Friday, March 19, 2004

in search of the sang real

I just had to make time to read The Da Vinci Code. I figured I would not be considered a genuine bookworm if I had not read this much-praised thriller by Dan Brown. Even my sister, buried in law books in her final term and pre-bar reviews, made this her leisure time-out. What made the book so special? I decided to find out.

The book begins with a murder, that of Jacques Sauniere, whose name sounds vaguely familiar. It is a cold-blooded murder carried out by a killer who is an outcast and a physical aberration, driven by holy quest. Sauniere, who is curator at the Louvre, a prominent Parisian, is mortally wounded but not killed, leaving him enough time to leave a series of clues for cryptologist Sophie Neveu and famed Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon (protagonist of the hit-and-miss Angels and Demons) to seek out the secret that he has been zealously guarding for a clandestine organization that has its roots in the Crusades and includes such distinguished members as Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Brown leads us in a series of exciting twists and turns, that, because it is more than a murder mystery and involves historical and religious intricacies instead of military or political plots, intrigues us all the more. It is definitely a fascinating page-turner, for which I sacrificed quite a few hours of sleep. He weaves a solid yarn which has already been evidenced by the bestseller status of the book.

Questions arise, though. Is there really a Symbology class at Harvard? It seems that before this novel, symbology ("the art of expressing by symbols") has been in use particularly in the discrimination of bar codes and aircraft panel displays. Is there an Harvard subject? And who are the experts in this field? Also, this book generates some controversy regarding that already somewhat controversial Catholic organization called the Opus Dei, which is a personal prelature of Pope John Paul II. The Opus Dei are featured as Catholic extremists; countless stories about which I have also heard even before reading this book. However, this work must be taken as what it is, a work of fiction. In Dan Brown's story, there is a new Pope, and the Opus Dei is led by a man named Aringarosa. All of Dan Brown's various theories presented must be taken with a grain of salt for what it is--fiction.

That's all this book is: a fictional representation of various theories surrounding the Holy Grail. Of these various theories, I was most intrigued by the so-called symbology regarding certain objets d'art, although some of this I have also heard before. I find that the people who extol this book's innovation the most are those people who have not encountered the various Grail theories. I'm sure that some people have gasped when the Sangreal was translated from San Greal (Holy Grail) to Sang Real (Royal Blood). Yes, I've known this for about ten years, I think. It was then that I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, one of Brown's major references, which traces the Holy Grail theory through to the Priory of Sion and Rennes-le-Chateau. Someone has even pointed out that Leigh Teabing, a scholar-friend of Robert Langdon, is a reference to Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent (anagram of Teabing), who wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

But it is true that documents have been unearthed about the Priory of Sion--their validity, though, might be in doubt. It is true that Leonardo da Vinci was a complicated, driven artist whose works seem to have various mystical references. It is true that there are theories regarding the banishment of the Church of the Mother-Goddess religions in favor of a patriarchal view. If any, it is my curiosity into this last item that was piqued with my reading of The Da Vinci Code. I've always been interested in the background of Goddess worship, but it seems that my previous readings on the Grail have not unearthed a link to the Goddess.

I did get something out of this book. It was solid reading and quite fun. However, most of it is not new to me, and so, for me, this novel is a good re-telling in more layman's terms of the various theories that I've already read about, a good thriller, but save for the Goddess angle, nothing I haven't heard before. The search for the Holy Grail, even the Holy Blood--San Greal or Sang Real it may be--continues, but on the whole, these remain to be questions that mostly delve into the question of the Christian faith. Maybe it will lead you to doubt, but perhaps, too, it will only make it stronger. Jesus, the Christ, was a great Man. That, I believe.

No comments: