Analysis and Review

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 20)

Dan Brown’s enthralling The Da Vinci Code spans two thousand years of Western history and examines such timeless enigmas as Mona Lisa’s smile and the secret of the Holy Grail. Robert Langdon (a character in other Brown novels) investigates the late-night murder of Jacques Saunière, the brilliant and influential seventy-six-year-old curator of the Louvre museum. The police find the body of the older distinguished gentleman in close proximity to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and surrounded by gruesome ciphers.

Before he died, the wounded Saunière seized one of Caravaggio’s paintings to activate the museum’s alarm system. His murderer fled, and the clever old man, realizing he was in the throes of death, used his remaining time wisely. Removing his clothes, he drew a pentagram in blood on his torso before arranging himself like the figure in Leonardo’s famous drawing The Vitruvian Man. A world-class iconographer, the dying victim also wrote Leonardo Fibonacci’s famous numerical series in blood, along with what seems like a postscript to find Robert Langdon. Langdon, a renowned Harvard symbologist, had an appointment with Saunière in Paris and soon comes to realize that the esoteric clues left by Saunière before he died were meant for him, and for one other, to decipher.

Langdon shortly meets Saunière’s estranged granddaughter, a brilliant, young, attractive police cryptographer, Sophie Neveu. Neveu has not communicated with her grandfather since she found him performing unspeakable sexual rites in the basement of their French countryside home. Distraught over her grandfather’s cryptic death, she decides to get involved in solving the case, against the orders of her police Captain, Bezu Fache. Fache has tricked Langdon, who believes he was called in as an expert witness, into coming to the Louvre. The police have misinterpreted Saunière’s final injunction to find Langdon and view the symbologist as the primary murder suspect. The postscript, or P.S., means Princess Sophie, a term of endearment given to the orphaned Neveu by her grandfather. The dead man’s message was merely a way to get Langdon and his granddaughter in league to solve his final vital communication.

Together, the hero and heroine ditch the French police and their Global Positioning System tracking dot. They set out to decipher the mysterious clues that the victim spent the last moments of his life composing for them. Ultimately, this complex set of clues will lead them to yet another, even more complex, series of clues planted in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, particularly the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Leonardo da Vinci is responsible for developing a highly complicated code that, if deciphered, will lead to the Holy Grail.

Following the famous artist’s signs, Langdon and Neveu embark on a two-day, breathtaking journey through France and England, searching not only for the murderer of Sophie’s grandfather but also for the tantalizing and incredibly dangerous secret dating back to the death of Christ.

Saunière was a high-ranking agent of the Priory of Sion, a one-thousand-year-old secret society descended from the Knights Templar, whose members are said to have included Sandro Botticelli, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and even Leonardo da Vinci himself. Saunière died that dark evening in the Louvre trying to protect a secret code that could bring to light the priory’s historical function as protector of the Holy Grail. He martyred himself rather than reveal the code but left clues for his much-loved granddaughter to uncover and preserve the ancient knowledge, which comprises a series of documents, or scrolls, that tells the true, highly incriminating story of Christianity. The Priory of Sion was founded in France in 1099 in an effort to guard these precious ancient scrolls.

Naturally, the Catholic Church, in an effort to preserve itself, wants the scrolls destroyed at any cost because they would expose historical discrepancies that the Church has been covering up. The scrolls demonstrate that Man created the idea of Original Sin. Indeed, they identify the Bible as a compilation of...

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Historical Context

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

Though there is no explicit reference to the year in which it takes place, The Da Vinci Code is set in a time contemporaneous with its...

(The entire section is 1652 words.)

Literary Style

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

Fact in Fiction

The Da Vinci Code is striking in the way the fictional plot is woven into...

(The entire section is 1514 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

  • With a partner, research the claims made in the novel about Leonardo da Vinci's paintings Madonna of the Rocks and The Last...

(The entire section is 226 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

  • The Da Vinci Code was released in 2003 as an unabridged version on audiocassette and audio CD. It is narrated by Paul Michael...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)

  • Digital Fortress (1998), Dan Brown's first novel, explores the secret world of the National Security Agency. The title refers...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Literary Newsmakers for Students)


Brown, Dan, The Da Vinci Code, Doubleday, 2003.

Cowley, Jason, "The Author of the Bestselling Da Vinci Code Has Tapped into our Post-9/11 Anxieties and Fear of Fundamentalism," in New Statesman, December 13, 2004, pp. 18-21.

George, Cardinal Francis, Ignatuis Books, (July 28, 2005).

Maslin, Janet, "Spinning a Thriller from a Gallery at the Louvre," in the New York Times, March 17, 2003, p. E8.

Millar, Peter, "Holy Humbug: Book of the Week," in the Times (London), June 21, 2003, p. 15.

Schlumpf, Heidi, "Who Framed Mary Magdalene?" in U.S. Catholic, Vol. 65, No. 4,...

(The entire section is 488 words.)