Ten Years on … a Big Hand for Dan Brown

Is it really only 10 years since the book named after a genius rose to the top of the bestseller lists—a name linked forever to that true genius, Leonardo De Vinci? The link with the painter, and what his art purportedly represented, was in theological terms to become, for some at least, akin to Darwin’s “missing link,” and as it turned out just as bogus. Nevertheless, after dominating the bestseller lists for two years, an article appeared in the New York Times analyzing the book’s phenomenal appeal that was just then beginning to wane. The book’s author was the fantasy novelist, Dan Brown, with the novel in question being The De Vinci Code (DVC). It was about a cryptic code, but for some the greatest puzzle at its center was solely the mystery of how it ever became so popular.

First off, a vignette from those now distant days, and a true one at that. (When discussing DVC it is always best to make that distinction.) There was a train packed with passengers coming from somewhere bound for London. It had been a long journey, with books and magazines competing with the scenery for attention. In British trains it is common to have four seats facing each other and across the aisle something similar. Sitting opposite me were four fellow passengers all reading intently, reading oblivious to all else in fact, and, yes, all reading DVC. As the train pulled into its destination, one of the four raised her head from the printed page exclaiming to all present: “Why weren’t we told….” Presumably what she was asking was why her generation had been denied knowledge of secret codes scattered in famous paintings that now unlocked “the truth” and by so doing subverted all Western civilization and the whole of Christendom? Given the list of spurious “FACTS” at the start of the novel, I should have laughed out loud—or wept—at such a reaction. But sensing the earnestness of the exclamation what I felt instead was closer to panic, the type one feels when visiting an institution for the criminally insane with a full moon rising.

Today, it is easy to forget how widespread this “madness” had spread. On the airwaves serious discussion was to be had about the contents of what was barely a novel, labelled a “thriller,” seen as a pot-boiler, derided as an airport paperback, dismissed as a “beach read.” Were things really falling apart, was the center not holding? In short, were we losing the plot? And yet, on closer investigation, the “plot” all seemed remarkably familiar, and as I examined it further still, the “sketch” underneath began to reveal itself….

Rewind some twenty odd years and another craze. The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail (HBHG) had been released to similar claims of “earth-shattering conclusions,” especially from the publisher’s PR team. Christianity was all a fraud. A Frenchman in Paris, named Plantard, had said so, and what is more he had some document that linked him to arcane French monarchs that proved it. This led, naturally, to an enigmatic treasure buried under a church at Rennes-le-Château, which of course led to St. Mary Magdalene, and she led … well you can guess the rest. All “true,” of course—it was in a book so it must be. Incredibly my adolescent contemporaries thought so with the book becoming that generation’s Chariots of the Gods (another much studied “primary source” at our Catholic school run by priests.) And, thereafter, whilst in the midst of Post-conciliar crisis, it was to become just another source of confusion for young Catholics, as even more of our number started to turn away from the Faith, whilst the already distant shrugged their shoulders and trudged off ever further without a backward glance. Meanwhile, I was left bewildered.

In my confusion I was given an insight, however, and one that still makes me wonder. The “wonder” is how I was able to see through the fiction so clearly. Paradoxically, the source of my clarity lay in the sources at the back of the book that had mysteriously found its way into the school and then into our young lives. HBHG mentioned that the material debunking the New Testament had come from “Gnostic Gospels.” What were they I wondered? Soon I was to discover that these were hardly “newly discovered,” but instead had been around for a very long time. Furthermore, it appeared that quite early on in the history of the Church it had come down to a clear choice between Gnosticism and Catholicism. And curiously it was now that same choice I faced—with one true belief system, and one false…. Subsequently, from a labyrinth skillfully constructed for a generation set on spiritual self-destruction, and with but a slender “thread” of faith only partially grasped, I started tentatively to find my way out…

Of course, looking at HBHG today one wonders how such bunkum ever got into the mainstream, but never underestimate the power of confusion and the forces that orchestrate it. And remember it was not a “belief” that was planted but a doubt, and doubts grow, particularly in young minds, only to later sprout their rotten fruit called apostasy. And for anyone out there who still has any lingering doubts about the claims of HBHG let me put your mind at rest. The regal pretender Plantard proved to be a convicted fraudster, and the “discovered” documents in the Bibliothèque Nationale about the seemingly mysterious Priory de Sion were not only altogether fake but had been planted there by Plantard and his compatriots—all attested to before his death. The “gold” under the Rennes-le-Château church was no such thing, instead the ‘riches’ resulted from a priest who took money for saying Masses for the dead only to turn what should have been a good and holy thing into a financial racket—not so much supernatural as all too natural.

