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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

 

In this issue:

Books:

A mystery with the killer's identity apparent, The Da Vinci Code is not literature but a intrigue-filled adventure that qualifies as a quick beach read.

And Consider This:

In a time when fewer and fewer literary sources provide free content, The Online Books Page continues to add to its stock. An essay by Ron Sullivan looks at organic gardening authors Helen and Scott Nearing and finds a certain lack of humor. The site for Margaret Atwood's newest, Oryx and Crake, includes an essay and excerpt. Artcyclopedia comes through again with Jean Fouquet images.

Books

The Da Vinci Code
By Dan Brown
Doubleday

This is one of the hot new books of the season. It is advertised as a murder mystery, but there is never any doubt about the killers identity. It is discovering his motive that sets us off on an intrigue-filled adventure.

The central character, Robert Langdon, is described as a Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard who is in Paris to give a lecture. He has received a message that Jacques Sauniere, a curator at the Louvre, needs to see him on a matter of some urgency. When Sauniere does not show up for the meeting, Langdon returns to his hotel room, only to be awakened in the wee hours by the Captain of the Central Directorate Judicial Police who informs him that Sauniere has been murdered. Langdon, it seems, is the chief suspect.

Taken to the crime scene at the Louvre, Langdon meets Saunieres granddaughter, Sophie, who happens to be a code specialist for the Department of Cryptography of the Judicial Police. She notices clues that her grandfather left in the moments before his death, including a message specifically to her to find Robert Langdon. On the strength of this, she decides that Langdon is both innocent and trustworthy, and maneuvers him into escaping the scene. They depart on a long, circuitous route that finally leads them to England, with the police in hot pursuit.

As they travel, their unfolding discoveries include the truth about Sophies grandfather, who was part of a secret group that does not accept the Roman Catholic Churchs male-centered approach to the divinity. There are many discussions about early religious concepts of God as an entity balanced in male/female aspect. The reader is given a good amount of information about the works of Leonardo da Vinci as well as about religious symbolism and the rumored doings of many secret societies, including the Priory of Sion, Opus Dei, the Knights Templar, and the Masons.

Anyone who has read Nikos Kazantzakis The Last Temptation of Christ or Foucaults Pendulum by Umberto Eco will not be particularly surprised by the authors claims regarding Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail, and the early Christian Church. Neither will historians be surprised to learn that the New Testament was collated in the fourth century under the reign of the pagan Emperor Constantine (baptized only on his death bed), or that the four books we call the gospels were selected from more than 80 gospels extant at the time. Readers who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible may be uncomfortable with Langdons insistence that it was written by men whose stories didn't always agree, and it was other men a couple of hundred years later who selected what would or would not be included in what we call the New Testament, and produced many flawed translations.

While much of the subject matter has been treated by many other writers, Dan Brown does not write with the authority of a Kazantzakis or an Eco. The plot may intrigue, but the writing itself is pedestrian at best. Mr. Brown could have used an editor with a heavy blue pencil aimed at clichs, and a proofreader who wouldnt have let lines like He let the hot water from the shower message his shoulders slip by.

This book is highly cinematic in nature, and appears to have been written with Hollywood in mind. It will probably become a movie replete with gorgeous locales and superbly-filmed chases, as well as the requisite love interest. There is even a murderous albino to add to the mix.

The Da Vinci Code is a good, fast beach read for the summer ahead. Just dont expect it to be great literature

Culture Watch: And Consider This>>

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