Introduction

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 362

Since its 2003 publication date, Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code has had an impact not only in the world of literature and the related world of the arts but also in the social and political spheres. The Da Vinci Code is a stand-alone thriller, but again features Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist who was the lead character in Brown's 2001 novel, Angels and Demons, which was also a bestseller.

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The Da Vinci Code was number one on the New York Times bestseller list, stayed on the bestseller list for over a year, and has sold over ten million copies worldwide. The novel reached many readers who might not usually pick up fiction, owing to the intriguing nature of its multi-layered plot: the idea that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child; deciphering the symbols found in many works of art, including Da Vinci's painting The Last Supper, that indicate this secret history; and the resulting power struggles between the Catholic Church and a secret society named the Priory of Sion over what to do with this explosive information.

The novel was well received by popular readers as a thriller, but reviewers debated its merits because of Brown's clumsy prose and the apparent anti-Catholic stance he takes in the novel. The Da Vinci Code won the British Book Award's Book of the Year, 2005, but it has also received much more negative attention from the Catholic Church; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa urged Italian readers not to read the book, and many articles have been published attacking Brown's scholarship and his implications that the history presented in his novel is more widely accepted by scholars than it is.

The novel's influence can be seen in the books published in response to it, such as Martin Lunn's 2004 Da Vinci Code Decoded or Richard Abanes's 2004 The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code, but also in imitations and adaptations. The plot of the 2004 movie National Treasure, starring Nicholas Cage, revolves around similar coded messages, and Cage is even hunting treasure hidden by the Knights Templar, as Langdon does in The Da Vinci Code. A movie version of Brown's novel is due out in 2006.

Synopsis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 552

The Da Vinci Code begins with the murder of Jacques Saunière, the curator of the Louvre, in his museum by a large albino man. Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology, is roused from his midnight sleep in a Paris hotel to be told of Saunière’s murder. He is summoned to the murder scene by the French police, led by Captain Bezu Fache, and there he sees that Saunière tried to transmit an important secret in his dying minutes. Langdon meets Sophie Neveu, a cryptographer with the French police, at the murder scene and is told by her that he is under suspicion for the murder. Sophie and Langdon team up to escape from the Louvre and Fache’s men. She tells Langdon that Saunière was her grandfather, and Saunière raised her after her parents, grandmother, and brother were killed in a car wreck. The albino, whose name is Silas, has escaped the Louvre to find sanctuary in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, where he is pursuing the secret of the Holy Grail.

Sophie and Langdon begin trying to learn what secret Saunière was trying to transmit, and he tells her Saunière was part of an extremely powerful secret society called the Priory of Sion. Meanwhile, Silas tells a Sister at Saint-Sulpice that he has killed the four highest ranking members of the Priory in order to find out where the Holy Grail is. As Sophie and Langdon continue their escape, they make their way to the castle of Leigh Teabing, an expert on the Grail. There, Teabing tells them the Grail is actually Mary Magdalene, who was Jesus’ consort and the mother of his baby. Silas tracks them to the castle, where the three are releasing a keystone from a box that will help them find the Grail, or Magdalene’s body. They fend off Silas’ attack and flee in Teabing’s plane to England.

The chase moves from Kent, where the plane lands, to London. Teabing’s manservant, Rémy, reveals that he is in league with Silas in the attempt to discover the secret of the Grail. In a London church, Rémy and Silas try to take the keystone from Sophie, Langdon, and Teabing, but their attempt fails although they do take Teabing hostage. Rémy meets the Teacher, who is directing the effort to uncover the Grail, in a park, where the Teacher poisons him. Silas is accidentally killed by his comrade, Bishop Aringarosa. Sophie and Langdon have fled, but they keep trying to learn the Grail’s location. At a showdown in Westminster Abbey, Teabing reveals that he is the Teacher and that the Priory intended to keep the Grail secret a secret. At gunpoint he tries to urge the two to help him find the Grail secret. Teabing is arrested by Fache and his men. Sophie and Langdon, still pursuing their quest, go to Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, where Sophie meets her brother and grandmother, who were not killed in the car wreck, and she learns that she is a descendant of Christ and Magdalene. The novel ends with Langdon, alone in Paris but planning to meet Sophie in Florence soon, discovering that the Grail is within the glass pyramid that serves as the entrance to the Louvre.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 860

As The Da Vinci Code opens, the protagonist Robert Langdon, a renowned Harvard symbologist lecturing in Paris, is awakened late at night. Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre, has been murdered, and Langdon must lend his expertise to the investigation. Chief Investigator Bezu Fache has summoned Langdon partly because he regards Langdon as the prime suspect because he and Sauniere had an appointment to meet that night. Also, a cryptic message that Sauniere left behind included a phrase, which Fache had erased before summoning Langdon: “P.S. Find Robert Langdon.”

