The Da Vinci Code mastermind, Dan Brown, is no newcomer to the genres of mysteries and thrillers. Dan Brown is the novelist of four mystery-thriller novels. Each of his works includes a combination of, “extensive research, complex, intricate plotting, and intriguing conspiracy theories with breathless, edge-of-the-seat action.” Brown’s four novels include Digital Fortress (1998), Angels and Demons (200), Deception Point (2001), and The Da Vinci Code (2003). In each of Brown’s novels the reader is met with a prologue in which a corpse is found in an extremely awkward position. In each case the homicide victim embodies a riddle that becomes the plot or layout for the rest of the novel. In Digital Fortress, the beginning of the book informs readers of successive murders, and Deception Point kicks off with a “Canadian geologist being hurled from a helicopter to his death.” Angles and Demons also follows suit when a scientist, Leonardo Vetra, is discovered dead in his lab, as well as in The Da Vinci Code when Jacques Sauniere, the curator at the Louvre Museum in Paris is found murdered. Brown’s four novels also “conclude with an epilogue that brings each novel full circle.” The epilogue is always present after a tryst between hero and heroine has occurred.
This can be seen in Digital Fortress, when there is a romantic encounter that was postponed since the beginning of the opening chapter. This encounter in the Smoky Mountains precedes an epilogue linking Tankado to his alienated father who is in existence on the other side of the earth. Deception Point closes in a similar fashion in that its female and male protagonists, Rachel Sexton and Michael Tolland complete a tryst. This precedes an epilogue in which, “Ekstrom, NASA’s administrator, consigns his fake meteorite to the ocean whence it cam.” Angles and Demons follows this pattern with a tryst between Robert Langdon and Vittoria Vetra, which constitutes the epilogue of the novel, and in The Da Vinci Code, the epilogue “brings Langdon back to the prologue’s setting of the Louvre, where Langdon is at last able to solve the final riddle posed by Sophie’s grandfather, Jacques Sauniere” (Eder, L. Doris). Therefore proving that in each of Brown’s unique novels he focuses on different subject matter, however he continually uses an almost identical narrative framework.
Dan Brown’s novels include nefarious plots that center on an abundance of puzzles and conspiracy theories that give way to controversy and criticism. In Contemporary Authors online, critics attributed the appeal of The Da Vinci Code, to its plot related codes and cryptograms that unconsciously force the reader into brainstorming for answers. However some critics claim that Dan Brown loaded his 2003 novel with too much religious history, “at the expense of pacing,” however this novel has been regarded and accepted with open arms by both conspiracy buffs and thriller addicts (Contemporary Authors). Brown includes a skeletal history of a real society that among its members included icons of Western Culture such as Leonardo Da Vinci. This history can be seen in the preface of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code:
The Priory of Sion–a European secret society founded in 1099–is a real
Organization. 1975 Paris’s Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments know
as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticellie, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
The Vatican Prelature known as Opus Dei is a deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brainwashing, coercion, and a dangerous practice known as “corporal mortification.” Opus Dei has just completed construction of a $47 million National Headquarters at 243 Lexington Avenue in New York City.
All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate. (Brown 1)
The first two statements by Brown about the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei are for the most part valid, but some of the actions Brown claims that these groups carry out in the book are questionable. The real issue with this quote from the book lies in the last line about “[All] descriptions…” because this statement is very unprofessional considering the interpretations that he yields about the “artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals…” cannot be backed up or supported by any substantial facts. The book begins with the acknowledgement of the existence of a secret society called the Priory of Sion, and the existence of devout Catholic sect Opus Dei. The plot begins when a disciple of Opus Dei murders the grand master of the Priory of Sion, however in the mists of death he manages to arrange clues around his body to point the conspiracy surrounding Opus Dei (Newsmaker). After his body is found Robert Langdon, a professor of religious symbology, at Harvard University is called to the seen to dissect the clues (Brown 7). Langdon works alongside Sauniere’s granddaughter Sophi, who is a police cryptologist. This results in the basic plot of the book which includes these two trying to solve the murder of Sauniere and using there talents to move through “a maze of artistic, linguistic, and mathematical codes, and puzzles” (Newsmaker). These clues lead to his murderer and the true identity of Sauniere as the grand master of the Priory of Sion, whose sole purpose is to protect the secrets of Christianity and its origins by concealing the truth and mystery surrounding the Holy Grail. The book also has an anti-catholic sentiment that portrays the church in a darker fashion. The plot is “complete with secret codes, anagrams, elaborate technology, pagan sex orgies, sudden reversals, age-old conspiracies, pre-Christian fertility cults, Knights Templar, Gnostic gospels, corrupt cops, brutal murders, feminist theory, and frantic midnight rides through Paris” (Greeley, Andrew). The novel forces readers to scrutinize over Leonardo Da Vinci’s works including, Mona Lisa, Madonna of the Rockets, and The Last Supper. These mixtures of art history, mathematics, and medieval mysticism, all formulate the debate and controversy present in this book. Therefore in Dan Brown’s hit novel The Da Vinci Code, his theories on the Holy Grail, Renaissance art symbology, and the representation of the Catholic Church consist for the most part of fiction rather than substantial fact.
There has been an abundance of controversy surrounding the origins of the Holy Grail in The Da Vinci Code. When a person is questioned, “what is the Holy Grail,” their first thought, in most cases, is the chalice that Jesus Drank out of at the last supper. This cup was supposedly filled with the blood of Christ, and was passed around that table to be consumed by each of the twelve disciples. The most popular lore surrounding the Grail states that whoever finds the Grail and drinks from it will be rewarded with eternal life. The Grail is thought to posses healing powers for those who come in contact with it. This is the modern and most well known documentation of the Grail. In The Da Vinci Code, Brown has a much different interpretation of the Grail. Brown’s interpretation of the Holy Grail in the book states:
The Grail is literally the ancient symbol for woman hood, and the Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church. The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It was man, not God, who created the concept of ‘original sin,’ whereby Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race. Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy. (Brown 238)
Brown also explains the Holy Grail to have symbolic roots portraying a women’s body as a container or vessel that held the bloodline of Jesus Christ. In this interpretation Brown is eluding to Mary Magdalene, who he believes made love to Jesus Christ and bore his daughter. According to Brown the Priory of Sion were Grail keepers that vowed to guard the truth about the Holy Grail, which included the knowledge of the royal bloodline and the resting place of Mary Magdalene. In The Da Vinci Code, the basis of the plot revolves around the race between Opus Dei and Sophi and Langdon to find the Holy Grail. Opus Dei wishes to find the Holy Grail for the sole purpose to erase its history of the royal bloodline forever, and Langdon and Sophi wish to find the Grail so they can keep the truth alive. Therefore the Holy Grail is symbolic of the lost goddess Mary Magdalene (Miesel, Sandra). Brown backs up his beliefs of the Holy Grail as being the lineage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene through a truly creative theory of fiction. He explains that Magdalene was not a prostitute, but rather a close companion of Jesus.
Her real identity was according to Brown, concealed by the early church clergy, because they feared the truth would undermine the church teachings on celibacy. In order to defend itself against the power of Magdalene, the church persecuted her and made her out to be a whore. The church buried the evidence of Christ’s marriage to her, and this therefore crushed any potential claims that there was any surviving bloodline of Jesus Christ (Reidy, Maurice Timothy). In The Da Vinci Code, Brown also translates the French term Sangraal, which truly means Holy Grail into sang or blood, and raal or royal, into royal blood (Brown 250). Brown’s play on the term Sangraal does not hold any credibility outside the realm of his book. These facts are implemented to further undermine Brown’s interpretation of the Holy Grail and to reveal his true lack of credibility.
Another area of error in Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, rests in the misinterpretations of the art symbology in Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork. Brown’s interpretations relate secret codes in Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork, to hints and secrets surrounding the Holy Grail:
For this reason, Grail enthusiasts still pored over Da Vinci’s art and diaries in hopes of unearthing a hidden clue as to the Grail’s current location. Some claimed the mountainous backdrop in Madonna of the Rocks matched the topography of a series of cave-ridden hills in Scotland. Others insisted that the suspicious placement of disciples in The Last Supper was some kind of code. Still others claimed that X rays of the Mona Lisa revealed she originally had been painted wearing a lapis lazuli pendant of Isis–a detail Da Vinci purportedly later decided to paint over. (Brown 169)
Brown’s portrayal of these three Da Vinci pieces is very questionable and often regarded as false, or unable of being determined. In the book Brown breaks the name Mona Lisa, into the anagram “Amon L’isa.” He proceeds to explain to readers that Amon is the name of the Egyptian God of masculine fertility, and the ancient pictogram “L’isa,” is the Egyptian goddess of fertility. He then explains that the Mona Lisa’s name in an anagram is actually representative of the divine union of male and female (Brown 121). According to Sandra Miesel, the novel’s interpretation of the Mona Lisa is undoubtedly false because, “it’s widely know to portray a real woman, Madonna Lisa, wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo.” Therefore the name is definitely not a mocking anagram of the two
Egyptian fertility deities (Miesel, Sandra). Brown also believes Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is coded with messages that reveals the truth about Jesus and the Holy Grail. Brown claims that in the painting each disciple has his own wine glass indicating that there is no one cup that could be called the Holy Grail. He also claims that not all of the twelve disciples are men. Upon further review, Brown points out that the disciple directly to Jesus’ left who is thought to be St. John, is actually a woman. This woman is supposedly Mary Magdalene (Brown 243-246) Brown’s second theory attributed the lack of a central chalice on the Table as proof that the Holy Grail is a sacred cup proves that Da Vinci is trying to tell onlookers that the grail is actually Mary Magdalene (Miesel, Sandra). However this is inconceivable, and Brown’s view is merely a matter of opinion. The person directly to Jesus’ right in the painting of The Last Supper has no resemblance of a woman at all. In addition to Brown’s theory of Mary Magdalene being present at the right had of god, he also manages to find fictional hidden symbols elsewhere in the painting. Brown claims that there is an “indisputable V shape at the focal point of the painting,” which represents the female womb (Brown 244). Brown also proclaims the “unquestionable outline of an enormous, flawlessly formed letter M” (Brown 245). This secret clue supposedly hints that the M stands for Magdalene, However Brown’s arguments that Leonardo da Vinci coded his paintings with messages cannot be sustained (Miesel, Sandra). It has been said by some historians that Leonardo da Vinci did not load his work with secret messages, however he was guilty of playing around with words and numbers (Schorow Stephanie). Brown’s confusion with art from fact can be attributed to his heavy reliance on Gnostic Gospels, which are incredibly simplistic reading of both history and theology (Reidy, Timothy Maurice).
In addition to Brown’s multitude of errors surrounding the Holy Grail and Renaissance art symbology, he is also guilty of offering false claims about the Catholic Church. In The Da Vinci Code, it is evident that Brown has strong anti-catholic biases throughout the novel. Brown is guilty of taking novelistic jabs at the church and Vatican. This can be seen in Andrew M. Greeley’s analysis where he found “several factual errors and termed it merely the latest in a long list of slightly veiled novelistic jabs at the church and Vatican hierarchy over the decades.” Brown portrays the Roman curia as smooth, sophisticated schemers who will stop at nothing to preserve the power of the church (Greeley, Andrew). According to Sandra Miesel, “Brown misses no opportunity to criticize Christianity and its pitiable adherents.” Brown also portrays the Catholic Church as a villain, who will stop at nothing to uphold its power. He is also incorrect according to Miesel because, “he routinely and anachronistically refers to the church as “the Vatican” even when popes [weren’t] in residence there.” The Da Vinci Code also portrays the church as, “deceitful, power-crazed, crafty, and murderous” (Miesel, Sandra). Another historical inaccuracy under Brown’s belt is his use of the term Vatican. He depicts the Vatican as, “conspiring with Constantine to suppress the Gnostic gospels in early fourth century. The only problem with this is that the Vatican Hill was a disorderly cemetery at that time.
Brown is also inaccurate in his discussion regarding someone he calls the Secretariat Vaticana who supposedly has control of papal finances. This is incorrect because the secretary of state is actually the one who is in control of Vatican finances (Greeley, Andrew). Another aspect of the book that simply will not hold up according to Greeley is the incident involving a murder plotted by Opus Dei. In addition to that, it would be inconceivable to think that the Vatican would ever pay for this act of murder. These aspects of the book are solely fantasy and would not be possible in Brown’s wildest dreams. Other false claims include that “Christ did not die on the cross, Mary Magdalene was pregnant with Jesus’ child, and that the descendents of Mary Magdalene and Jesus created “France’s early Medieval Merovingian dynasty” (Newsmakers). Therefore Brown’s false claims against the Catholic Church, were a result of his anti-catholic biases, novelistic jabs, wrong use of the term “Vatican”, and the unrealistic situations presented in the book.
Thus The Da Vinci Code is a skillfully written read, complete with secret codes, anagrams, age-old conspiracies, brutal murders, and Feminist theory, presented through adventures in Paris. All of these aspects of the book open for a wide array of debate. Brown was able to wrap almost all the conspiracy theories revolving around the Holy Grail, Renaissance art, and the Catholic Church, into one masterpiece of false claims. For the most part all of Brown’s theories are dead end falsehoods. In The Da Vinci Code, Brown portrays the Holy Grail in a fashion unfamiliar to the masses. The public views the Holy Grail as a chalice or cup that held the blood of Jesus Christ at the last supper. This sacred cup was thought to avail eternal life and healing powers to those who possessed it. Brown’s interpretation of the Grail was that of the “”Sacred Feminine,” Mary Magdalene. According to Brown, the Holy Grail is actually the truth about the union of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, and their royal bloodline. However this interpretation cannot hold true because there are no substantial facts to back up his theory. His second flaw in the magnitude of errors present in this novel, involves his portrayals of the Renaissance artwork done by Leonardo da Vinci. The pieces of art that Brown analyses in the book are that of the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and The Madonna of Rocks. In each of these works he claims that they possess secret clues and codes that lead to the true proximity of the Holy Grail.
These assumptions are also not valid because art is simply an interpretation. Each viewer may see different things in different pieces of artwork, and each person may have different interpretations also. These assumptions are also unsubstantial because it is a known fact that Da Vinci did not load his work with secrets and codes, however he did like to play around with numbers. Brown’s last topic for debate attacks the issue of his representation of the Catholic Church. In the code Brown expresses an anti-catholic sentiment that portrays the church as crafty, shifty, and willing to stop at nothing to preserve their power. These inferences involving the church are not new, however they are greatly exaggerated. Thus Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code uses a mixture of blurs of historical fact and an abundance of historical speculation to deliver readers a truly mind boggling puzzle of secret codes and anagrams, mixed with art history, mathematics, and medieval mysticism.