Prepare to enter a bizarre world of cryptic clues, hidden histories, secret symbols and twisted theology: you're off on a Grail Quest. But you're not searching for the long-lost cup of Christ from the Last Supper — you didn't really think that's what the Grail is, did you?? No, you're about to discover the "sacred feminine", the "true" history of Christianity that's been suppressed by the church: the mysteries of Mary Magdelen, bride of Christ and mother of the Royal Line. It's time to give The Da Vinci Code a subtitle: Jesus was my grandfather ...well OK, let's make that great-great-great-(repeat a few more times)-grandfather.
It's a fantastic yarn, a fast-moving edge-of-the-seat thriller à la Dean Koontz and Michael Crichton. There's murder, mystery and mayhem enough to satisfy even the most die-hard addicts. Enter Robert Langdon, an American academic and world-renowned symbologist on lecture tour in Paris — he's just been called in by the DCPJ, Direction Central Police Judiciaire, the French Judicial Police, supposedly to help with a murder investigation at the Louvre. Big trouble: he's actually their chief suspect. Now enter Sophie Neveu, maverick DCPJ Cryptologist, come to the rescue. She knows Langdon's not guilty and helps him get away — I won't spoil the plot by telling you how, but there is a bar of soap involved.
A big fuss about a bar of soap
Whilst the rest of the police are off chasing the bar of soap, Langdon and Neveu review the murder scene and crack part of a code that's been left by the murder victim. This leads them onto a lightning tour of Da Vinci's works in the art gallery and the discovery of several significant secrets. And so they're off, on the run across Paris and into hiding, where they team up with an eccentric English Grail enthusiast. Meanwhile the real murderer — a member of Opus Dei, a controversial Roman Catholic sect — realises that he's seriously botched up: the tale twists and turns at a frantic pace with a plot as slippery as the bar of soap it started out with.
This isn't a novel for the faint-hearted or for the spiritually insecure. The action — it all takes place within the space of a single night — is interspersed with an ongoing dialogue explaining more and more about mysterious meanings behind Da Vinci's work, hidden histories at the heart of the Grail Quest and the supposed lies & fabrications upon which Christianity has been constructed. Some will find it offensive, others blasphemous: it has already spawned several Christian responses, including Cracking Da Vinci's Code, James L Garlow & Peter Jones, Victor/Kingsway Publications, ISBN 078144165X and Breaking the Da Vinci Code: Answers to the Questions Everybody's Asking, Darrell L Bock, Thomas Nelson, ISBN 0785260463, both amongst others available to order from Eden.co.uk.
One publisher's rep I spoke to told me that she was reluctant to read the book in case it undermined her faith. Some free advice to anyone who feels similarly threatened: get an education. A London School of Theology Open Learning course on the history of Christianity or introducing the New Testament would be a good place to start. "Know the truth and the truth will set you free" — now who said that?? I don't think it was Dan Brown.
So should we, as Christians, be concerned? Yes, insofar as the book has proved incredibly popular (as I write it's been at the top of the UK's bestseller charts for over a year) and makes a number of outrageous claims about Christianity: if people are actually swallowing this stuff, there is cause for concern. But no — there's nothing new here; what Brown's characters are presenting is same old, same old, unsubstantiated half-truths and straightforward fiction. Nothing, in short, that use of a good bar of soap couldn't put right.
And that's the important thing to remember: this is fiction; it's entertainment, brilliantly presented with some powerful twists. I enjoyed it and I've already been out and bought the author's Angels and Demons for more of the same. But the hidden histories are even more an article of faith than the histories we're familiar with. By responding we're effectively taking the bait and proving the point: Christianity is out to suppress "the truth".
Time to lay down the gauntlet: unveil your Grail, ye Grail Questors. A secret cache of documents? Bring them out into the light and we'll see whose truth withstands scrutiny.
Update, May 2006
Phil Groom, March 2005
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.Transworld: Corgi | Comments? Feedback?