Talking of “supernatural,” one example from the book shows the thin veneer of knowledge that dazzled immature minds. Much was made of the inscription over the Rennes-le-Château church’s door. The Latin inscription read as follows: Terribilis est locus iste. In the book, there was a picture of the statue of a ‘demon’ under the fount at the said door—all deemed conclusive evidence that some terrible secret was held there. By the early 1980s Latin was as rare in the Church as it was on television so there was little way of contextualizing this. Many years later, whilst leafing through a 1962 Missal, I came across the Introit for the feast of the mother of all churches, the Church of St. John Lateran, and it read as follows: Terribilis est locus iste, before going on to conclude: hic domi est, et porta coeli: et vocábitur aula Dei….  As it turned out the second part of this inscription was discovered on nearby columns by the door of the same church at Rennes-le-Château, something the authors of the HBHG had overlooked—conveniently or otherwise. Such an inscription was therefore no occult warning, but instead an ancient prayer of the Church. All of which seemed to prove one thing—it is only the counterfeit that evil propagates, in worship, in relationships, in families … for it has but lies.

In light of this knowledge, when the DVC mania was at its height, I had but one regret: I hadn’t written it. You see, I knew the back-story, had studied its source material, had “lived it”—well, sort of—and was in total agreement with how great a novel it would make, but with one major difference: I would have not written a thriller but instead a comedy. It would be a Wodehousian farce at that, and one of epic proportions. Forget Langdon the symbologist (a discipline I wager not more than five people had ever heard of prior to DVC), and think instead of Jeeves and Wooster on the trail of a painting that holds a “secret” that is so momentous that, if she ever found out, even Aunt Agatha would have had to put down her china cup. And instead of maligning any Catholic group we could have the duo tracked by a cabal of avant-garde blind mime artists from Paris who also know the “secret” but are sworn to silence—all too easy for them. The story would zip along with the trail leading all the way back to a key document, namely a 1980s public library book called: The Wholly Pseudo & The Wholly Braille. Covered in dust, and awaiting discovery, it lies in the basement of a disused non-denominational church owned by Freemasons and once painted by Poussin, or was it Hitler….

Believe me, it couldn’t have been any worse than what the world lapped up in DVC.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, let it not be said that Mr. Brown has not left us a legacy. It is one I have been reminded of recently by others and have since investigated for myself, and can hereby verify. It is this: for years now seemingly in every charity shop across the length and breath of the United Kingdom, shelves are groaning with a text that was once popular, a bestseller in fact, and one that is now being discarded at a rate of knots with a wry smile and the following comment: “Why weren’t we told … what utter rubbish….”

To all those involved in the charity sector, and reminiscent of what a young woman called Lisa did for a certain painter many centuries before, I ask you to put your hands together and let’s hear it for Mr. Dan Brown, author (FACT).

Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”

K. V. Turley

By

K. V. Turley is a London based freelance writer and filmmaker with a degree in theology from the Maryvale Institute.

  • Scott W.

    Excellent piece. It is good to recall past societal madness for some pop-culture ephemeron so that we might be wary when another rears its head. What was so galling about DVC was how its champions would sleaze between acting as if it were entirely true, but when challenged by knowledgeble people with facts would retreat into, “What are you getting so worked up for? It’s just fiction!” Faugh.

  • Morgan Silver

    It must be ‘Hooray for Heretics’ Week.

    • Rock St. Elvis

      Pseudo-history is not heresy but fraud.

  • TERRY

    Actually, Mr. T. I think it’s been 20 years, not 10. I remember picking up the book at Barnes & Noble in Merrillville Indiana and that was 20 years ago.

    In any case a good piece, and, Scott, thank you for using the word ‘faugh’ so eloquently – it’s been a while since I’ve seen it.

    • publiusnj

      No, it was 2005. Holy Blood, Holy Grail is from the 1980s, I believe.

      • TERRY

        I’m speaking of ‘The DaVinci Code’. I remember living in Indiana at that time and there was a furor about the book and I saw it in B&N and picked it up. I read about halfway through before it dawned on me what it was really about.

        The albino monk who did the killing at the behest of Opus Dei should, I admit, have been a clear tip-off that the book was b.s,. but I must admit that I didn’t really get it until about halfway through. ’60 Minutes’ treated it as serious stuff, and I must admit that I didn’t get that either.

