Posted by: pendrops | October 30, 2006

the Da Vinci effect

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After three years of hearing the hubbub, Jason and I decided to check out the The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Initially enthralled by the book’s aura of suspense, I felt like I had discovered the grown-up version of Nancy Drew: mysterious setting, ingenious characters, imaginative application of historical fact. ”I understand why people got hooked on this book,” I told Jason.

But about halfway through, the book shifted from a captivating drama to a world of unfounded self-importance. Claims that Mary Magdalene bore Jesus’ child. Professions that pagans shaped Christianity. And the asinine assertion that YHWH, the sacred name of God, is derived from two words that mean “androgynous physical union.”

We soon found that, at best, Code was a conglomeration of baseless “fact” and poorly-written fiction. One night after being subjected to a particularly annoying spiel by the know-it-all main character, Jason fumed.

“Why are you so upset?” I asked.

“Because Brown is thumbing his nose at truth.”

Since its publication, experts have found that much of Brown’s Code is an absurd hodgepodge of urban legends, conspiracy theories, misguided interpretations, and blatant fabrication. But I must admit, it does beg a valid question: how much fact do we expect in our fiction?

Maybe it’s not fair to ask novelists to give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Still, I can’t help calling to mind great fiction; fiction that draws out deeper, universal, uniting truth. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ Narnia, Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. The difference with Code is that it inspires doubt, encourages confusion, and mocks truth. (And not just truth with a capital T.)

A few days after we finished the book, I unearthed one redeeming quality in Code, something that made it worth the droning hours spent reading. I call it the Da Vinci Effect. Simply put, Brown’s book has done much to turn borderline doubters into full-fledged skeptics. While his book is not responsible for catapulting us into relativistic post-modernism, millions of people have read it and, as a result, doubt truth like never before.

But the flipside of the Da Vinci Effect is that it has turned spectators like me into vigilant crusaders for truth. And I relish the irony: a book filled with such fallacy and deception challenging me to seek truth, even inspiring me to fight for it.

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