“Weird” would be the primary tag for this entry. The success of The Da Vinci Code is a phenomenon, but not, I suggest, a literary one. The thriller by Lisa See which I am currently reading (The Interior) is far better written, far more intelligent, and far less “successful”. However, when one rates “success”, I guess one has to acknowledge Harry Potter, which is better written than The Da Vinci Code, if no less displeasing to the more short-foreheaded God-botherer.
In today’s Sydney Morning Herald is a remarkably naive response to the whole thing by Dr Tim Hawkes, principal (or headmaster if you will — he seems to) of Sydney’s The King’s School. Not that I disagree with much that he says, in fact I have pretty much said it all before after I read the book. But when Dr Hawkes says “DAN BROWN’S The Da Vinci Code is a great read” I really have to complain. It is a very average read, even in its genre. The Rule of Four is much better.
I liked the Herald headline about the critical response to the movie: The sound of no hands clapping.
The crunch moment came, however, when Tom Hanks, as the earnest professor of symbology Robert Langdon, uttered an especially melodramatic line. At that point, 900 weary critics laughed as one. After a couple of hours of leap-frogging plot there had to be some moment of relief.
The problem is the book really is such nonsense. On the other hand, it is really silly to get all po-faced like Dr Hawkes and say we are being tragically asked by evil pagans to doubt what we learned in Sunday School. Of course we should doubt what we learned in Sunday School; otherwise, even as Christians, we condemn ourselves to hypocrisy, infantilism, or irrelevance, or all of the aforementioned.
While The Da Vinci Code may indeed by hyped up meretricious tosh, it does raise (or exploit) relevant issues. In the Herald Julia Baird writes:
Women played a strong role in the early church, but in the centuries which followed, their legacy was literally erased, their faces scrubbed out of frescoes, beards painted on their chins on church walls, and their role continually misinterpreted as insignificant. The name of Junia, called an apostle in the Bible, was changed to Junias because it was inconceivable that a woman could hold that position, and the devoted witness, Mary Magdalene, was cast off as a prostitute.
This is where there is some truth in the tale of The Da Vinci Code.
Yesterday, the convener of the Ordination of Catholic Women in Australia, Marilyn Hatton, said: “The Da Vinci Code is a popular thriller. But at its heart there is a profound truth: that the church suppresses the feminine … [this] has extended even to rewriting the church’s own history – that is, the current ecclesiastical ‘spin’ that claims the church has only ever ordained men.”
Far more intelligent (this time) than Dr Hawkes has been the response of US evangelical scholar Brian McLaren on SojoNet: see my Wednesday, May 10th, 2006 entry.
Yes, there are thoughtful, intelligent evangelicals in America. Philip Yancey, editor at large of Christianity Today, is just one more instance of that. Such people do not seem to attract the media’s attention as much as their more spectacularly right-wing or boofheaded or televisual coreligionists do.
Oh, and I have now read The Gospel of Mary — all two pages of it. It is quite nice. I read it in Bart Ehrman’s Lost Scriptures, which also contains The Gospel of Philip. Ehrman, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has written Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend, published by OUP this month. Perhaps Dr Hawkes would like to order a copy for The King’s School Library.
I actually did enjoy reading The Da Vinci Code: 1) I was driven on wondering if something even more improbable awaited me on the next page; 2) I marvelled at Brown’s holding the creaking plotline together.