Riddling the Da Vinci Code

By Beck, Terry | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Riddling the Da Vinci Code


Beck, Terry, Reference & User Services Quarterly


A major event in the publishing world, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code inspired a stream of books reacting to its subjects and presentation. Readers became caught up in the mix of fiction and fact, often confused the two, and looked for nonfiction titles to shed light, support ideas, or further debate. Readers also asked for books that read like Brown's novel, and fiction authors scrambled to capture some of his audience, creating a slew of fiction works rifting off of his themes and approach.

Terry Beck has gathered a rich list of works that inform Dan Brown's novel. As the outgoing chair of the ALEX Awards (an award from the American Library Association [ALA] and the Young Adult Library Services Association [YALSA] honoring the best adult books for teen readers), she has a unique view of what captures readers' interest and what sustains reading pleasure. Certainly the books included in this column are highly appealing and fascinating, but what makes this column so interesting is Beck's look at how readers approach such a keystone title through public library collections and how they think about such bedrock academic subjects as religion, art, history, and symbology.

All types of librarians can find myriad uses for her annotated bibliography, that is, if they don't give into temptation and duck into the stacks for some reading of their own!--Editor.

Dan Brown's breakout bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, continues to create controversy more than three years after its initial publication. Rarely has a work of fiction ignited such furor over its plot, background, or premise. The book seemed to offend many, garnering criticism from theologians, church groups, fraternal organizations, and scholars. Yet readers were hooked, and it maintained a two-year presence on the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction, sold more than sixty million copies (in both hardback and paperback formats), and changed our collective culture.

The novel relates the story of Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor called upon to interpret symbols drawn in blood on the floor of the Louvre--cryptic messages left by a murder victim, Jacques Sauniere, a noted curator of the Louvre's collection. Langdon quickly finds himself chasing one of history's greatest mysteries. It's the conspiracy theory of all time: the Holy Grail, which has supposedly been secreted in a place known only to the chosen few, members of select secret societies. Throughout centuries, elaborate shields and intricate plots reportedly have been concocted to keep its location hidden. But the greatest mystery is defining what the Grail actually is--a cup, or something so unbelievable that if it were known, the Christian world would be forever changed. With lightning-paced speed and a fabulous mix of history, legend, art, and puzzles, Brown takes readers on a ride millions have found addictively enjoyable and compelling.

At first the book was treated as a thriller, a work of fiction, and no one seemed to look at it as anything but highly entertaining. Janet Maslin of the New York Times deemed it a "riddle-filled, code-breaking, exhilarating brainy thriller," while the Booklist reviewer declared "the story is full of brainteasing puzzles and fascinating insights." (1)

That "nothing more than a thriller" perception soon changed however. Brown culled a mix of information from books, monographs, documents, and art to create a work of fiction that many readers took as fact. While he was careful to note "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate," many readers carried this statement a step further and assumed that the theories being discussed by characters were accurate as well. (2) The line that distinguishes fiction and nonfiction just simply wasn't present for these readers, caught up as they were in the tantalizing mix of real and pretend that Brown created. Passion, emotion, and fervor erupted from all sides, with books, television programs, and Web sites all promoting what each group perceived as true. …

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