f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Pardon the Elbows as I Jump on this Bandwagon — 5 Days of the <em>DaVinci Code</em>

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, January 05, 2004

Pardon the Elbows as I Jump on this Bandwagon — 5 Days of the DaVinci Code

Forty-one weeks. 287 days. This week, that’s how long Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code will have been on the NYTimes Bestseller List. It has spent many of those weeks at #1. It’s there currently. I’m guessing that after Harry Potter 5, it’s the top selling fiction book of the year. It’s eminently readable, features a murderous albino monk given to self-flagellation, and sets a new world record for using the term the “sacred feminine” every fifth paragraph. Given that it sets Rome up as a prime adversary, it serves as a final nail in what must have been the Catholic Church’s worst year since 1517, what with all the lawsuits and such that went on in 2003.

It’s a hodgepodge, mishmash, and stewed gumbo of conspiracy theory, speculative religion, impressive art history, paranoiac art interpretation, Church-baiting, solid research, Parisian geography, and goofy code-breaking. From page 10, I could see why it’s one of the year’s most popular titles.

For those unaware, the book is about a Harvard-trained symbologist who gets involved in a murder-case that uses clues held in DaVinci’s art to uncover a centuries-old mystery held by a secret society that if revealed could destroy the Christian and, particularly Catholic, church as we know it. It’s written as a Crichton-esque pop-thriller complete with Jurassic-sized chunks of expositional dialogue. That said, it’s not to be casually dismissed. Here’s a partial list of some of the book’s admirable qualities.

Four Useful Things About The DaVinci Code
1. Rabble-Rousing — It throws many stones at many glass houses. It’s hard to get into specifics without ruining the book for those who haven’t read it, but sufficed to say it forces readers to actually think about how very little we tend to know about church history, the formation of the Bible, church politics, the divine nature of God, etc. It’s never a bad thing to stir the beehive, in my mind.

2. Research — Brown, no matter what you think of the book, has done his research. (Occasionally to the point of tedium.) In fact, the entire structure of the book (for this is a book with a plot at its mechanical heart) is based on his research. Without it, this thing could never have gone past 15 pages. Kudos.

3. Muse — It won’t surprise you to learn that DaVinci’s art permeates this novel. There is real power and economy, however, in using art, music, plays, films, and even other classic works as references in a book. If done right it goes beyond high-brow name-dropping and instead uses the allusions as thematic shorthand that can draw on a centuries of meaning with a single reference.

4. Engaging Riddle me this: Why are codes, puzzles, brainteasers, etc. constantly coming up as pieces of fiction as far back as Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx? Easy, because it becomes a simple lure to allow readers to play along. If you’re good, and Brown is for the most part even if all the code-breaking becomes a bit ridiculous, readers will keep turning pages to find out the next answer without ever guessing correctly.

Tomorrow we’ll look at some things I didn’t care for in the book. Wednesday we’ll get into the notion of popular fiction and that whole ball of wax. Thursday I’m going to look at Brown’s discussion of faith in the book and Friday’s topic will hopefully reveal itself to me some time in the next four days.