Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Da Vinci Code

he Da Vinci Code is, in a manner of speaking, two books in one. The first is a very good suspense thriller. Author Dan Brown must either play or at least be aware of computer games; the plot has a computer game feel to it. The protagonists are dropped almost immediately into a situation of peril and must extricate themselves by solving a series of puzzles, with one puzzle's solution granting the privilege of looking at another puzzle, which also requires a solution.

There are two protagonists, Robert Landon and Sophie Neveu -- Robert an expert on religious symbology and a Harvard professor, and Sophie a cryptologist and Parisian police agent. Both have skill sets, not by accident, which allow for great success at solving puzzles -- at least the type of puzzles presented here.

The opening chapter is a grabber. Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre museum, is shot in the stomach by an albino monk named Silas and left to bleed slowly to d

eath. Jacques Sauniere is, as chance and the author would have it, the grandfather of Sophie Neveu.

The time it takes Jacques to die is time enough for him to set up the first of the puzzles to be solved. His body is found naked, arms and legs splayed, with writings (written by Jacques in his own blood) which are meant to be secret coded messages to his granddaughter, Sophie. Robert Langdon is drawn into this murder (and its startling aftermath) as the Inspector on the case, Bezu Faches, believes he is the killer. Sophie, knowing Robert is innocent, helps him escape from the Musee du Louvre, and the chase (and puzzle solving) is on.

The plot turns are suspenseful, the mysteries and their solutions clever, even ingenious in some cases. This is a true nail-biter. The problem is with the "second" book incorporated into this first rate thriller. The plot here revolves around an intellectual belief that Jesus (yes, the Christian Jesus) had a love affair and/or was married to Mary Magdalene, who was in fact pregnant with Jesus's child at the time of the crucifixion -- a fact supposedly known by the Church and covered up. The "thing" everyone is being chased and killed for, is the secret of the location of the holy grail, a location known to many who belonged to a secret society throughout history, including Leonardo Da Vinci. No, the holy grail is not, under this theory, the cup Jesus drank wine from during the Last Supper, but rather a metaphor for Mary Magdalene. She is the "cup" that held Jesus's child: she is the true holy grail.

Da Vinci (and many others in history, including Walt Disney) have made allusions in their works to "the truth" of the grail. Da Vinci "knew" the truth. How do we know? Dan Brown has a "grail expert" named Teabing tell us. See Saint Peter in Da Vinci's great work "The Last Supper?" That is "clearly" not a man, but a woman. Not only a woman, but it "must be" Mary Magdalene!

Sure, who else? Another of the author's expert characters says:

"Finally," Teabing said [still in reference to Da Vinci's "The Last Supper"], "if you view Jesus and Mary Magdalene [formerly Saint Peter] as compositional elements rather than as people, you will see another obvious shape leap out at you." He paused. "A letter of the alphabet."

Sophie saw it at enormous, flawlessly formed letter M.

What does this compositional M mean? Does it stand for the other Mary (Jesus's mother)? No, does it stand for "Master of the Arts," which Da Vinci no doubt believed himself to be? Did Da Vinci divine the future, see Walt Disney's work, and create a great M as tribute to Mickey Mouse?

Or is this M merely a compositional element in a great work of art? Anyone who has taken art history and art theory in college knows that X's and W's and, yes, M's are common compositional techniques to balance a painting. But t

his particular M must mean only one thing as far as Teabing is concerned. It means Mary Magdalene gave birth to Jesus's child and Da Vinci knew it!

This kind of conclusion is only possible when someone already has a conclusion and is looking to invent reasons to support it. Not very scientific, nor very logical. It is the intellectual equivalent of beer drinkers believing they were picked up by aliens and taken for a ride in a spaceship. The author might as well have had everyone running around searching for the secret location of a box of alien bones, proof of visitors from outer space.

And all of this "theory" is presented in a pedantic tone which slows down the action, although the author does do a good job of not letting it slow it down too much. So, four stars for the "action/suspense/puzzle plot" and one star for the silly theory that is the reason why everyone is killing everyone. That rounds out to about 2 1/2 star.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
The Da Vinci Code is a novel written by American author Dan Brown and first published in 2003 that has become a worldwide bestseller with over nine million copies being sold.

The plot of this book concerns the attempts of Dr. Robert Langdon, Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University, to solve the murder of Jacques Saunière, the curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris, after Saunière's body had been found inside the Louvre naked with a cryptic message written on his torso in his own blood and posed like Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing, Vitruvian Man:-

The plot continues in ways that combine the detective thriller and conspiracy theory genres with Saunière's murder being attibuted to powerful forces that wish to preserve ancient secrets relating to Jesus having been married to Mary Magdalene and having been the father of their child.

The interpretation of hidden messages inside Da Vinci's famous works, including the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, figure prominently in the solution to the mystery. The solution itself is found to be intimately connected with the possible location of the Holy Grail and to a mysterious society called the Priory of Sion, as well as to the Knights Templar. The Catholic organization Opus Dei also figures prominently in the plot.

It transpires that Saunière was in fact the secret head of the Priory of Sion - an organisation that was devoted to preserving certain secrets about the location of the Holy Grail. The cryptic messages on his body being his own dying attempts to leave an important message to his grand-daughter, Sophie Neveu, who was employed by the French state as a cryptologist.

According to the novel, the secrets of the Holy Grail, as kept by the Priory of Sion, are as follows:

The Holy Grail is not a physical chalice, but a woman, namely Mary Magdalene, who helped to carry the bloodline of Christ into the following ages.

Mary Magdalene was of royal descent (through the Jewish House of Benjamin) and was the wife of Jesus, of the House of David. That she was a prostitute was a slander invented by the Catholic Church to obscure their true relationship. At the time of the Crucifixion, she was pregnant. After the Crucifixion, she fled to Gaul, where she was sheltered by the Jews of Marseilles. She gave birth to a daughter, named Sarah. The bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene became the Merovingian dynasty of France.

The French expression for the Holy Grail, San gréal, actually is a play on Sang réal, which literally means "royal blood".

The Grail relics consist of the documents that testify to the bloodline, as well as the actual bones of Mary Magdalene.

Sophie Neveu and her brother are descendants of the original bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (their last name was changed to hide their ancestry).

The existence of the bloodline was the secret that was contained in the documents discovered by the Crusaders after they conquered Jerusalem in 1099. The Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar were organized to keep the secret.

The Da Vinci Code has been criticised by many scholars but it has undoubtedly helped to spur widespread popular interest in certain theories concerning the legend of the Holy Grail and the role of Mary Magdalene in the history of Christianity.


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