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Of Rosy Flesh and Seeded Wombs

So I finally read The Da Vinci Code tonight. I've wanted to read it for two years, but not quite enough to go through the six-month waiting list to obtain an actual physical copy from the library, or to buy it in a bookstore when there were many books I wanted more (and, given my normal habits in bookstores, new queue-jumpers popping up with every visit). Eventually, as usual, the Internet became my library.

Even before reading the book, I was terribly amused by the idea of writing my thoughts down on it, because I knew that whatever I said, somebody would be annoyed. After reading the book, the prospect amuses me even more, because Da Vinci hardly deserves the passionate opinions I've seen directed at it, either the venom or the praise.

It is, admittedly, far from high literary art, to the extent that I'm acquainted with high literary art, but it's accessible and, I daresay, entertaining, which is about as much as I could expect from five or six hours' reading on lazy, hazy summer evenings. Brown is an author I place in a similar category to, say, Tom Clancy or Dave Eddings (Well, if Brown were to tell the same story over and over in five or six separate multibook epics as opposed to three or four small novels, I might harbour a similar bitterness towards him as I do towards Eddings), and overlook the archetypes masquerading as characters, the predictable plotlines (though I will admit to having been surprised by the identity of "the Teacher", had I read Angels and Demons more recently than I have, I would probably have seen it coming as yet another similarity between the two books), and the occasional clumsy attempts to extend suspense beyond its natural endurance because, in the end, the stories are decently written and fun to read through despite their flaws.

In this case, the historical and symbological underpinnings of the book were what made it most fun for me, which aims me straight towards the other source of passionate opinions regarding Da Vinci. It can hardly be taken as gospel (ha, ha), and I know that the ease with which a lot of people have done so makes people like my British theologian friend Antony fly into quiet, tweed-clad rages, but enough of it dovetailed with things I have read ion my own to make the basic theories advanced in the book seem plausible, even encumbered as they were by some liberties taken with the details. Which is, of course, the very defitnition of historical fiction. The only objective (as opposed to a subjective consideration of artistic merit) place where Brown can be indicted is for shading the line between truth and fiction with his defiant little foreword at the beginning of the book, avowing the truth of essentially all the background details of his novel. On the other hand, everything that disputes his version of the truth could be the work of some secret conspiracy. That's a mug's game and I refuse to play it.

I suppose the intuitive veneer of plausibility to the book's theories is why the Catholic Church flew into a typically counterproductive rage at the book and its associated movie, even though somebody had to know that the sort of people whose faith was likely to be swayed by a novel would only be led by said objections to believe that the Church had something to hide. I make no judgments as to whether they do. I can only say that I touched on the decidedly mortal provenance of current Christian dogma (as opposed to the many, many Gospels and doctrines that didn't make it) in the research for a paper I wrote last year on Roman/Byzantine imperial history since Constantine's reign, and that a lot of the Christian religion was co-opted from or merged with a variety of previous pagan cults in Rome as a means of more easily converting the Empire. This much is obvious and beyond dispute.

My well-known opinion of mainstream Christianity (at least, well-enough-known to anyone likely to read this) renders me a bit sympathetic to the view of that religion suppressing a core principle of humanity. Call it "the sacred feminine", as Brown and others do, call it "the eristic principle", as the Discordians do, it remains a matter of an unbalanced duality. This much is not beyond dispute, it's simply what I think, and one reason why I'm no longer a Christian.

However, Da Vinci says nothing that hasn't been said before either in fiction or nonfiction. Its only breakthrough is in the size of its audience, which is a direct result of it being written by a mainstream author, as opposed to someone incomprehensible like Eco or someone niche like the twin Roberts, Shea and Wilson (if you haven't read their Illuminatus! trilogy, I urge you to do so), and written in such a way as to appeal to and entertain large segments of society. But really, is this such a bad thing?




( Walk among 9 shadows — Cast a shadow )
Jul. 1st, 2006 04:21 pm (UTC)
I think you hit the nail on the head. I do have to say I enjoyed the art - history element of the book, and the 'Teacher' was an amusing twist, but I really didn't see anything overly inovative, shocking, or worthy of all the controversy.

And yes, the Illuminatus trilogy is mindblowing - Jen is working her way though it and is enjoying it greatly!
Jul. 1st, 2006 09:25 pm (UTC)
Well, we all know how much you loved your art history classes. :P

Jul. 2nd, 2006 04:11 am (UTC)
I enjoyed the art history element of the book because it was actually considerably _better_ than my classes, had no essay, no useless facts [names + dates and nothing else] and that it was presented in a context that was many things, but arguably not boring :P
Jul. 1st, 2006 10:58 pm (UTC)
My problem with The Davinci Code was that going into the novel, due to my conspiracy theory phase as a kid, I was very familiar with the theories Brown was drawing from. Right from the get-go, I'm able to say, "oh, the curator's last name is Sauniere...he's probably related to the priest from Rennes-Le-Chateau!" and so on, so the twists weren't as compelling as they might otherwise have been.

But what's more, the Sloan factor definitely applies here. I'm certainly not offended by the religious notions that the novel suggests, but I am offended that so many people are proclaiming this badly-written novel to be the greatest book in the history of human beings and now all of a sudden they're eredite, sophisticated, free-thinking Renaissance (wo)men because they've read a book!
Jul. 1st, 2006 11:50 pm (UTC)
Sloan factor?
Your air of sophistication could be slightly more credible, had you spelled erudite correctly. :P

Jul. 2nd, 2006 12:23 am (UTC)
Re: Sloan factor?
One little typo.

...dammitall. :p
Jul. 2nd, 2006 01:04 am (UTC)
Re: Sloan factor?
Hey, I don't make the rules, I just enforce them with a gleeful smirk.

Jul. 3rd, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC)
Interesting take on it--and I think you're right, especially re: the Catholic Church. For what it's worth, I don't think Brown gave the choice of repressive conspiratorial entity much thought. If you're writing a novel about a scientific conspiracy, the obvious choice is the military-industrial complex; if you're writing about a semi-occult conspiracy, you go for the RCC. They're giant entities who *have* kept secrets in the past and have the werewithal to do so again. Nobody would ever credit Presbyterians with masterminding an occult conspiracy: for one thing, such endeavors tend to delay brunch.

I wasn't a giant fan of DVC, or the way in which Brown presented the "feminine principle" thing. However, I freely admit that one of my particular buttons is guys who harp too freely on the sacred feminine, having known a few too many of the breed in college. Dualism is all very well and good, but it has to be true dualism, and Brown goes rather too far, in my opinion, to the other end. To which I react, naturally, with a certain skepticism--in twenty-three years, my plumbing has never put me in touch with the universe.

The writing itself, however, is indeed no worse than Clancy or Patterson or so forth, and the idea itself is interesting.
Jul. 3rd, 2006 08:53 pm (UTC)
"You're lucky I'm Church of England! Cake or death?"

I've read Brown saying that the novel was really just his way of presenting a theory that appealed to him personally, so I don't see him having much choice with regard to the conspiring entity. On the other hand, that would seem to make him even more like one of those college guys that you despise so freely, except presumably sincere about it as opposed to simply trying to get into somebody's pants.

( Walk among 9 shadows — Cast a shadow )