Thomas Ryan, chairman of the religious studies department at St. Thomas University in Miami, views the Coded Craziness "as a much-needed vaccine against ignorance." Catholic.org reports:
"It is a novel that holds a mirror up to us – to silly academics and people who misuse facts," Ryan told a group of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders gathered March 22 for the monthly clergy dialogue sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice.
He said talking about the popular book – and upcoming movie – should "strengthen our congregations to be able to deal with what's out there" in terms of religious ignorance and misconceptions.
"This is a vaccine," said Ryan, whose area of specialization is medieval church history. "This articulates the silliness that's out there. We could use it as a way of inoculating ourselves."
Ryan, who only recently read the novel, said his personal reaction to it was: "Thank you, Dan Brown.... I am grateful to (the novel) for driving me to learn more about my faith. It raises questions that I need to go and see. I'm a smarter person as a result of it."
I understand his point, but think he gives Brown far too much credit in this remark:
"I think the author puts in all those mistakes to alert us" to the fact that it is a work of fiction, Ryan said. "It's a story of people who use false evidence to support their claims. And don't we meet those people every day? I think it's a story of humanity. I think Dan Brown is kind of laughing at us. It mocks our gullibility."
Does it? Or does the novel simply take advantage of readers' gullibility, to the tune of 40+ million copies sold, by being touted as well-researched and factual? Having read Brown's witness statement from the London trial a couple of times now, I think Sandra Miesel is correct in this assessment: "Brown is trying to present himself as a serious Artist, a man of many talents just bursting with nuggets of arcane lore." (Read all of her comments here.)
Or, in the words of James Parker, writing for The Boston Globe, "The Da Vinci Code, bulging with shadowy Templars, is a classic con, of the sort regularly perpetrated by the hustler-sorcerer Cagliostro." He continues:
The mechanism is simple: take an article of no value whatsoever-say, the prose of Dan Brown-and then wreath it in purple clouds of necromantic waffle. Speak in low tones of Horus, the Grail, the Philosopher's Stone. Mention Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, the Priory of Sion, and the assassination of Dagobert II. Deploy lashings of what Carlyle, in his 1833 essay on Cagliostro, called ''Tower-of-Babel jargon," and a miracle will ensue: You will find yourself, in Carlyle's words, ''working the mighty chaos into a creation-of ready-money." Like, for example, 36 million copies of your novel in print, translation into 44 languages, and an upcoming movie version starring Tom Hanks.
Cagliostro's genius was to make himself a magnet for the displaced religiosity of the Enlightenment: Ancient longings and unmoored belief systems all adhered with a sudden, happy crackle to his nonsense. Is Dan Brown a genius? Possibly not. ''Langdon and Sophie seemed unable to tear their stunned gazes from the revolver aimed at them." The steady drone of dullness emitted by prose like this cannot be entirely camouflaged by Cagliostrian sound effects-by the boom of chanting monks and the scratching of phoenixes inside Hermetic eggs. But they certainly do help.
Brown is a child of his age who has produced what other children of this age want: anti-authoritarian conspiracy theories dressed in pseudo-intellectual nonsense and spun with pompous spiritual cliches that are as absurd as they are enticing (see this May 26, 2006, USA Today piece about DVC clones that are climbing the best-seller charts). Hustler-sorcerer, indeed, armed with a keyboard, a jar of jargon, a mysterious spouse/researcher, and a willingness to apparently say anything to keep selling the con.