Friday, February 11, 2005

Da Vinci, Cold

It's been a while since our DVC post, so we thought we'd add our review of the book. We didn't want to leave the reader with the impression that the book was a fascism fest. It's is a pretty formulaic page turner, a fun quick read. Written at about the level of the average Nancy Drew mystery, it is best appreciated at that level. As far as the content, there are howlers on virtually every page (starting with the hero who looks like "Harrison Ford in Harris tweed" and is a "Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard" -- good work if you can find it). You have to ignore very pulpy, cheesy writing to enjoy this romantic thriller.

Intended as a book that a dedicated reader could finish in a day, or something you take to the beach and casually finish in a weekend, "The Da Vinci Code" makes for a reasonable airline novel, so much so that it is often a bit clunky in its desire to ensure that no intellectual effort on the reader's part will be required. Here's a recurring example in this novel: a bit of unfamiliar terminology, say "crux gemmata" (jeweled cross) will will be explained, then one page later a character will finger his jeweled cross and explain, "Oh, yes -- this is a crux gemmata." We've read dinner menus that were more demanding on the reader. Sharing the book with Mrs. Thumos, we both read about a third of it in a day, sharing the same copy, and that's a full work day plus taking care of kids, bedtime, etc. That's also a kind of virtue, we guess -- it's fast and peppy.

As far as history goes, Dan Brown apparently thinks that "most historians" give credence to the forgeries and frauds promoted in hoary best-sellers like "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." This author gets the best of both worlds: simultaneously claiming that "it's just fiction," while introducing the novel with claims that the historical record contained within is "fact." That claim is ridiculous. To pluck a random example, he spends some time talking about the Council of Nicaea, and incorrectly summarizes it as the origin of the doctrine of Christ's divinity by Constantine. He ignores the Arian controversy out of which it arose, which is like trying to explain the Treaty of Versailles without mentioning World War I. He ignores the documented fact, agreed upon even by the cheerleaders of the gnostics that he is sympathetic to, that the earliest gnostic doctrines held that Christ was *purely* God, and not really man -- the very reverse of the doctrine that serves as the lynchpin of his novel's intellectual base (such as it is). This is a bad novel for weak or misinformed Christians, but anyone familiar with history should spot the train wreck of Brown's ideas a mile off.

Oh yes, and in Brown's world, Opus Dei has shadowy assassin "monks" (in real life, Opus Dei is not a monastic order -- there are no Opus Dei monks, let alone trained assassins), and the Catholic Church has been promulgating known lies as its central dogmas, promotes violence throughout the world, and has been retarding the progress of science and knowledge for 2 millennia. Brown leaves the reader with the impression that this, too, is a matter of settled historical record. Oh, but then again, it's just fiction. Except when it's not.

In general, if you're looking for a heady thriller wrapped around Christian arcana, We'd recommend Umberto Eco's excellent "Name of the Rose," not this dumbed down, by-the-numbers novel.
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