The Passion of Dan Brown

As a kid, I never did like that game “follow the leader.” Somehow this anti-lemming attitude followed me into adulthood and, among other things, kept me away from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, despite the gazillions of copies sold and the number of friends that berated my obstinacy. I just didn’t want to leap from the cliff like everyone else.

A few months ago, though, I finally gave in, motivated of course by the opportunity to attack yet another author who I suspected was getting far more attention than he deserved. Long story short: As a storyteller, Dan Brown is a genius. But, as a writer, he sucks. Just like George Lucas, the guy has no right putting to paper the fantastic ideas floating around in his noggin. One-dimensional characters, undistinguished prose and location descriptions that read like tourist guides just mess it all up.

Worse, what can only be perceived as feckless marketing ploys perpetrated by Brown have reduced what would have been the page-turner of the decade into The Last Temptation of Christ Redux. Because the novel claims to be derived from historical truths, albeit presented in an obviously fictional framework, it has become a target for critics who believe Brown deliberately has represented his work as a genuine exposé of orthodox Christianity’s past. They’re right, too. Ultimately, a novel about history’s greatest deception—supposedly—is itself a well-executed deceit.

The historical deception in question is no longer the secret it once was. Leigh Teabing, a grail researcher in The Da Vinci Code, explains the conspiracy best: “Behold the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but he was a father. Mary Magdalene was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ.” Heady stuff, right? It’s a dramatic re-imagining of biblical history that serves as the impetus for a chase story á la Indiana Jones. Ultimately, the Catholic Church is painted as history’s Legion of Doom.

This obviously has pissed off the Vatican, prompting at least one cardinal to call Brown’s novel proof of “anti-Catholic” prejudice. Still, it is just a novel and no one in his or her right mind would’ve debated this or any other element of it had Brown not included a note at the front of his book: “FACT: All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”

More insulting is how Brown markets The Da Vinci Code as impeccably researched. Rather than an assault on Christian teachings, it is, in fact, an assault on secular reasoning. There are many blatant factual holes here. While certain elements of Opus Dei do practice voluntary mortification, it is not in any way a monastic order—sorta the whole set-up for the back-story of one of the novel’s primary villains. The “cryptex”—a complicated puzzle box that supposedly contains the location of the Holy Grail—is said to have come from Leonardo Da Vinci’s secret diaries even though no such invention has ever been attributed to him. Perhaps that’s why the illustrated version of the novel goes sans cryptex illustration.

How anyone can believe as fact anything Brown says is beyond me. The novel’s errors are the product of lazy editing, too, endemic of a growing trend in today’s ever more market-driven world of publishing.

Despite all of the above, and before you go see the movie, you should pick up The Da Vinci Code. It might read like a second-rate romance novel on steroids, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in it. It’s not like everything we read can be Ulysses, after all.