        I haven’t read any other Brown books.

        • publiusnj

          Per Wikipedia, The DaVinci Code was published in 2003. See:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Da_Vinci_Code

          I was given the book in 2005 by a person who only came to work for my company in 2002 or so. That is how I remembered approximately when it was written.

          • TERRY

            You’re right. I was still in Indiana in 2003.

            Recommended reading – ‘Father Elijah, an Apocalypse’ by Michael O’Brien. Ignatius Press.

            • publiusnj

              Thanks for the recommendation. I had read it and liked it.

        • Joseph

          Isn’t the albino Opus Dei monk in Angels and Demons, the other Dan Brown Catholic conspiracy book?

          • TERRY

            Having read only the one book I couldn’t answer.

            We’ll skip over the fact that Opus Dei is a lay organization and wouldn’t have monks in any case.

        • fredx2

          I remember someone who follows the publishing industry on the radio saying “There was an extraordinary amount of pre-publication publicity” behind this book, indicating that they were really trying hard to make it a best seller.

          Since the book is poorly, almost comically written, and since the plot is rather boring and vague, one wonders why they would do this.

          There are even Dan Brown parody web sites mocking his weird writing style.

          • schmenz

            His writing style is not so much weird as infantile. A Gunning-Fog analysis of his prose puts it at about the 6th grade level.

  • stpetric

    And behind the ancient prayer of the Church, “Terribilis est locus iste, hic domi est, et porta coeli: et vocábitur aula Dei” is from Genesis 28:17 and Jacob’s dream of the ladder rising to heaven. He erected at the site not the columns of a portal but a memorial pillar.

  • Beth

    I must say that it was in the DVC era when I began to see the education system in our country in a different light. How were so many people taken in–because most were not taught how to search for and find the truth or error in an argument. Oy vey!

    • Captain America

      Right, this is the lasting and frightening thing about the book!

      • fredx2

        Exactly. We live in the age of stupidity, where untruth is revered, and truth is hidden under the rug.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Having begun in a Gurdjieff group as a youth I know the Gnostic lust for the ‘real’ secret religion, the hidden truths for ME and not for the ‘masses’. The Dan Browns are carnival barkers on the tawdry (apologies to St. Audrey) Midway of the world. “Step right in folks! See the wife of Jesus!!!”

  • Captain America

    Wow, psychic timing for me. For some reason, a week or so ago, I started wondering about the book, and wondering whether it really had the impacts people said that it would have!

    I know history, and art history, and the book, when I read it, was a fast-paced fiction. . . and it called, and called, and called upon its readers to sacrifice their critical reason time and time again.

    Albino monk murderer? At any rate, the book traded on the inchoate fear of the Catholic Church held by the Protestants and the pagans.

    And now Dan Brown is rich enough to buy his own personal island retreat! Perhaps this gives him security against the albino assassins.

  • Tony

    The stupidest garbage I’ve ever seen in print. What it proves is that our graduates know no history, no literature, and no grammar. Utter blockheads.

  • somebigguy

    “…never underestimate the power of confusion and the forces that orchestrate it.”

    From the Garden of Eden to the Obama Administration, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • fredx2

    As soon as I heard that Dan Browns wife was an art historian, I knew where all of this nonsense came from. Art Historians have become an unbelievably weird group of people, finding all sorts of obscure, silly, bizarre, unreal meanings in paintings. They see things that are not there, invent meanings that are laughably just ghosts of their own warped ideologies, etc. Read Roger Kimballs’ “The Rape of the Masters” for a thorough explanation of Art History’s descent into manifest ridiculousness.

    But they work at universities, so people give them credence, no matter how unbelievably silly what they say is.

    • mitch64

      Oh those lefty “university types” ! Art Historians are just like other historians, researching and interpreting events. Art especially lends itself to personal interpretation…that is what art is. Do you find Sister Wendy…”weird.” ???

      • ColdStanding

        Well, now that you mention it. Yes, a little weird. I saw her book in the shop the other day and said, “Hmm, that’s weird.”

        • mitch64

          Really, and what would be “weird,” about it? Because she is different, interested in art?

          • ColdStanding

            Hey what can I say. I reacted how I reacted.

            • Ain’t it weird when the culture reaches a point when you are asked to explain weird?

              • ColdStanding

                true dat.

      • yolo

        There’s the problem: “Interpreting”. What about truth?

        • mitch64

          How does one come to the “truth” unless looking at all the available sources and discussing what they mean, including looking at new research, etc.

