The Rough Guide to the Da Vinci Code: History, Legends, Locations
Reviewed: October 31, 2005
By: Michael Haag and Veronica Haag
Publisher: Rough Guides (Penguin)
256 pages, $12.99
Dan Brown’s runaway best seller has
spawned a veritable industry of commentaries. Browsing in book stores while
travelling last summer, it seemed that Da Vinci references are everywhere.
The religion sections were particularly crowded with volumes reacting to the
claims made in the Code, claims that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and
had children, that the family line resides in France, and that Mary, not Peter,
was supposed to have been the head of the Church.
No one would be worried about this
at all if Brown hadn’t been so vocal about the amount of research he’d put
into his little thriller, and how it was all based on facts. Actually, it’s
mostly based on the work of Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln,
whose work Holy Blood, Holy Grail provides nearly all the speculation
that can be found in Brown’s book. They think so, too, which is why they
are suing him, even though his book has resulted in increased sales of their
books on the subject.
What they didn’t dig up 20 years ago
can be found in several works about the Knights Templar.
Now you might be suspicious of books
by religious groups who want to debunk Brown. After all, it’s in their best
interests to prove him wrong. The Rough Guide to the Da Vinci Code doesn’t
come from those sources; the Haags simply take on his research and his facts
without worrying much about his theology. They might even tend to agree with
Brown’s comments about how women have been oppressed by the Church, but that’s
not important because they knock the props out of his “facts” very quickly
and show how derivative his work is.
“Derivative” by the way, is not a slur
when applied to a work in the thriller genre. It only becomes important when
the author claims he didn’t make it all up. After all nobody really worries
about whether there were actually thirty-nine steps where John Buchan claimed
there were. One example from the Rough Guide will serve to prove the
Central to Brown’s plot is the organization
called the Priory of Sion, which he claims is nearly 1,000 years old and has
been keeping this secret all that time. Problem is, the Priory was made up
by a Frenchman named Planard in the 1950s, so the whole elaborate lineage
of those who kept the secret is sheer bunk.
All that said, Brown’s book is fun
to read for what it is.
The Rough Guide, on the other
hand, is an engaging, secular look at his work which punctures the pretensions
of the bestseller. That’s always fun.