.

While certain elements of Opus Dei do practice voluntary mortification, it is not in any way a monastic order — sorta the whole set-up for the back-story of one of the novel’s primary villains. In fact, there are no monks in the order. Zilch.

The canonization of Opus Dei founder St. Josemaría Escrivá took place in 2002, 27 years after his death — not 20 as Brown states.

The “cryptex” — a complicated puzzle box that supposedly contains the location of the Holy Grail — is said to have come from Leonardo Da Vinci’s secret diaries even though no such invention has ever been attributed to him. Perhaps that’s why the illustrated version of the novel goes sans cryptex illustration.

Paris was founded by the Gauls in the 3rd Century BC. The Merovingians — who Brown seems to think founded the City of Lights — didn’t rule there until the 6th Century.

Brown suggests the Louvre Pyramid was built from 666 panes of glass per a demand of French President Francois Mitterrand. There are, in fact, 673.

Now, you might’ve noticed I skipped debating the authenticity of his claims about Catholic history, the Gospels, the Gnostics, Mary Magdalene, or anything of that nature. Please don’t think I’m pulling a Langdon here and pussying out; there’s just no reason to go there, since there are so many sources out there that have successfully pulled the proverbial rug out from under his feet on almost every point. Instead, I wanted to point out how the simple details, the ones no one should get wrong, are in fact wrong. How anyone can believe as fact anything Brown says is beyond me. The novel’s errors are the product of lazy editing, too, endemic of a growing trend in today’s ever more market-driven world of publishing.

Nevertheless, you should pick up The Da Vinci Code. It might read like a second-rate romance novel on steroids, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in it. It’s not like everything we read can be Ulysses, after all. You should do so before Friday, too, ’cause that’s when Ron Howard’s li’l opus, The Da Vinci Code movie, opens nationwide, starring none other than Tom Hanks. It’s perfect casting, too. Robert Langdon can’t find his balls, and Hanks has never seemed to have any.

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