Back in 2003, the winner of the Most Gushing, Over-The-Top Review of The Da Vinci Code was probably the one written for The Chicago Tribune. It stated, in part, that Dan Brown's fourth novel is:
A thundering, tantalizing, extremely smart fun ride. ... Brown doesn't slow down his tremendously powerful narrative engine despite transmitting several doctorates' worth of fascinating history and learned speculation, "The Da Vinci Code" is brain candy of the highest quality -- which is a reviewer's code meaning, ''Put this on top of your pile.''
Wow — several doctorates' worth of fascinating history and learned speculation. And to think that I keep getting lectured about TDVC being just a silly novel (since, as you might know, Christians aren't as smart as librarians). So, has the Tribune lightened up on the PhD talk? Not at all, as this May 27, 2006 column demonstrates:
But why is "The Da Vinci Code" such a hit? What accounts for its sensational success?
Never content simply to observe a phenomenon from an envious distance, we've gone where angels fear to tread: into the heart of the "The Da Vinci Code" to explicate its irresistible appeal. And we've enlisted other scribes to help us solve the mystery.
"It is the inhalable book," declares Donna Seaman, associate editor of Booklist and author of "Writers on the Air: Conversations About Books" (2005). "Everything about it is so charming."
And so flattering: As Seaman notes, readers feel smart because often they're figuring out the clues before the book's characters do. "Dan Brown tricks people into thinking they're getting an education. It's `cultural history lite.' People feel they're benefiting."
Aside from the fact that its fans can claim honorary doctoral degrees in ecclesiastical history, how else does "The Da Vinci Code" weave its magic spell?
The column then goes on to briefly note the novel's use of puzzles/codes (challenging for those under the age of four), artwork, "enticing characters" (!?), clever cliffhangers, and sex:
OO-LA-LA!: It's a fact: Sex sells. Most popular novels have a goodly share of hot and heavy action. Brown, however, trumps 'em all. His book claims that Jesus -- the purportedly virginal founder of a major world religion, often considered a stunt double for God -- was a swinger. He not only had sex but also spawned a secret family line continuing in the present day.
There you go: marriage is dull and old-fashioned — unless we're talking about Jesus. Then it turns him into a "swinger", a person "who engages freely in promiscuous sex," exactly what you'd expect from a first-century Jewish prophet who denounced divorce and advocated adherence to the Law. Finally:
Want to make a splash, get some attention, sell a few books? Pick on a biggie. Brown's sensational assertion that the Roman Catholic Church has been lying about Jesus and his teachings for 2,000 years is absolute catnip to readers. The novel's popularity, says Nuala O'Faolain, the Irish memoirist and novelist, grows organically from "the scandals" within the Catholic Church. "The reading public has always loved stories that chip away at establishments.
But, of course, it's just a novel. A novel that provides readers with "honorary doctoral degrees in ecclesiastical history," describes Jesus as a sexual hedonist, and claims the Catholic Church is built on lies. Nothing to it. Just fiction. Or, in the words of one reader, who shared his newfound PhD-informed knowledge with me:
Carl and Sandy are justified in being terrified that their so-called ‘universal’ church, which is based on a political conceit that one actually needs any church to know Jesus, will unravel and die a well justified death. ...
Dan Brown is just a very happy coincidence. He said what many of us believe the orthodox church is all about power and nothing about God. Why would he debate with you? Your noise sells more of his books!
So we are exploring the true Jesus without the incumberance of parisite-priests trying to keep their bellies fed. Light and sweet! We’re just the meteor at the end of the age of ‘the church’.
Remember, Dan is a storeyteller capitalizing on a growing movement to bring Mary (the sacred feminine) back home again. He didn’t start it. Attacking him just shows your denial of what is really going on: ‘the Rock’ crumbling into sand as the Goddess commands. Evolution. I love it.
Yep: absolute Coded catnip.