Introduction

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.

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

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...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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...

(The entire section is 860 words.)