You know when you read a bestseller and think, "Hey, this thriller is awesome with all its intrigue and car chases and murders, but what it really needs is some theological lectures and art history thrown in?"
Then you obviously weren't looking for a beach read in 2003, when The Da Vinci Code arrived on the scene, climbed to the tippy top of the New York Times Bestseller list and proceeded to stay there for two whole years.
We may sound like we're being snarky (us? snarky? never!), but the addition of hotly-debated Christian conspiracy theories to a Euro heist caper turned out to be as successful as the addition of peanut butter to chocolate.
And it elevated the name of Dan Brown from just being a dude with perhaps the most average-sounding Anglo name in America (right up there with John Smith) to international literary superstardom.
Brown wove a tale about Robert Langdon, a renowned symbologist (we guess they can be renowned…in certain circles) who ends up on a quest for the Holy Grail with Sophie Neveu, cryptologist and estranged granddaughter of the guy who gets murdered in the prologue. They're on the run from the cops and unseen forces that are after what they know, in a race to find evidence that the Holy Grail isn't actually a cup, but a cache of evidence that Mary Magdalene had a child by Jesus Christ. (Whoa.)
Interwoven through the book are "facts" about secret societies, "clues" hidden in masterpieces that we're all familiar with, and "evidence" that the Catholic Church is involved in a massive cover-up of epic proportions… and people ate. it. up.
To be precise: this book has sold more than eighty million copies worldwide—and you just know that more people than that have read it. Let's put that in perspective for you: the entire country of Germany has approximately eighty million people.
And these eighty-plus million people found themselves embedded in a world-wide controversy—was The Da Vinci Code fact, or fiction? To this day, Dan Brown maintains that everything in the book (that pertains to the history, of course) is totally factual, and can be backed up with evidence and trusted scholarly references.
This caused quite a few backs to go up in the academic world, and it also burned the britches of quite a few people in the Catholic Church, who feel that they were unfairly maligned. So much so, that there's a whole market for Da Vinci Code-debunkers—documentaries, books, and websites galore claim to refute and disprove most of the stuff Brown included in his book.
So, we leave it up to you. Read the book. Watch the movie starring Tom Hanks with a really bad mullet. And make up your own mind about whether or not The Da Vinci Code is the real deal.
Or hey: just enjoy the caper…like millions of other readers before you.
But that's not what you should care about this book.
Because while the sheer numbers of people on earth who have read The Da Vinci Code is staggering, what's even more staggering is the number of people on earth who have read The Da Vinci Code and come away with their minds blown.
Some of these people's cerebral cortexes exploded because they just lurve European art mysteries, sure. But most of the people whose brains went kapow were mindblown because Dan Brown manages to infuse his novel with some very controversial Christian conspiracy theories.
Some very, very controversial conspiracy theories.
In the aftermath of the book's sudden popularity, Dan Brown was questioned ad infinitum about whether or not the things he wrote about were true—like whether Jesus had a kid (whoa), whether Da Vinci was gay (dang), and whether the Catholic Church was involved in a millennia-old cover-up (the whaaa—!).
People who read The Da Vinci Code became amateur theologians overnight. They were suddenly consumed with the need to know about whether secret societies like the Priory of Sion really existed, and whether Leonardo Da Vinci was really clever enough to hide so much secret meaning in his masterpieces.
This was such a big deal that well-respected theologians, historians, and documentarians quickly produced works that thoroughly debunked the theories put forth in Brown's opus. Responding to the controversy, Brown said, "Let the Biblical scholars and historians battle it out. It's a book about big ideas, you can love them or hate them, but we're talking about them, and that's really the point." (Source)
And were they ever talking about these ideas. Not only did millions and millions of people suddenly prick up their ears at the mention of the Holy Grail, they were questioning things that they'd always been taught.
But is it a good thing to question everything you've ever known about art, religion, and Leo Da Vinci's sexual orientation? Forget "To be or not to be"—in 2003, that was the question.
And the answer to that question depends on who you ask.
A retired librarian who helped Dan Brown research the book thought that the people who were angry about the ideas Brown propagated were silly, because the publicity surrounding Da Vinci Code meant that their work was now back on the bookshelves after spending years gathering dust—and all publicity is good publicity. (Source)
The Louvre, on the other hand, started offering tours based on the things that are mentioned in the book, but wanted to set some matters straight:
The spectacular Grande Galerie in the Louvre plays an important role in the novel The Da Vinci Code, providing the setting for the beginning of the story. […] The Da Vinci Code analyzes The Virgin of the Rocks (which Sophie Neveu removes from the wall) in a new and subversive way. […] The Da Vinci Code thus transformed a gesture of protection into a metaphorical representation of murder. This powerful literary effect is a travesty of art history. (Source)
And we're not even mentioning the dozens and dozens of think pieces penned about whether the religious history in The Da Vinci Code is accurate. When scholars, university librarians, academics, and the dang Louvre Museum are all weighing in on the accuracy of a bestseller book, you just know that it's time to pause your Netflix queue and get interested.
Also, there's almost nothing better that getting involved in a worldwide debate. So get your Da Vinci Code on and form an opinion.
Dan Brown Official Webpage
All Dan Brown, all the time.
History Vs. Da Vinci Code
Lots of people like to dispute the historical claims made by Dan Brown in his novel. This is one of the more industrious, and entertaining, examples.
So Many Da Vinci Code Debunkers…
This kind book reviewer summed up the differences between the twelve most popular books that have been published in response to the claims that The Da Vinci Code was revisionist factual history.
The Da Vinci Code
See the mystery unfold on the big screen.
People Like to Learn When They Read for Fun
Just a quick blip on how amazingly popular Da Vinci Code was when first published, and how it made people ask for more books like it.
The Da Vinci Crock
Highly critical take on our book's popularity, Dan Brown's legal issues with claims of plagiarism, and those who've made money refuting his "facts".
"In My Defense…"
Dan Brown's entire self-defense essay, which he wrote for the British courts to protest the fact that he'd plagiarized another scholar's work for Da Vinci Code, is enlightening, to say the least.
Beyond the Da Vinci Code
The History Channel's dramatic interpretation of the history presented in Da Vinci Code.
BBC's Original Da Vinci Code
Another documentary, this time British, about the history in Da Vinci Code.
How Many of These Are There??
Tony Robinson, a well-educated Brit, asks whether the theories in our book about Da Vinci are realistic.
Dan Brown on CBCRadio about Inferno (the thriller that follows Da Vinci Code).
Don't Feel Like Reading? Listen Instead.
Audiobook version available here (and many other places, as well).
Dramatic Movie Poster
Lit from below? Check. Actors looking serious? Check. Mona Lisa Eyes: You got it. Perfectly dramatic.
Pretty sure you've seen this one.
Saunière was replicating this famous sketch by Da Vinci.
The Last Supper
Want to see a touched-up version of the masterpiece? Look no further.
The Mona Lisa
See what all the mystery is about.