Are you ready for Tom Hanks and his mullet?

mulletLike everyone else in the world, I bet I’m going to go see The Da Vinci Code. But not because I expect it to be great or even a fun, brainless action flick. It’s more that I’m in a perpetual state of trying to understand how a book as ridiculous as The Da Vinci Code could enable Dan Brown to sit comfortably on piles of cash for the rest of his life. I had a colleague in my newsroom a few years ago who pronounced it the best book she’d ever read. How sad is that? Do readers really want three-page chapters? And do they need their characters reintroduced on every page? Was the book written for people suffering from short-term memory loss? Why why why?

So let’s go with Sunday’s Da Vinci Code wrap-up. Jeffrey Weiss has done amazing work covering the book and movie this week. Daniel praised his piece earlier in the week that looked at some of the facts Dan Brown got wrong in his “factual” piece of fiction. The piece struck a nerve with readers, and all of the letters to the editor on May 13 were about Weiss’ religion writing, many of them praising his work. Weiss also wrote about a satire of Brown’s work called The Da Vinci Mole. He followed that up with a Frequently Asked Questions piece. Sample:

Can I learn about art, history or theology by reading the book?

Most experts say that’s like trying to learn science from watching Star Trek.

As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” And Mr. Brown gets plenty of facts wrong.

For instance?

The Priory of Sion is the novel’s secret society. Mr. Brown says it’s a real organization founded in 1099. Last month, 60 Minutes stacked up the evidence that the Priory was a hoax invented in the 1950s by an anti-Semitic Frenchman. . .

Art historians also snicker at Mr. Brown’s repeated references to “Da Vinci.” That would be like referring to “Fred from New York” as “from New York.” Leonardo had no last name, as we now think of it.

The dude is even doing a live chat with the Dallas Morning News movie critic Philip Wuntch later this week. Jeffrey Weiss is everywhere.

The movie has not been screened for critics, a curious move for a flick everyone expects to be a huge hit. But it appears that a few people got an early look at it, including someone with the Daily Mirror. His review is short on info, but I really liked this part:

As it is, the film stands as a superb thriller which cleverly blends action and intrigue with some thought-provoking theories.

Thought-provoking theories? Okay . . . I guess. In a facts-don’t-matter kind of postmoderny way. Or in a Thriller-for-Dummies way that’s not very original and slightly kooky.

fleur21And then Jane Henderson had an interesting package in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She wrote up a what-Brown-got-wrong piece. Even better, in another piece Henderson takes advantage of St. Louis’ French history and architecture to show where Da Vinci readers can find aspects of the novel in their hometown:

Fleur-de-lis

What: Symbol of royalty, France, purity, the Trinity and more. Named after the lily, it is actually a stylized iris.

Role in Da Code: Symbol for Priory of Sion, a goddess-worshipping group that knows “the secret” of Mary Magdalene. Book implies fleur-de-lis intertwined with “Mona Lisa” as “flower of Lisa.” The novel says: “A secret pagan cult? Once headed by Leonardo da Vinci? It all sounded so absurd.”

Seen in St. Louis: Everywhere — on the city flag, on buildings, in paintings, atop fences. Associated especially with the city’s eponym, King Louis IX of France, an ardent Christian who led two (failed) crusades and died in 1270. Prominent statue of the king stands in front of the Art Museum, and he’s painted on the Sheraton hotel beside Highway 40 (Interstate 64) downtown.

Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY‘s religion reporter, wrote up a Gallup Poll about religion and movies in which some folks blamed Satan for trying to destroy people’s faith with books that raise doubts about the Bible:

“The devil has always been a scapegoat,” says Terrence Tilley, a professor of philosophy of religion and Catholic theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

Still, “some of (Brown’s book) is so like what people would like to believe that it’s easy for people to start believing the whole thing. Scholars really get their dander up when obvious fiction and legend is called fact,” say Tilley, who has spoken about the book on panels from Dayton to Dublin.

Oh, and as for my why why why question from earlier? Weiss answered it in his handy FAQ:

Why is The Da Vinci Code so popular?

That, of course, is a matter of opinion. It touches on themes that resonate with readers: The role of women and spirituality, the power of conspiracies, suspicion about the Catholic Church (especially in the wake of the pedophilia scandals), the idea that hidden truths could change the world for the better. There’s a bit of salacious ritual sex, enough violence for a PG-13 rating, and some word puzzles that an attentive reader can solve at least as quickly as the characters in the book. Plus it’s a page-turner with tangled plotlines, cliffhangers at the end of many chapters, and dramatic feats of derring-do.

So there you go.

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  • Rathje

    Honestly, this happens almost every time a popular writer touches any subject.

    Jurrassic Park? A fair portrayal of paleontology and genetic engineering?

    Well, not really. But the tyrannosaurus sure looked cool.

    The only difference is that when the subject is religion, as in “The Da Vinci Code” or “Under the Banner of Heaven,” things get much more personal and feelings are hurt. But the inaccuracies just come with the territory.

  • paddyo’

    My sentiments exactly. It’s A MOVIE, A MOVIE, A MOVIE.
    It’s A NOVEL, A NOVEL, A NOVEL (a rather badly written one at that, but what a plot-filled page-turner!).
    Weiss nailed the Great So What in one nice, non-snarky paragraph — as opposed to so much of hyperventilated agonizing lo these many months over What It All Means and Good Lord What Damage Is This Doing To Christendom …
    For heaven’s sake, Christianity has survived far more than this over the past two milennia.

    In the end, as someone else once wrote and sang,
    THAT’s ENTERTAINMENT.
    And with apologies to a certain entertainment pig:
    That’s ALL, folks.

  • http://chaz-lehmann.livejournal.com Chaz Lehmann

    At least the bad guy is played by Ian McKellen. ;-)

    He plays my favorite of all bad guys in another movie this summer, X-3.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    “It’s only a novel”… like THE MISTS OF AVALON, and I keep having to contend with people who think THAT one has something to do with history… even though when Marion was asked where she got her “information” on the Druids, she answered straightforwardly “I made it up”.

  • http://megquinn.blogspot.com/ Meg Q

    “It’s more that I’m in a perpetual state of trying to understand how a book as ridiculous as The Da Vinci Code could enable Dan Brown to sit comfortably on piles of cash for the rest of his life.”

    Word.

  • Phil Maguire

    The truth about Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Blood and The Holy Grail is about to explode worldwide. The novel is merely a cover for an incredible, unbelievable plot to usher in the Second Coming.

    The key centres on Rosslyn in Scotland, home of Rossyn Chapel which features prominently in the book. What isn’t mentioned in the book, however, is that Rosslyn is also the home of the institute which cloned Dolly the lamb, the world’s first cloned animal.

    The Rosslyn Institute is, in fact, home to a sinister conspiracy and Dan Brown is in it up to his eyeballs. Does anyone who thinks really believe it was a coincidence that the first cloned animal was a lamb? Not on your life. Dolly is the key to cracking the code of Dan Brown’s true to life plot.

    Be warned. In the near future an attempt is to be made to steal the Shroud of Turin by operatives of the Priory Of Sion, of which Dan Brown is one. Someone may be killed. The shroud will be taken secretly to Rosslyn where scientists will try to extract DNA for cloning.

    Should they be successful the resultant child will be handed into the care of the members of the Priory Of Sion to be revealed to the world at a time of their choosing. Thus will the Merovingian line be restored to power in France from whence it will emerge to conquer the world.

    The reason Brown is so keen to discredit the Catholic prelature of Opus Dei is due to a little known prophecy by an obscure medieval saint, Theodore of Douay. Theodore prophesised this looming attempt to usher in the Second Coming by false means and wrote that it would be thwarted by “God’s Work.” That is the literal translation of Opus Dei.

    Wait, watch and see.

  • Phil Maguire

    In all seriousness this time, I have a suggestion. I’d like to get a bunch of ordinary people in a theatre to watch The Da Vinci Code followed by The Passion Of The Christ.

    And then I’d like to investigate their opinions, feelings and judgments on both.

    I think that kind of experiment would do more to reveal what moves the hearts and minds of men and women far more than the endless discussion that revolves around Dan Brown’s book.

    The Passion shows Jesus as the Gospels portray Him. The Da Vinci Code discusses Him but never reveals Him.

    Could we do this somehow without stacking the audience with conspiracy buffs and religious activists?

  • Martha

    Hey! Less of the dissing of “Star Trek”, if you please! If it wasn’t for them, I’d never have known what you could do with a parabolic phase-inducer ;-)

    I, for one, have not read the book, nor do I intend to do so, nor do I intend to plonk down €7.50 to see the flick at the local fleapit.

