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Thursday, June 2, 2005

The Casual Critic — Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code

I don't even know where to begin with a review of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Never in my life have I read,
nor do I expect to ever again read, a novel that so continuously shocks a reader with historical facts — albeit disputed facts — that are so enthralling as to render the plot secondary.

The book has been on the bestseller lists for something like two years, so I fully accept my status as a Johnny-come-lately. But . . . oh, my God! This book absolutely has to shake the foundation of many firmly held beliefs of anyone who has ever stepped into a Catholic church as a member of the congregation, even those of us who have strayed from the practicing Catholics.

If, like me, you procrastinated in reading the book, the plot is still likely to be something that rings at least a faint bell. A murder in the historic Louvre leads to an examination of clues in paintings of Da Vinci that unveil a religious mystery protected by a secret society, the Priory of Sion, for 2000 years. The plot itself is above average, though I still wonder about the ending. One aspect of the ending was genuinely touching, though what I consider the ultimate ending (regarding the religious subject matter) left me disappointed. However, the more I think about it, I'm not sure it could have ended in a more satisfactory manner given the subject matter. Perhaps, the ultimate ending tried too hard to satisfy the reader.

Regardless, the historical lessons/speculations offered in the text are mind boggling. I was amazed at times to have realized I had just read huge chunks of text that (literally and figuratively) amounted to a professor's lecture of religious and art history, and been riveted the whole time. I still want to see pictures of The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, and reread those sections . . . and believe me, I'm simply not any artsy guy.

While I couldn't begin to say a word about the validity of the version of religious history offered, I really have little doubt it is well-grounded in fact. At the very least, many folks clearly accept this history as true. I'm struggling to even grasp my reaction to reading the story of Mary Magdalen, the sacred feminine, lost or hidden gospels, the existence of a gospel written by Jesus, a view of Jesus as a man, and even a living bloodline of Jesus, along with the Church's role in keeping these things quiet and the attitudes about sex wrought by the concept of original sin. Coincidently I began reading the Bible for the first time in my life just months ago. Reading The Da Vinci Code was like reading an accompanying text that seems irreplaceable. Whether true or not, it feeds anyone hungering for the truth about Jesus.

Brown deserves an incredible amount of credit for bringing the reader along this trail of intricate symbols without leaving us confused or belittled. I actually felt as though I was playing along as the characters tried to crack code after code. In the same vain, he allowed enough feasibility in the plot twists that, unlike many novels, they never really felt "implanted" for the sake of intrigue. Most importantly, though I imagine many would argue, he does not attempt to scoff at faith. In fact, Brown allows for the importance and value of religion, and that even if every word of the Da Vinci Code is true it does not disprove the existence of God.

Though I have minor hesitations in giving away my highest praise, mainly my initial disappointment in the end, you can't ask for more from a book.

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