Conspiracy In Art: A Dan-To-Dan Letter
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 7/17/04
Dear Dan Brown,
I recently finished your mega-seller The Da Vinci Code at the prodding of my wife. I have to be up front- it’s a really bad book- not horrible, merely really bad in the way most off the rack ‘thriller’ books are- see Tom Clancy’s mind-numbing yawners. That said, in no way shape nor form do you pretend to be in the least bit literary. The book’s sentence and paragraph structures are a step above ‘See Jane run’, and the attempts at metaphor are nonexistent. The narrative is about as A to B to C as one could get. It is so uninvolving that it will make a far better movie (even if directed by the clueless Ron Howard), which is a passive medium. Even better, it would be a solid standard made-for-tv movie, or an old Columbo or Matlock episode. This is not really a criticism as much as an acknowledgement of what we both know.
Your book is a standard potboiler in which symbologist Robert Langdon becomes involved in the murder of the head of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. A series of almost comically contrived ‘Aha’ moments, dashes down dimly lit corridors, and Of course!’s litter the narrative. I realize most laymen are dullards, but seeing as you claim John Steinbeck as a hero, is it asking too much to at least try to write competently? If so, you are in luck, because this is where a good director or actor can actually add shades of gray to the banalities your prose offers. But, let’s face it, the reason the book has sold reputedly over 8 million copies in hardback is because like Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ film it is milking the idiocy of die hard Christians. If you’re gonna sully literature, at least the sullier should have a good cause- what’s the excuse of a Dave Eggers?
Lemme summarize your tale: Langdon is implicated in the murder of the
Louvre director, who also headed an ultra-secret sect called the Priory
of Sion, who have schemed away centuries trying to protect the truth of the Holy
Grail- which was not the Last Supper chalice but Mary Magdalene, herself- who
was Jesus Christ’s wife. Apparently Leonardo Da Vinci knew this as a former
head of the Priory & embedded clues in paintings like The Last Supper
& the Mona Lisa. Of course, Langdon is exonerated, & the real
killers revealed. But Langdon chooses to keep the secret that Jesus was really a
human, not a god, and that Mary Magdalene’s tomb lies under the Louvre. Why
does he do this? The old canard that the truth is too shocking for most laymen
to handle. That’s at least the interior book’s reason. You and I know that
the real reason is to leave the tale open for a sequel in which Langdon will not
try to reveal the secret, but guard it.
Of course, your book is predicated on the greatest fallacy of all- that there ever was a man named Jesus Christ in the 1st place. History emphatically shows a gaping absence. Could you not have mentioned that at least once within the text, or even the Foreword? But, the real stir over your book comes from the many supposedly ‘true’ facts you muster up regarding Leonardo, the Mona Lisa, & their connections to Jesus’s bloodline. Of course, you claim to have researched this all meticulously. Of course, that’s all bunkum, lest you would have written a non-fiction history. That so many have gotten worked up over a piece of stated fiction is beyond me. The closest parallel I can draw is to the furor a dozen or so years back over Oliver Stone’s film JFK. There, Stone clearly presented his film as an alternate version to the manifestly fallacious Warren Commission Report. Here, you are merely tweaking Right Wing Fundamentalist Christian dolts, and have made millions by it. The book sucks, but I cannot deny my admiration for your niche marketing skills.
Those skills, by the way, are really the only reason to read your book. The characters are utter cardboard cutouts- Langdon, as example, seems to know everything Jesus-related before the so-called ‘experts’ in the book, but cannot see who the obvious villains are (what a boner-inducing lark for you!), the narrative predictable (especially with its cheesy 1930s serial cliffhanger feel- ‘how could I have been so blind?’), and on and on. But the reader should revel in the fun you take at tweaking Christians. No, of course the Mona Lisa is not a Leonardo self-portrait, nor is it a merging of the feminine and masculine- it is a portrait of a real client named Lisa del Giocondo, and Leonardo did several versions of it. The hoogah-boogah about Grail clues in Disney films, the Priory’s being ancient when it’s a 20th Century sect, Fibonacci numbers, and the assorted logical contortions re: assorted aspects of the Grail myth are so easily debunked by even a 20 minute Google search that the real joy of your book comes from watching the moronic Christian Right constipate themselves over what is essentially a 1-note Johnny of a book that Pavlovianly achieved all you set out for it- making your skill-challenged muse (and yourself) obscenely rich, while noodling Christian bullshit.
That said, I know you are not so
much writing deliberately badly as writing in a way designed to attract the
profligate bored suburban hausfrau audience. Your book is a
thriller/conspiracy-cum-romance (in the last few chapters) book. The characters
are all extremes: Langdon is brilliant, the French cops are smarmy, the villains
are über-sinister, the murdered Louvre director Saunière is such a composed
genius that in his last moments before death he constructs an ingenious riddle
only Langdon and his granddaughter Sophie- the willful heretic and Langdon’s
lady love- can unravel.
In all, you know to mix the lies in with just enough facts to sell the theory, and therefore the book- but what of the writing? While so much has gone in to debunking the theories and ‘research’, few reviewers have noted how poor your actual writing is. Unlike Stone’s JFK, which is a filmic masterpiece regardless of your take on its historical assertions, The Da Vinci Code is a snoozer- but 1 which skillfully used Christian fears about their own silly beliefs to its advantage. As a former underpaid English teacher, one who now never needs to write again, yet can get anything you want published, does it not behoove you to at least attempt some serious literature? And if you know it’s beyond you could you, at least, use your considerable influence to promote those who do attempt to and do write actual good literature?
I mean, you could ridicule MFA programs and Creative Writing courses as the shams they are. You could logically show that you’ve proven that bad but highly remunerative writing can be achieved with little effort and no wasted investment in their scams designed to prey on the gullible, but esteem-challenged. Given all that you’ve achieved in bilking the Barnumian lowest common denominator idiocy, is this too much to ask for, Dan? It’s a minor favor, but one I hope you’ll consider. Meanwhile, I’ll still Sisyphanly try to see if actual literature can succeed in these times. If I’m successful you’ll know how to contact me in reply to this missive.
To end, while I wish The Da Vinci Code were actually a good book I have to thank you for deliciously fucking with the insecure minds of the dullard masses. Although I do it in a different and higher way it is fun, isn’t it?
Yours in blasphemy,
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the 6/14 edition of The Manifest.]
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