I loved Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code when I read it but as it moves further and further up the all-time bestseller charts (eventually perhaps rivaling the Bible?) I worry about the effect it’s having on people who have never been serious readers but who have devoured this particular book. A racy popcorn-thriller, it’s been easy enough even for those whose idea of heavy-duty reading is Paulo Coelho. The problem is, it’s given far too many people the impression that they’ve actually read something profound, and, worse, something that teaches them something about art and history. This is a reaction that belongs in the same league as the "Brainy stuff!" blurb found on the book jacket. A little knowledge is a very dangerous thing.
And I’m not talking about just dumbsters reacting this way. I’ve had a couple of less-than-exceedingly-stupid friends gush to me about how exciting it is to "learn the truth" about the Holy Grail, the Chalice, Jesus and Mary Magdalene and sundry other concepts they had only vaguely heard of before (if that). People! It’s not the "truth"! No one knows what the "truth" about these things is, and we’re probably never going to know. What Brown has done is to write a very entertaining work of fiction, based on theses already set out in much more academic fashion by other researchers/scholars/conspiracy theorists. The best thing that can be said about his endeavour from a "serious" perspective is that it encourages a re-look at conventional readings of history that have been handed down to us. And that’s always a good thing: it never hurts to be reminded that history as we know it has been written by the victors and one mustn’t take any of it at face value. But embracing conspiracy theories unquestioningly is equally silly.
As things stand, I find myself amused by, but also a little queasy about, the reports in sundry newspapers about the inflow of tourists to the Louvre rising significantly in recent months -- and worse, how guides in the venerable museum have to contend with questions from gullible Code-buffs to the tune of: "Can you show us the exact spot where the curator’s body was found?" Call me snootish, but it’s a little unsettling when people are given "culture" in easy, painless doses.