    I do wish, though, that I didn’t have a memory like a sieve, because when I was 14? 15? I read a historical novel about Nostradamus that included a dissolute Cardinal (well, is there any other kind, you ask?) who revealed the Big Secret to him – now, wait for it, folks:

    This self-same Cardinal (and his sister, who was his incestuous mistress, by the way) were descendants of – you guessed it! Jesus and Mary Magdalene. They had the special birthmark and everything to prove it.

    This is why I was not so impressed and stunned ten years later when “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” came out, with its publicity of Secrets! that the Vatican does not want you to know! hidden for centuries! that could overturn Christianity! and only now, at immense danger to their lives, can be revealed!

    Yeah, guys, so top secret and guarded so strictly by secret societies that a trashy novel written sometime in the 1950s or 1960s and read by me in the 1970s had it all there on the page for anyone to read.

    But can I remember the name of the author or the title or anything? No, I can’t, so I’m afraid you’re going to have to believe me on my word alone. It was a hardback with a green cover from our local library, if that’s any help :-)

  • Sean Gallagher

    To those who shout, ‘But it’s just a novel,’ to those who have concerns about the novel and its movie adaptation, I think you’re underestimating or forgetting the cultural influence of literature.

    Were Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Jungle just novels?

    I doubt that Harriet Beecher Stowe replied that “But it was just a novel,” when Abraham Lincoln said to her “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!”

    Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, and even a great American classic like Huckleberry Finn were books written with a distinct purpose of critiquing aspects of the society of the time in which they were written. I am convinced that Brown, at least in part, shared this same intent.

    And considering that Brown’s book starts off with a “fact” page and has lots of other truth claims flow out of the mouths of scholars who make citations to supposedly trustworthy sources, it shouldn’t bother anyone for a journalist to look into the claims that Brown’s book makes.

    Its sold more then 30 million copies and not a few of these buyers think that the background behind the novel has some veracity.

    A journalist–be he or she a Christian or not–should find it quite natural to do what Weiss and others are doing.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    It’s been done. Beauseigneur’s “Christ Clone Trilogy”

  • Charles

    Yeah, it’s only a novel. Right. The rapture – heh – with which it’s been recieved shows how spiritually screwed up we are as a culture. Too many people are actually willing to credit Dan Brown, Eileen Pagels & Co., or else believe in nothing, and are enjoying the hysteria.

    As you say, it’s not the lame story or the gimmicky cryptological puzzles that explain the 60 million copies sold..

    Da Code is just entertainment like gladitorial combat or porn is just entertainment.

    But I’m sanguine, it’s all copasetic. Just another rumor from afar. To be expected, in other words.

    To paraphrase the pig again: that really is all, folks. Vaya con Dios.

  • Phil Maguire

    Yeah, I didn’t think I was the only one to whom the thought may have occurred. However, it couldn’t be done in reality, thankfully. In the meantime we will still continue to be plagued by conspiracy after conspiracy when the truth is really rather plain.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    Will, at least The Mists of Avalon was well-written.

    I was about 10 pages into DVC when I got to the long lecture about pentagrams. My suspension of disbelief just exploded in a cloud of scornful laughter when Brown’s hero solemnly explained that Venus traces a pentagram in the sky every 8 years…

    My verdict: cut-rate Tom Clancy. Tom also tends to lecture his readers, but at least he’s not so boring about it.

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  • Tim Wright

    I would like to see every Christian protest and boycout any and every book that
    Dan Brown’s writes from here on out

    I would also like to see every Christian protest and boycout any and every movie that Ron Howard directs or has any part of just how long should we set by as you destroy life’s and families with you’r so called entertainment,

    Christians should also protest and boycout
    Tom Hanks
    Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany and any other actor that had part in this move,
    In addition, not go too see or buy
    Any films moves or books these actors play in or have any part of
    Come on people you had to read this book before you took the part you sold your God for the big lights
    You have attack my God my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
    You will have to answer to my God for what You have do, its not hurting any one with true Faith in Christ

    However, it is the souls that are lead away from the truth that God will hold each and ever one that had a part in this book and movie accountable for
    I pray that you all repent and start trying to fix what you did because my Lord Jesus Christ is coming back soon

  • jack Johnson

    And I prey that u lern to grammer better


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