I held out for as long as I could. But I finally read The Da Vinci Code, mostly on a beach. The book still smells like coconut suntan lotion and there are oily stains on many of the pages, which I believe were the direct result of eating an entire bag of Cape Cod potato chips sometime during the middle of the novel. But that’s the type of book Dan Brown wrote – a page-turner you can read on beach between dips in the ocean and naps on a blanket. A book where you don’t really mind getting food stains on.
Steinbeck and Faulkner have little to fear. The Da Vinci Code isn’t about to replace The Sound and the Fury (#6) or The Grapes of Wrath (#10) from the Modern Library’s List of 100 Best Novels. The Da Vinci Code is a plot-driven thriller with conventional twists and turns – with some high-minded lectures on art history, architecture, and religion thrown in. Some of the lectures were quite enjoyable and had me reaching for my art history encyclopedia. But the characters were wooden, underdeveloped, and strictly included to drive the action. I enjoyed it, but in the end I prefer my thrillers more hardboiled (hello, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais). I read Brown and moved on to the next book on my stack.
Until, that is, the Roman Catholics and the Christian fundamentalists got their panties in a bunch. I remember strolling through a book store in Kendall Square in Cambridge and coming across The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response to the Bestselling Novel by Richard Abanes. (Abanes is a devout Christian who has also inked a book questioning the morality in Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter novels, and the Chronicles of Narnia – you get the picture).
I remember thinking: “But the book is a novel.” Fiction. Which the literate way publishers, writers, librarians, and academics say: make-believe. Can someone please alert Abanes and the dozens of other “authors” with books debunking the Brown’s novel that it actually features an albino assassin? Could we not have aimed our energies at debunking Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven? (I would have paid for that.)
With the movie adaptation recently released we have gems like this one from the Washington Post: " 'The Da Vinci Code' gratuitously insults Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church," said Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Birmingham, England. "It deliberately presents fiction as fact."
Read that last sentence again: “It deliberately presents fiction as fact.” I suppose one could make the same argument about the Bible, but I also know you can make that argument about every single novel ever written. Nichols also claims Brown’s book is an insult to Jesus. Isn’t this the same Catholic church that deliberately covered up and is now being forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to the victims of an epidemic of pedophilia among the clergy? One wonders if Nichols thinks that’s an insult to Jesus. Maybe he should spend less time reading mystery novels and more time reviewing the Ten Commandments.
Here’s another quote from the same Post article: “In France, Monsignor Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri, bishop of the Hautes-Alpes region, said he saw the film Friday and found it a "grotesque" portrayal of history and Christian belief.” Does anyone really get their history from novels? Would any serious historian turn to Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels as a go-to reference on Civil War history? One can argue that a novel can put history in context – breath some life into it, but not many people would claim a novel can or should replace a history book.
It’s unfortunate that the wealthiest, most powerful church in the world feels threatened by the equivalent of a dime-store paperback. The church should focus on more important things: like feeding the poor, paying off child abuse victims, and filling out the paperwork on Mel Gibson's sainthood. What’s next, the pope declaring Dan Brown an infidel and putting a price on his head? If so, I suggest Brown contact Salman Rushdie for his list of suitable hiding spots.
Labels: Christianity, Church, Da Vinci Code, Essay