The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown, 2003
While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. While working to solve the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci—clues visible for all to see—yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.
Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others.
In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who seems to anticipate their every move. Unless Langdon and Neveu can deipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory's ancient secret—and an explosive historical truth—will be lost forever. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—June 22, 1964
• Where—Exeter, New Hampshire
• Education—B.A., Amherst College; University
of Seville, Spain
• Currently—lives in New England
Novelist Dan Brown may not have invented the literary thriller, but his groundbreaking tour de force The Da Vinci Code—with its irresistible mix of religion, history, art, and science—is the gold standard for a flourishing genre.
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1964, Brown attended Phillips Exeter Academy (where his father taught), and graduated from Amherst with a double major in Spanish and English. After college he supported himself through teaching and enjoyed moderate success as a musician and songwriter.
Brown credits Sidney Sheldon with jump-starting his literary career. Up until 1994, his reading tastes were focused sharply on the classics. Then, on vacation in Tahiti, he stumbled on a paperback copy of Sheldon's novel The Doomsday Conspiracy. By the time he finished the book, he had decided he could do as well. There and then, he determined to try his hand at writing. His first attempt was a pseudonymously written self-help book for women co-written with his future wife Blythe Newlon. Then, in 1998, he published his first novel, Digital Fortress—followed in swift succession by Angels and Demons, Deception Point, The Lost Symbol, and most recently Inferno.
Then, in 2003, Brown hit the jackpot with his fourth novel, a compulsively readable thriller about a Harvard symbiologist who stumbles on an ancient conspiracy in the wake of a shocking murder in the Louvre. Combining elements from the fields of art, science, and religion, The Da Vinci Code became the biggest bestseller in publishing history, inspiring a big-budget movie adaptation and fueling interest in Brown's back list.
In addition, The Da Vinci Code became the subject of raging controversy, inspiring a spate of books by scholars and theologians who disputed several of the book's claims and accused Brown of distorting and misrepresenting religious history. The author, whose views on the subject are stated clearly on his website, remains unperturbed by the debate, proclaiming that all dialogue, even the most contentious, is powerful, positive, and healthy.
Brown revealed the inspiration for his labyrinthine thriller during a writer's address in Concord, New Hampshire. "I was studying art history at the University of Seville (in Spain), and one morning our professor started class in a most unusual way. He showed us a slide of Da Vinci's famous painting "The Last Supper"... I had seen the painting many times, yet somehow I had never seen the strange anomalies that the professor began pointing out: a hand clutching a dagger, a disciple making a threatening gesture across the neck of another... and much to my surprise, a very obvious omission, the apparent absence on the table of the cup of Christ... The one physical object that in many ways defines that moment in history, Leonardo Da Vinci chose to omit." According to Brown, this reintroduction to an ancient masterpiece was merely "the tip of the ice burg." What followed was an in-depth explanation of clues apparent in Da Vinci's painting and his association with the Priory of Sion that set Brown on a path toward bringing The Da Vinci Code into existence.
If only all writers could enjoy this kind of success: in early 2004, all four of Brown's novels were on the New York Times Bestseller List in a single week!
From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:
• If I'm not at my desk by 4:00 a.m., I feel like I'm missing my most productive hours. In addition to starting early, I keep an antique hourglass on my desk and every hour break briefly to do push-ups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. I find this helps keep the blood—and ideas—flowing.
• I'm also a big fan of gravity boots. Hanging upside down seems to help me solve plot challenges by shifting my entire perspective.
• When asked what book most influenced his career as a writer, here is his response:
Until I graduated from college, I had read almost no modern commercial fiction at all (having focused primarily on the "classics" in school). In 1994, while vacationing in Tahiti, I found an old copy of Sydney Sheldon's Doomsday Conspiracy on the beach. I read the first page...and then the next...and then the next. Several hours later, I finished the book and thought, Hey, I can do that. Upon my return, I began work on my first novel—Digital Fortress—which was published in 1996. (Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)
A riddle-filled, code-breaking, exhilaratingly brainy.... In this gleefully erudite suspense novel, Mr. Brown takes the format he has been developing through three earlier novels and fine-tunes it to blockbuster perfection. Not since the advent of Harry Potter has an author so flagrantly delighted in leading readers on a breathless chase and coaxing them through hoops.
Janet Maslin - The New York Times
Brown keeps the pace fast, the puzzles that lead to the Grail are exceedingly clever, and there is a flurry of surprises and betrayals before the mystery is finally solved. Whatever the reader makes of the religious theories put forth, Brown has a great deal of interest to say about the early days of Christianity, the influence of pagan religions on it and the legend of the Grail. He says the revelations about Jesus — not to be revealed here — have been whispered about for centuries, but have never overcome the opposition of organized Christianity. How much of this is fact and how much is fiction? Read the book and make up your own mind.
Patrick Anderson - The Washington Post
The Da Vinci Code is a dazzling performance by Brown, a delightful display of erudition. Though his mini-lectures sometimes hijack the narrative, they're necessary to keep us informed and occasionally permit us to try to unravel puzzles with Langdon and Neveu. Brown delivers a crackling, intricate mystery, complete with breathtaking escapes and several stunning surprises. It's challenging, exciting, and a whole lot more.
