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Trying to crack The Da Vinci Code

KC Kenney | Monday, November 24, 2003

Prior to Vatican II, the Church published a list of books that were, for all intense and purposes, forbidden to be read by members of the Catholic Church. It began when the Church decided which books were to be placed in the Bible and which were considered heretical. Pope Innocent I published the first listing of the Index of Forbidden Books. The last edition of the Index was that of 1948; it was abolished in 1966. The Catholic Church has, however, not relinquished authority to forbid the reading of books that in its judgment are a danger to the faith and morals of Catholics. Books written by such great minds as Nikolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei were placed on this list. It strikes this reader that had The Da Vinci Code been written in that time, it would have joined those books as part of the index. This is not to say that The Da Vinci Code is a poorly written or developed story. Quite the contrary, it is spell-binding and enthralling. At the risk of sounding cliché, I never understood the phrase “a real page- turner” until reading this book. It draws you in slowly, but picks up speed and intensity, whisking the reader along for a very intriguing ride. It is, at its heart, a thriller and a mystery, but it combines the typical aspects of these genres with an intelligent and compelling look at the history of Western civilization for over 2,000 years. The prologue opens with the murder of a well-known museum curator at the Louvre in Paris. Before he dies, he leaves a trail of gruesome and cryptic clues to help unveil the details of his life. These clues are left for his granddaughter Sophie Neveu, a French cryptologist, and Robert Langdon, a famous symbologist. As they piece together his story, they realize that he was a high-ranking member of a mysterious society known as the Priory of Scion that has been dedicated to passing on a secret since the days of Christ. The Priory has entertained such famous names as Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and now this ill-fated curator. Neveu and Langdon are considered suspects by the French police for the curator’s death and must run from the law in order to discover the nature of the curator’s dying wish. In addition to Interpol, they are threatened by a mysterious albino, responsible for the death of the curator and seeking to obtain the secret for his superiors, and The Teacher, a man who has dedicated his life to discovering the secrets of the Priory and who has positioned himself to manipulate very high powers to reach that end. Without revealing the nature of this secret, the nature of this book is fairly heretical. It is fiction, but one of the most captivating aspects of the book is the way that it is able to weave fact and fiction in and out of each chapter until it has entangled the reader in a world that is fundamentally different from our own in its truths, and yet at the same time frighteningly familiar. The book itself opens with a “fact page” in which the author, Dan Brown, lists certain details of the book that he feels are important to know as facts. It seems like a congenial act, but it really serves his end more than anything else because it helps to perpetuate the idea that there is more fact than fiction in the book. In addition, it is sure to mention that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” This too can be misleading, especially because of how often the mediums of art, architecture and documents are used to support points. For anyone interested in deeper meaning in artwork or writing, this is a fantastic read because it allows you to see things at multiple levels without stretching your imagination too much. In fact, one of the more important subjects of this book, The Last Supper by da Vinci, is hanging on the wall of South Dining Hall. The imagery and proposals in this book were so fascinating that I had to see it for myself. I imagine it was a somewhat unusual site for me to be standing with my book below the painting amongst people having a meal, but it was interesting to see for myself how the characters were making the conclusions that they did as they looked at the different clues about the secrets that Brown proposes are hidden within the painting. Brown also uses the well-known portrait of the Mona Lisa in his discussions between the characters. He is very adept at analyzing the paintings and putting these familiar scenes into this more revealing light, which helps develop an appreciation for the many levels of art that can be obtained by true masters. Whether you are interested in accepting what he says is one thing. What was most effective for me was the development of different views on the same subject and providing an explanation for how these views came about. A running theme throughout the book is how history can be interpreted or told in different ways. This story presents an almost “what if” scenario, playing with questions and doubts about historical fact to recount a different story of history than what is commonly told. This is not to say that there is not a great deal of fact in The Da Vinci Code. It simply means that interpreting history as a subject and expounding upon the idea of how human thought has effected the communication of that history to future generations is an absorbing subject and works well with this manner of fiction.The book travels all over Europe and its subject matter is taken from throughout history. The fiction weaves in and out of fact and creates an entrancing mystery novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the book because it was able to play with and expand my mind as a mystery novel and as a thriller. It was difficult to guess what was coming next, but the story itself is very well written and compels you to find out what happens next. I think it is a worthwhile read and deserving of its spot on The New York Times Bestseller List. I would not, however, necessarily recommend it to everyone. Some of the theological issues that it dances with can be sensitive in nature and it does often go so far as to be pseudo-heretical. As a work of historical fiction, or perhaps as a commentary on the nature of history, it is certainly a great story to delve into.