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 point.

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.