Like 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.
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.
And 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:
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.