Sophie Neveu, a beautiful cryptographer, interrupts Fache and Langdon, announcing that Langdon has a phone call from the American embassy. On dialing the number, Langdon hears instead a warning from Neveu, who subsequently explains that she is Sauniere’s estranged granddaughter, who broke off contact with her grandfather when as a young girl she witnessed him participating in a sexual ritual for a secret society, the Priory of Sion. Langdon and Neveu escape after finding the key that Sophie’s grandfather left her. It belonged to him as Grandmaster of the Priory, a sect that guards the secret of the Holy Grail. The Grail is said to be the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper.

While Langdon and Neveu try to decipher an ever-expanding list of Grail clues, others besides the police pursue them. Bishop Manuel Aringarosa, head of Opus Dei, a conservative Vatican prelature, has been told by Vatican lawyers that his organization will lose its status of independence from local control in six months. Desperate, Aringarosa agrees to pay a fortune in Vatican bonds to a man calling himself The Teacher, who promises that he will bring Aringarosa the Holy Grail. Aringarosa must also entrust The Teacher with Silas, an albino monk whom he took under his wing years ago. Silas has a preconversion history of violence. The Teacher orders Silas to interrogate the four top leaders of the Priory, find out where the keystone to the Grail is hidden, and then kill the leaders. Getting the same confession out of all of his victims, Silas hurries to Saint Sulpice to find the Grail keystone, but this is a decoy that had long before been set out for would-be Grail hunters. An enraged Silas kills Sister Sandrine, the keeper of Saint Sulpice and a Priory sympathizer.

The real keystone is a cryptex within a cryptex, allegedly invented by Leonardo Da Vinci and manufactured by Neveu’s grandfather: a small container with a five-letter dial for the password. If forced open, a cryptex breaks a vial of vinegar around which the papyrus script is wrapped, destroying it. After finding the cryptex, Langdon consults Sir Leigh Teabing, an extremely wealthy independent Grail researcher and former British royal historian. Teabing explains that Mary Magdalene, wife of Jesus and mother of the French Merovingian line, is the real Holy Grail. Silas, guided by The Teacher, invades Teabing’s estate, threatening to kill Neveu unless the keystone is handed to him.

Despite having physical limitations, Teabing trips Silas and takes charge of an illegal flight to London with Langdon, Neveu, Silas, and Rémy Legaludec, Teabing’s butler. In England, Legaludec helps Silas escape. Legaludec introduces himself as The Teacher and tells Silas to hide in the Opus Dei headquarters. The real Teacher shares a peanut scrap-laden victory cognac with Legaludec, who dies because of an allergy to peanuts.

Meanwhile, Silas feels uneasy in the Opus Dei headquarters. Seeing a police car behind a hedge, he comes out fighting and shooting; but to his horror, he accidentally shoots Bishop Aringarosa, who had offered his apostolic ring as a bribe to an airplane pilot in return for flying illegally to London. The dying Silas vows vengeance against the one who has betrayed them, but Aringarosa counsels forgiveness.

The Teacher, Teabing, visits the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton, where other clues exist. He lures Langdon and Neveu to a deserted area, where he threatens to kill Neveu unless Langdon helps him decipher the code and reveal that the Catholic Church has been lying. Langdon appears to comply, taking the cryptex and turning aside in an attempt at a solution. However, he returns the cryptex to Teabing by tossing it in the air. In his scramble to save the falling cryptex, Teabing falls and the vial breaks, but Teabing sees at that instant that Langdon has deciphered the code. Fache, realizing that all are innocent except Teabing, rushes in to arrest Teabing; Langdon reads the final clue.

In closing, Fache meets with the bishop and gives him back his ring. Neveu meets her family, the hunted Merovingians of Grail lore. Langdon closes by making a pilgrimage to the resting place of Mary Magdalene, whose remains are under a small pyramid sculpture in the Louvre that opens into a huge underground pyramidal chamber. The visible tip of this giant pyramid meets a giant upside-down glass pyramid, representing the union of masculine and feminine divinity. In a manuscript that Sauniere saw, Langdon had observed that the small pyramid suggested a larger underground structure. This initiated Sauniere’s contact with Langdon and led to the subsequent events.

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