The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

The Da Vinci CodeThe more things change the more they stay the same. It has now been 10 years since Dan Brown burst onto the scene with The Da Vinci Code, perhaps the biggest fiction hit of the first decade of the 21st Century. Now Brown is set to release another mega-seller with a further Robert Langdon adventure – Inferno, releasing May 14th – and the time seemed right to look back on the book that really got things rolling.

Robert Langdon is a Harvard symbologist visiting Paris on a lecture tour. He finds himself rudely awakened by French policemen and taken to The Louvre to help solve the death of the museum’s curator, who, after being fatally wounded, has disrobed and drawn himself amidst a pentacle, and left a secret code beside his body. Langdon, whose field is secret codes and symbols, stumbles into yet another situation where his expertise can help solve a crime (note: the first book about Langdon – Angels & Demons – has basically the same plot but with slightly different scenarios). Everything quickly spirals out of control as French Police try to implicate Langdon in the murder, and the mysteries and symbolic puzzles continue to deepen. Langdon is joined by a French cryptographer with her own secrets, a British professor living in Paris, and chased by a murderous albino.

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I have a real love/hate relationship with The Da Vinci Code. As you can tell from the above description, a lot is going on here. Brown’s chapters are very Patterson-like in length, rarely more than a few pages at a stretch, but unlike Patterson something actually important is imparted in each. Many are chock-full of artistic factoids or arcane lore about various symbols or art works. A smart tip if you decide to read The Da Vinci Code is to get the Special Illustrated Edition, which gives you pictures of all the art and landmarks described in the book. With everyone running around and under intense pressure to solve puzzles and escape capture, you get quite a thrill ride. To my mind, the novel has the same feel as a movie like Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Robert Langdon is certainly no John McClain, but the same urgent need to solve puzzles to keep things from blowing up is present in both. Plus the novel is surprisingly fresh after 10 years. This makes the 3rd time I have read the novel, and the pace and fun keep me turning pages long after I should have gone on to some more important activity.

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But do not doubt that I also hate this book, and with a passion. Dan Brown must wish he was a Harvard professor like Langdon, because he certainly has the character teach a lot through the whole book. This information doesn’t slow the story at all, but the content of that “information” is a serious problem. Langdon throughout the book espouses what can loosely be called a “Gnostic” viewpoint, all tied up with the sacred feminine and secret society lore. Nearly all of it is total bunk, and that’s being polite. The issue is that so many people came out of reading The Da Vinci Code believing everything espoused within was literally Gospel truth. Brown’s book messed with what Christianity considers to be the true history of Jesus, which resulted in just the type of publicity you’d expect. A literal cottage industry about these subjects was spawned by the massive success of the novel. Brown, by being fairly tight-lipped on the matter, managed to fuel the controversy and keep The Da Vinci Code conspiracy fires burning far longer than they might have. So much confusion was generated by the dust-up that the TV program 60 Minutes did a major expose on the subject, and, in one of the most damning in-depth reports I have ever seen, completely demolished the premises underlying the book. No matter, as The Da Vinci Code alone may now have sold more than 80 MILLION copies world-wide.

So I hate the message the book seems to be conveying, but I really enjoy the sheer fun of reading the novel. It’s clear to sell that many books Dan Brown is doing something right, and as far as pacing and adventure goes The Da Vinci Code is among the best popular fiction written in the past 10-20 years. However, if you find yourself feeling the need to change your life based on Robert Langdon’s discoveries, pause and rethink – you may have just misread the clues.

Code 451 Rating – 7.5 (Good Read)

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