Jim Fusilli - The Boston Globe
What if Jesus Christ had a tryst with Mary Magdalene, and the interlude produced a child? Such a possibility-yielding a so-called royal bloodline-provides the framework for Brown's latest thriller (after Angels and Demons), an exhaustively researched page-turner about secret religious societies, ancient coverups and savage vengeance. The action kicks off in modern-day Paris with the murder of the Louvre's chief curator, whose body is found laid out in symbolic repose at the foot of the Mona Lisa. Seizing control of the case are Sophie Neveu, a lovely French police cryptologist, and Harvard symbol expert Robert Langdon, reprising his role from Brown's last book. The two find several puzzling codes at the murder scene, all of which form a treasure map to the fabled Holy Grail, where proof of the Jesus bloodline supposedly can be found. As their search moves from France to England, Neveu and Langdon are confounded by two mysterious groups-the legendary Priory of Sion, a nearly 1,000-year-old secret society whose members have included Botticelli and Isaac Newton, and the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei. Both have their own reasons for wanting to ensure that the Grail isn't found. Brown sometimes ladles out too much religious history at the expense of pacing, and Langdon is a hero in desperate need of more chutzpah. Still, Brown has assembled a whopper of a plot that will please both conspiracy buffs and thriller addicts.
Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist from Brown's Angels and Demons, is back in this amazing sequel. In Paris for a lecture, Langdon is summoned in the middle of the night to meet the head of the French police at the Louvre. The museum's curator has been found dead in a secure section of the gallery, with a message by his body leading to a baffling series of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. In addition, the curator left a specific message to find Langdon. While the police think Langdon is their culprit, he teams up with a French cryptologist to uncover the truth about the hidden messages. The answers lead to discovery of a shocking historical fact, and certain people will do anything to keep it a secret. Brown solidifies his reputation as one of the most skilled thriller writers on the planet with his best book yet, a compelling blend of history and page-turning suspense. This masterpiece should be mandatory reading.
When French police discover Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon's name hidden in a strange cipher found next to the body of a Louvre museum curator, he becomes their prime suspect for the brutal murder. The only person who believes that Robert is innocent is French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, who helps him escape from the police. While trying to elude capture, the two struggle to unravel the curator's mysterious message, only to find themselves caught between a centuries-old, secret European society and an extremely conservative, controversial branch of the Catholic Church, each of which is determined to possess the curator's secret, even if it means killing Robert and Sophie to get what they want. Brown's best-selling book, which features the hero from his earlier novel, Angels and Demons (Pocket Books, 2000), is an absolutely addictive thriller that blends fact and fiction with wonderfully creative results. The fascinating references in the plot to Da Vinci, the Knights Templar, the early history of the Catholic Church, and the Holy Grail might push some teens into researching these topics just to see what, if any, possible real historical basis there might be to Brown's story. Suspense-loving older teens, especially those with an interest in history or art, will definitely find this fast and furiously plotted thriller to be superior reading entertainment. (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday. —John Charles
1. As a symbologist, Robert Langdon has a wealth of academic knowledge that helps him view the world in a unique way. Now that you've read The Da Vinci Code, are there any aspects of life/history/faith that you are seeing in a different light?
2. Langdon and Teabing disagree as to whether the Sangreal documents should be released to the world. If you were the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, would you release the documents? If so, what do you think their effect would be?
3. What observations does this novel make about our past? How do these ideas relate to our future?
4. Other than his fear of being framed for murder, what motivates Langdon to follow this perilous quest? Do his motivations change?
5. The novel's "quest" involves numerous puzzles and codes. Did you enjoy trying to solve these puzzles along with the characters? Did you solve any of the puzzles before the characters did?
6. If you could spend a day in any of the places described in this novel, where would it be, and why? The Louvre? Westminster Abbey? Rosslyn Chapel? The Temple Church? Somewhere else?
7. Historian Leigh Teabing claims the founding fathers of Christianity hijacked the good name of Jesus for political reasons. Do you agree? Does the historical evidence support Teabing's claim?
8. Has this book changed your ideas about faith, religion, or history in any way?
9. Would you rather live in a world without religion…or a world without science?
10. Saunière placed a lot of confidence in Langdon. Was thisconfidence well-placed? What other options might Saunière have had? Did Saunière make the right decision separating Sophie from the rest of her family?
11. Do you imagine Langdon should forgive Teabing for his misguided actions? On the other hand, do you think Teabing should forgive Langdon for refusing to release the Sangreal documents?
12. Does the world have a right to know all aspects of its history, or can an argument be made for keeping certain information secret?
13. What is interesting about the way this story is told? How are the episodes of the novel arranged and linked? In your discussion, you might want to identify where the turning points in the action are where those moments are after which everything is different. Did you anticipate them?
14. What is the novel's theme? What central message or idea links all the other components of the novel together?
15. For most people, the word "God" feels holy, while the word "Goddess" feels mythical. What are your thoughts on this? Do you imagine those perceptions will ever change?
16. Will you look at the artwork of Da Vinci any differently now that you know more about his "secret life?"
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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