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Lead into gold
May 19, 2006

I hope that the movie opening this weekend is a lot better than the book, otherwise moviegoers are going to be gravely disappointed. 

For all the hype, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a ho-hum piece of fiction wrapped around so-called historical facts — many of which are gleaned from spurious and discredited sources.

For example, he starts off his novel by stating as “fact” that the Priory of Sion was a European secret society founded in 1099. According to Brown’s introduction, Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying

numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli,

Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci, were founded in Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale Library in 1975. Indeed, the parchments were found in the national library, but the documents are a complete hoax, placed there surreptitiously in 1956 by Pierre Plantard, a French nationalist whose real-life Priory of Sion lasted only briefly. 

The one real “fact” in his introduction is the existence of the Opus Dei, a group of laity and priests dedicated to integrating spirituality into their everyday lives — nothing sinister in that, although they can be judged slightly wacky for reverting to the occasional Medieval method to confirm their faith, such as the admitted use by some Opus Dei members of the rather nasty-looking cilice. 

But in the novel, the Opus Dei is sinister, intent through murder on keeping the documents concealed that show Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ were married and had a child who founded the Merovin gian dynasty, which ruled in France and parts of Germany from the fifth to eighth

centuries.

The most disquieting aspect of whole controversy over the book is that many who have read it cannot distinguish fact from fiction and are taking Brown’s premise at face value.

The fictional musings in the Brown book have become so persuasive that a recent survey for Britain’s Catholic Church by Opinion Research Business has revealed that 60 per cent of those surveyed who read the book believe Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene, while 30 per cent who did not read the book still believe the same tale. Readers surveyed are also four times more likely to now believe that Opus Dei is a murderous sect.

The novel starts with the murder of Louvre curator Jacques Sauniére, the supposed grand master of the Priory of Sion, by Opus Dei albino hit-man Silas. The curator has time before dying to splay himself out naked in the position of da Vinci’s famous anatomical illustration Vitruvian Man. 

Actually, the Italian Renaissance artist and inventor figures prominently in the book’s plot. In the book, his paintings contain messages left by the dying curator and provide the clues that send Sauniére’s granddaughter Sophie (played by Audrey Tauton in the movie) and Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks), on their quest to find the Holy Grail, which isn’t Christ’s cup from the Last Supper as claimed by traditional legend, but Mary Magdalene as the vessel of Christ’s child.

Writer Peter Boyer, in the New Yorker, said the thesis of the book is that “Christianity as we know it is history’s greatest scam, perpetuated by a malignant, misogynist and, when necessary, murderous Catholic Church.”

The novel becomes unravelled into near silliness as it delves into a compilation of obscure information and wild conspiracies. How over 40-million copies of this book have circulated across the globe should itself be the plot of a mystery novel. 

Some argue that Brown has hit upon the sure-fire formula for success: fast-paced action over the course of 24 hours, coupled with religion, great works of art, villains and cryptic clues to be found in exotic places. Los Angeles journalist Arthur Spiegelman said that Brown has stumbled upon the literary equivalent of turning lead into gold.

I must confess, I succumbed to the desire to find out why the book was so popular and bought it — the illustrated version for $22 and change, which was 25 per cent off its list price of $32.95 cdn. What I found as I painstakingly read the novel — indeed, a painful and tedious experience — was that it was not money well spent.

Still, there remains for those “transfixed by the ecstacy” of the book that even greater satisfaction will be derived from viewing the movie directed by Ron Howard. He may be able to portray a tale of adventure that is more stimulating than the book’s plot based on twisted facts,  half-truths and innuendo.

But in the end, it’s still making much ado about nothing when calls are made to ban the book and film, which is dead wrong and to be always avoided — such an action conjures up images of Nazi book burnings.

Yet, Christian groups in South Korea, India, Greece and Thailand and other nations are either calling for the film to be banned or censored. In Thailand, the call is for the final 15 minutes that alludes to Jesus still having descendants today to be cut and the correction of subtitles claimed to be disrespectful of Jesus. Again, that is simply dead wrong. Those who believe they will be offended should just skip seeing the movie.

In South Korea, Chief Justice Song Jin-hyun said the Christian Council of Korea was wrong to ask to block screenings of the film because it is clear that both the novel and movie are fiction. 

In India, where 18-million Roman Catholics reside, the head of the Catholic Secular Forum also wants the film banned. But Rev. Myron Periera, a Catholic priest and member of the film board that cleared the movie, said there is no reason  to reject it, citing that the contention that Christ was married is pure fiction. He said people have the option in a democratic society to boycott or protest the film.

Actually, talk of banning a book or film simply makes them more attractive — the proverbial desire to taste the forbidden fruit. Studio executives can be pictured as wringing their hands in glee, envisioning the extra dollars their movie will net from  all the free publicity. Meanwhile, Brown is probably laughing all the way to the bank.