April 2005

Chris Zammarelli

banned bookslut

Every Time Langdon Made the News, His Book Sales Jumped

So a lot of people have been joking about how Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone finally got around to denouncing The Da Vinci Code a mere two years after it was first publishing. Saying “don’t buy and don’t read that novel” after Dan Brown’s book has sold 25 million seems, well, a bit silly.

But the reason Bartone is now deciding to speak out against The Da Vinci Code is because people are starting to believe the facts Brown lays out in his novel are true. Specifically the fact that Jesus may have been married to Mary Magdalene and had a daughter, and that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed that info in its nascent days as a means to consolidate power.

According to Massimo Introvigne, director of Rome’s Catholic research organization Center on New Religious Studies, “I am astonished by the number of Italians who tell me their faith has been shaken” by the book. I get the impression that the Vatican reacted to The Da Vinci Code the same way John Kerry reacted to the Swift Boat Veterans attack ads: they assumed no one in their right mind would take it seriously, so they ignored it. When it became apparent that it was doing damage, they finally decided to react.

Not that I think The Da Vinci Code is any more a threat to the Catholic Church than, say, The Celestine Prophecy. But evidently Bertone is concerned enough about the book’s popularity to take a stand. “[The church] trusts that Christians have a mature conscience,” he told Apcom. “But such a messy book can do damage.”

Bernardo Estrada, a member of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic organization that Brown villainizes in The Da Vinci Code, says that instead of banning it, priests should read the book themselves. “Anyone with a historical and religious base can refute it,” he said.

In fact, there’s a small cottage industry in books debunking the novel, featuring such titles as The Da Vinci Hoax, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, and Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code.

I get the impression Brown anticipated the controversy, and actually hedges his bets a bit in the book by having one of the characters, Sir Leigh Teabing say, “In the end, which side of the story you believe becomes a matter of faith and personal exploration, but at least the information has survived.”

What really tickles me in all this controversy is how irrelevant Brown’s little bombshell is to his book’s plot. It’s a classic MacGuffin, Alfred Hitchcock’s word for a plot point that drives the characters in a story, but otherwise has no other meaning. In this case, the bloodline of Jesus subplot is nothing more than an interesting little side story that further motivates the novel’s protagonists Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu.

Without the whole bloodline story, The Da Vinci Code is just another run-of-the-mill fugitive story, and a poorly written one at that. There are a whole bunch of sentences just crying out to be entered in the Bulwer-Lytton contest. Also, the epilogue to the book struck me as the worst kind of pandering to the audience. Brown apparently decided that ambiguous end to Langdon’s and Neveu’s quest would somehow upset readers, so he included a post-script to wrap things up.

All that said, I still plan on seeing the movie version when it comes out. Audrey Tautou is playing Sophie, you see.