Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

What happens when you mix a Harvard symbologist named Robert Langdon in with the Knights Templar, a pre-Christian fertility cult, other ancient and modern secret religious organizations, Renaissance art, and more controversial religious theories than you can shake a book at? You get Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

Brown's writing style is not heavy or overly descriptive, making for light reading that has proven popular with commuters and busy readers world wide. The characters therefore tend to be flat and they change only as events change. Since the story occurs over a short period of time, that doesn't allow much time for character growth. However, Brown is able to weave in complicated religious theories and cryptograms in a way that doesn't impede the stories progress as the characters piece together the mystery along with the reader at a brisk clip. This story is clearly meant to be entertainment, engrossing and enjoyable enough to cause me to read it in one sitting.

Why you should read this book: Certainly, the story is thick with intrigue and mystery, incorporating historical elements in a way that makes the events seem almost plausible at times. Since I have studied European Art I found Brown's use of art history fascinating. What saves this story from being a dull murder mystery for genealogists, theologists, and art historians is the creative way Brown links ancient symbols with modern events, giving life and urgency to the revelation of new and more complex clues and puzzles. Even that would be dull unless he linked these mysteries with his character's lives in life threatening situations. I was impressed with the complexity of many of the puzzles, though some were fairly easy to suss out if you have a weak spot for cryptograms.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Brown's religious facts are laugh out loud wrong at times. For instance, he claimed the Nicene Council deified Jesus and that the early church saw Jesus as a future king and political leader (and head of their sex cult). Truth is that the Nicene Council mandated the Holy Trinity as Church doctrine - making Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Ghost all one entity. The early church always maintained Christ's divinity as the Son of God and as a separate entity from His Father. Some people get really worked up over mistakes like that one. They also don't like the idea that Jesus fathered a child through Mary Magdelene. So if you don't like seeing Church history mangled for the sake of a complicated murder mystery, or find the Christ linked with fertility cults and striped of his deity offensive, or if you happen to be a devout Catholic, you might find plenty of elements in this story to be insulting and somewhat sacrilegious if you are sensitive to that sort of thing. I found those elements alarmingly wrong, which oft times took me out of the story, but since this was a work of fiction I dismissed it to continue on with my reading. What I found most annoying was his narrative cliff hanger style at chapter's end - as if his characters would tell you "I can't tell you what this means now. Read the next chapter to find out!"

In the end, I enjoyed certain aspects of the book, but found it flawed. The Da Vinci Code's selling point was the historical intrigue mixed with a murder mystery and arcane puzzles as a man raced against time to clear his name. I found all that fascinating, but I wasn't so hot about the sex cult subthread. Even though I questioned Brown's historical accuracy, I admired his ability to weave such complicated cryptograms and puzzles into the story. I also wanted to see what all the excitement over the book was all about. My copy was from the 80th printing - in hardcover still. A paperback edition was planned but cancelled because hardcover sales were still so brisk. The Da Vinci Code is so popular there are books about it. However, being popular doesn't make this book a good one, but now I know why so many people found it hard to put down. Brown knows how to write a compelling thriller.
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