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Book Review of The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, Bk 2)

The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, Bk 2)
terez93 avatar reviewed on + 273 more book reviews

Most people are familiar with this story via the capable movie with Tom Hanks. It's hard to believe that this was first published in 2003: doesn't seem like nearly 20 years have elapsed. I've started to read this several times, and finally committed to getting all the way through it.

I've been reluctant primarily because Dan Brown has become so over-commercialized - as such, his novels are seemingly written specifically with a "mass market" in mind (usually meaning linear, predictable plot lines, shallow, stock, stereotypical characters, and appallingly unsophisticated prose), which usually doesn't make them very appealing to me. Stephen King has become that way, also, but, curiously, I read somewhere that he, apparently, isn't a fan, either: he once called Dan Brown's books "the intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese." Ouch.

I did like the story, though, even though the rather constant historic inaccuracies and fabrications irked me, perhaps because of the history-mystery angle, and because it involves, at least peripherally, material I study. Have to agree with many critics that Brown's prose style leaves much to be desired, however.

The premise of the book is that a Harvard "symbologist" teams up with a mysterious code breaker to determine who murdered her grandfather, a rather eccentric curator at the famous Louvre Museum, who raised her after her parents, brother and grandmother were killed in a car accident. The larger premise is that the line of the Merovingian kings of France descended from a child born of Mary Magdalene and Jesus of Nazareth himself, a secret that the Catholic church is desperately trying to destroy, even resorting to murder to destroy any evidence of this heresy forever. It thus relies on an alternative theory that the term "sangreal" actually reads "sang real," royal blood, rather than referring to a physical object, a cup, as is popularly imagined.

I don't want to rehash the whole plot here, as most people are familiar with it in any event. The novel is often simplistic and predictable, but it does a capable job of weaving in these various theories, as "conspiratorial" as they may be, and "fiction," by using some elements at least grounded in historical reality. The various secret societies such as the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei make an appearance here, as do various historic sites, such as the Rosslyn chapel.

Not surprisingly, the book raised some serious controversy due to its subject matter, which was not terribly kindly disposed toward the Catholic church. Many believers took issue with some of the claims, not just that Jesus Christ had descendants, but also that Constantine, rather than being a true believer, was simply a good politician and incorporated pagan or polytheistic practices and traditions into mainstream Christianity (nascent though it was at the time) simply for salesmanship.

As a historian, I agree that much of the content entails a "warped" presentation of fact, but it's clearly not a history book. I also agree that authors have a sense of responsibility to present materially factually and accurately, and, if not, to be forthcoming about the aspects of their work that they alter, fabricate or skew, for the purpose of "artistic license." My one complaint is that problems arise when people think they're reading a history book and start mistaking fiction for fact, which is often difficult to dispel, even with actual facts. I run into this kind of thing occasionally, with people literally arguing with a professionally trained historian that Dan Brown is right and people who have studied church history and early Christianity for decades are "wrong" because they have no basis for reference other than these Dan Brown books. Kind of freaks me out that most people can't tell the difference, honestly, having no notion of the idea of primary or secondary sources, or what constitutes legitimate evidence other than what some fringe scholars have suggested.

Overall, it's an entertaining, quick read, if you can get past the rather banal prose... just don't mistake it for a history book!