          • yolo

            The problem with historians is that they immediately assume that everyone in the past was excessively biased (towards capitalism since most historians are Marxist) therefore anything that was written in the past must be thoroughly scrubbed. You’re not the least bit concerned that “scrubbing” will effectively change what was written? Original sources are still the most reliable account of what happened in the past and why, no matter what theories historians surmise.

    • Scott W.

      As I say, O the humanities! I noticed this when my wife was getting a graduate music history degree in the ’90s. I noticed the academic journals for her field were festooned with transgender interpretations of composers and their works. Over time, its become evident that most humanities departments are slaves to fashion. In the ’50s and ’60s, it was Marxist interpretations of everything. The ’70s feminist interpretations. The ’80s racial interpretations. And finally it’s LGBTQWERTY.

      This wouldn’t be a problem if colleges weren’t the gauntlet that must be navigated to access the higher level careers. Add the tenure system that fosillizes these fashions and you have a recipe in which parents aren’t shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year for an education so much as buying a ticket for a tour through a museum full of dead and brain-deadening PC narratives. It’s like a parody of the quote from The Paper Chase: “You come in with a head full of mush, you leave with a head full of jargony mush.” Someone should start a RICO indictment.

      • yolo

        I guess the question is for how much longer will they remain the gauntlet. We are already seeing enormous cracks. The problem is many people in the high income bracket, including employers or higher management, support this agenda.

  • Shock

    In light of the abominable “history” that Dan Brown has now embedded in so many minds I thought it was fun to see the two typos in the opening paragraph:

    “that true genius, Leonardo De Vinci” and “novel in question being The De Vinci Code (DVC)”

  • Nick_Palmer3

    I remember a book that was making the rounds at my Catholic HS back in the mid-70s which proposed that Christianity was actually founded by a psychedelic-mushroom snarfing cult. There’s a particular appeal of gnosticism and its kin to the self-styled intellectual. In my case, it was the sophomoric high-school mind, in the broader world of DVC and HBHG it’s overly educated knuckleheads. Your average guy or gal is too smart to buy this slop.

  • Ruth Rocker

    I read DVC and found it a good story. But at no time did I ever think it was rooted in fact. The other stories of Brown’s, especially “Angels & Demons”, which was also made into a movie, didn’t ring true, either, but it was a good read and an exciting movie.

    It it because people in general are ignorant of history that things like this can happen. If you don’t know the truth about the past, then anyone can tell you anything and you will tend to believe it. And it’s even worse in the Church where most people don’t know Her history, either. Couple those two facts and you have the perfect storm of confusion.

    The best story ever written, of course, is the Bible. It has every genre of writing in it from history to poetry to prophecy to theology, etc. But because it’s such a “common” book, in the sense that it’s pretty much everywhere, people tend to disregard its importance. Which leads to it not being read as often or as well as it should be. I remember a friend telling me once that BIBLE stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” and it is true.

    • mitch64

      I agree, it was written as fiction and never proposed to be anything else…thought I do have to say, as soon as people started going crazy over this Brown would give interviews where he alluded to this being real and a product of year’s of historical research..instead of just coming out and saying it was …”just a good story he made up.”

      However, fiction like this can hopefully inspire people to look into and study history. Books like, “The Other Boleyn Girl,” are interesting fictional revisionist history which makes a good trash read but the real story is much more interesting and deeper. Maybe one or two readers actually looked into the events behind it.

      In the case of Brown’s book at least it made us examine Mary Magdelene in a different way, and not as the prostitute we were taught she was (or at least alluded to) in grade school.

    • “It it because people in general are ignorant of history that things like this can happen. ”

      It’s not just ignorance of history, but other forms as well. No human is omniscient, so we are all prone to ignorance. However, the catalyst for the reaction is arrogance.

      Whether it’s the guy peddling the Bermuda Triangle, Ancient Aliens, the Philadelphia Experiment, Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, there’s always a group of neo-Gnostics that think there’s some massive conspiracies lurking about.

      The check valve on this backflow should be a recognition of our own ignorance.
      One only needs to remember Rosie O’Donnell’s post 9/11 histrionics-claiming that the WTC failures had to be a controlled and inside demolition to see that inoperative check valve in action. No training or education in metallurgy, architectural engineering? No problem.

  • Sorry, but that book WAS written, and before Brown’s diatribe, albeit as a tragic comedy: Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum”.

  • schmenz

    Delightful piece, Mr Turley. Many thanks.

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