Monday, June 18, 2007

Breaking the Code... O Draconian Devil. Oh Lame Saint. Scrawled across the floor of the Louvre in black light alcoholic marker pen, these were the words that made up the first puzzle in the book. O Draconian Devil. Oh Lame Saint. Interestingly enough, these words when decoded actually talk about something that most people know. The secret to this puzzle lies deep within the Da Vinci library.

The Da Vinci Code is the second book by Dan Brown that stars Robert Langdon on a crash course with the Catholic Church. Though this book is titled “The Da Vinci Code,” that isn’t an apt title for the events in the book. In fact, though Da Vinci is talked about frequently, the codes are not any of his own creation, but the creation of those who have succeeded him. As I read, I wondered when we would read Leonardo Da Vinci’s code, but found myself almost completely surrounded by Jacques Saunière’s codes.

So, The Da Vinci Code is basically a book that consists of four characters on a quest to find the Holy Grail, and in that quest several things occur. At first, only Bishop Manuel Aringarosa and the hulking albino Silas know that they are on a grail quest, but not long after, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu get caught up in the conspiracy as Jacques Saunière is murdered. Scrawling on the floor in his best watermark pen, Jacque leaves a message for Neveu, which leads her to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa. Scrawled on that painting is another message, and so the story goes.

The groups go from riddle to riddle, hoping to find themselves the lost burial place of the Holy Grail. Silas is fooled into a dead end left by the grandmaster of the Priory of Scion, and has to rely on information from a mysterious figure known as “The Teacher” in order to continue his quest. But he’s captured in the process and before long finds that his faith in God seems to be the only thing consistent about the convoluted path he’s found himself upon.

Bishop Aringarosa finds himself on a much nobler quest to save his precious “Opis Dei.” He quickly finds, however, that “The Teacher,” a man who was supposed to be on his side, actually used him and Silas as pawns in a much bigger game. Unfortunately, Aringarosa finds this out far too late, and his ending is the biggest surprised within the book.

And, as for Langdon and Neveu, they meet up with an old friend Sir Leigh Teabing and make giant leaps toward solving Saunière’s riddles and finding the long lost Holy Grail. They do meet opposition and surprise, and even come face to face with “The Teacher” himself. However, most of their story is tied up in family history and mythological symbolism. Not for the faint at heart, so be warned.

Now, as I read this book, I wondered to myself why it was called The Da Vinci Code. There is very little in the book related to Da Vinci’s artistic codes, which was a surprise, but a whole lot related to a secret society of which Da Vinci was supposedly a grandmaster. Saunière is not only a giant fan of Da Vinci, but also a grandmaster himself, which leads us down the path to understanding the inner workings of a secret organization known only as the “Priory of Scion.” This is wonderful, but there was no Da Vinci code within this novel.

There was a brief moment when Langdon and Teabing discuss the art of the Renaissance with Sophie, and its potential link to Mary Magdalene, in which we discover a secret that Da Vinci apparently hid for many years. However, that is the closest we get to understanding the title of the novel. Those who read expecting to find themselves delved into a world of misdirection and deceit, understand that this is not such a novel.

For starters, the Priory of Scion was not started until 1956, which negates the idea that Da Vinci could have been a grandmaster. Secondly, the Priory of Scion never participated in any goddess worship like Langdon and Teabing suggest. Thirdly, the whole premise on the book is based around the idea that a document found by Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale is a true document, but Pierre Plantard, the author of “Les Dossiers Secrets”, later testified under oath that he had fabricated the entire hoax and that this romantic fabrication was concocted in order to make money and nothing else – no "hidden esoteric secrets" were involved. Make money he did, and so did Dan Brown and the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the only other book to reference these documents. Apparently, Plantard hoped to gain popularity for the society that he had created, and with the help of some other men, managed to convince people until the late 1970s that his priory was as the oldest society in existence.

Now, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the purposes of enjoying books; I do it all the time. But outside that principle, the ideas and discussions within the book didn’t take me off-guard, and maybe that’s because of my upbringing. I have never questioned in my life the idea that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ were married, but that’s because I’ve heard such talk since the time I learned of the importance of Jesus Christ. This idea is not new, and those people who think that it is are sadly mistaken. And then there’s the discussion of the sacred feminine. Once again, I was not surprised to find that many religions, specifically of the Judeo-Christian variety, had different traditions to observe the idea that God would have a partner, and that too was because of my training. The universe, which includes whatever notion of God you believe, is always in balance, good and evil, light and dark, and yes, male and female. The “Sacred Feminine” ideas discussed within The Da Vinci Code were actually the worst organized points I’ve seen presented about the topic, and my sources date back before “Les Dossiers Secrets” and Dan Brown.

In fact, I must say that I wasn’t too impressed with story told within the pages. Cut out the long discussions of the acts of a secret society that never existed, strip down all the weakly expressed ideas of the “sacred feminine,” brake the story down to its barest bones, and you will find that you are looking at a plot of about 50 pages. Langdon is awaken in his Paris hotel, he gets framed for the murder of Jacques Saunière, Jacques Saunière’s granddaughter arrives to save him, they escape the louvre, the obtain a Cryptex, they meet up with Sir Leigh Teabing, get to London, get double crossed, discover the location of a knight interred by a pope, meet the teacher, get to the former burial place of the Grail, meet Sophie’s grandmother and brother, and Langdon kneels at the feet of the Holy Grail. That’s the whole story minus the dialogue, rising and falling actions, and puzzles.

In fact, all of Jacques Saunière’s riddles are based in history, not religion or secrecy, which I thought was well done at least. Brown kept all the puzzles along the same lines, something of which the characters never became aware. But, there were other things about the way the character’s behaved that caused me to shake my head. You see, there were a lot of moments when the answer was staring them right in the face, but they never noticed it. I think that I might be a terrible character to write a story about, because I would do the weirdest things in attempts to find answers. Langdon and Neveu enter that cliché that I like to call “Suspense-based Stupidity.” In order to create conflict, Brown tries to use things that would never have flown if I were in the story, building the actions between the characters. For example, Sophie and Langdon are stuck when they think that they will never figure out Jacques Saunière’s 10-digit code, but in their possession were 10 digits that Saunière wrote before dying. I would have examined those before I got stressed.

Another point of interest was “The Teacher.” I understand that Brown was trying to surprise us in the end, but it was such a surprise that the pieces just didn’t add up. Sure, once we had the bad guy explains it all, and the exposition by Brown, we can see that “The Teacher” was being secretive in his behavior, but it still didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. If Remy knew that “The Teacher” would know immediately if he disobeyed his orders, why did he disobey them in the Teacher’s presence? And how would the Teacher been able to get any of his information without completely relying on Remy to begin with? And how would Remy not have seen it coming? It felt as though Brown had written himself into a corner and then used a cheap cop-out to fix the situation.

I must say that I did like the book better than the movie, mostly because the movie flew through the information far too fast to make any sense. To me, the movie seemed like a watered-down version of National Treasure, complete with Holy Grail treasures hidden beneath churches. At least the book managed to be original.

Over all, I assume that you’ve already made up your mind about reading the Da Vinci code before reading this, and now you will walk into the Da Vinci code with a realization that 105 chapters can actually be a fairly short read. If you didn’t know whether you were going to read it or not, I suggest reading for the sake of cultural aesthetics, but do so when it’s convenient for you. Never feel rushed to read this novel, unless you’ve just got the newest copy of the Dresden Files, then read this book quickly.

Good luck and happy readings.

No comments: