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Friday, May 19, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Twenty One, in which Chapter One Hundred Twenty is decoded

Does the critique of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth sound familiar? The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is receiving much the same reaction, now heightened by the release of the movie version.

A recent article in the Sun Herald says "Religion scholars have been whacking The Da Vinci Code like a low-hanging piƱata. The swings have come from the establishment... and from the fringes...." The newspaper goes on to report there are currently forty-four books available at Amazon that claim to debunk the fictional story.

Let us for one moment accept as fact the belief that Jesus never fathered a child by anyone. If Mr. Brown claims otherwise in his book, the only way he can be wrong is if that claim is out of place in the fictional world he has created. If he has done his job as an author properly, then what he has written is true, despite the possibility it is not the truth. If people believe his premise, then he has written a novel of the highest verisimilitude.

The culture of reality television has bled its way into the book world. On the one hand, people are outraged when what is purported to be a memoir is not all together factual, and on the other hand, people are outraged when a novel is believed to be fact. Are fans of category romance the only ones who know reading as entertainment any more? Would people be just as offended if they found out most reality television shows are as carefully scripted and edited as "Seinfeld"?

The only thing Your Bibliothecary knows for certain is there is no certain proof that Jesus did or did not father a child. Those reacting with fury over Mr. Brown's novel seem to betray a fear of things striking a bit too close for their comfort. Does anyone really question the "facts" of Mr. Verne's novel--or Catch-22, or One Hundred Years of Solitude, or The Time Traveler's Wife? Has something about the nature of literature changed, or are some people feeling a little bit threatened? We thoroughly enjoy the controversy, though there is little information, either in support of Mr. Brown's premise or against it, that is new to our experience. In fact, Tiresias, Leander, Erato, and Callisto outlined a novel based on the exact same premise in 1998, with the wild hopes of causing a ruckus at the dawn of the new millenium.

Professor Darrell L. Bock, author of Breaking the Da Vinci Code has called Mr. Brown's book "dangerous." Sounds ominously similar to the mysterious yellow book Lord Henry gives to Dorian Gray, by which Dorian is thoroughly corrupted. Bock has worried that Mr. Brown's "few factual references are heavily interlaced with fiction or outright falsehood." What more can one ask of a writer? In The Last Courtesan, by Jeffrey K. Hill, Lenin is placed in the company of one of the lead characters during an actual visit he made to the opera. Can one bemoan the interlacing of that fact? Surely the provocative leader was not the only person to attend the opera that night. Such is the task of any author, to create a seamless marriage of fact and fiction. Even stories of outright fantasy are crafted to be believable--within their fictional world.

The newspaper report concerning the brouhaha about Journey to the Center of the Earth is fiction, a parody of the Sun Herald report. A few facts are gathered and embellished with fiction in the appearance of being truthful and smart. Only those who do not write could fail to appreciate what fun such writing is.

The Sun Herald article reports that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is so concerned about Mr. Brown's novel that it has created a Web site with official Catholic responses to the issues Mr. Brown raises in the book. But these are Catholic issues, not Mr. Brown's issues. Reverend Timothy Friedrichsen fears Mr. Brown is muddling people's thinking in ways that could shake faith and affect the reputation of real institutions. Such statements sound as if church leaders believe people do not think for themselves, and can be easily swayed into muddled thinking. If these pious people are privy to the truth, why are they not content with it? Why have none of them come out and directly accused Mr. Brown of being Satan's hand-puppet? Is the church fearful of a secret being revealed? of losing power? of losing money? or, despite God's infinite forgiveness, do they truly believe they are concerned only for our eternal souls?

We take no side on these "issues" and have no patience for anyone who believes they possess the One Truth. God bless Us, Every One.

*[editor's note]For any one who is seriously interested in writing the "next Da Vinci Code," we are seeking collaborators. Send us an email, or leave a comment so stating, and we will get back to you with details.


  1. I have waited some time to comment on this fabulous post because I keep trying to find a link to a recent New Yorker article that examines Sony's marketing campaign for the film. They actually approached specific religious leaders in the community and Sony had them start a site very similar to the jesusdecoded.com website you reference in your post. The site Sony started is similar in content about debunking the "untruths" of the book. Sony did this to spur the debate in hopes that keeping the arguments alive --with an open forum in which to debate them and air opinions -- would lead to greater box office sales (or at least, less people protesting outside the theaters and more people with butts on seats inside the theater). Of particular interest is that many regular site participants have no idea the site is run by Sony and they believe they are truly having an open debate among Christian leaders (leaders who agreed to work with Sony.) I have much to say about this but until I can produce the article, it seems one-sided, no?

    I must locate the print version somewhere in my not yet completely unpacked home and scan it and send it to you. I will do so. Poste haste.

  2. I think the controversy works in favor of both book and film. I haven't followed it closely, but it seems to me that Sony has done a good job selling the film. I think those who fear for our souls generate more interest in any art by publicly denouncing it instead of just ignoring it.