A Look Back At ''The Da Vinci Code' For Smart People' (By Me, An Idiot)
You know, in this Dark Age of social media monopolies profiting off of lobotomizing conspiratorial drivel, one has to wonder how we even got to this place. Everyone has their own theory, but even if this is a 'complex issue,' as those fancy smart people like to say, there's still a case that some role can probably be attributed to Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Tom Hanks Regret.
Er, sorry, we mean The Da Vinci Code.
Having been a worldwide success despite its highly warranted critical rejection, The Da Vinci Code has kinda faded from pop culture, which makes sense insofar contemporary conspiraci -- let me rephrase that: insofar the Republican Party's self-destroying 'ideas' make Brown's fiction look like the first seasons of The X-Files. Here, however, we would like to focus on one specific stab against The Da Vinci Code: This Novel Should Actually Be Called 'The Leonardo Code,' I Mean Just Put Some Effort In It, Dan.
In effect, Brown's novel was quickly (and unfavorably) compared to Umberto Eco's 1988 masterpiece, Foucault's Pendulum. Yet it wasn't simply compared to it; Eco's dense brick of a novel has actually been labeled 'the thinking man's Da Vinci Code' -- which is, like, damn. So let's take a quick look at it: is Foucault's Pendulum really that good? And let's say one actually reads such a 'smart' novel. Will it have been a fun ride besides having tickled the ol' noggin?
If our two standards are mind-challenging, highly rewarding lore, and good fun, then yes, we'd put it up there with gems like Watchmen or No, I'm Not Crying, You're Crying (But With Giant Mechas):
Foucault's Pendulum is a slow-burner telling the story of a group of academically-trained nerds working in an Italian publishing house. They get a manuscript for some Knights Templar nonsense, and they soon start mocking it and coming up with their own, superior conspiracy: the Plan. And this one includes everything.
It features the entire 'royal bloodline dating back to the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene' thing that The Da Vinci Code also took from earlier trash, but it also includes stuff like the Illuminati, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, the Gnostics, and the Cult of Cthulhu ... then the bodies start piling up. Even more, besides the Plan, the overall plot of the novel also includes the Hollow Earth theory, Italian fascism, Nazi revisionism, a whole bunch of secret societies within secret societies, an entire backdrop with factions fighting for geopolitical domination by searching for giant, mythical, earthquake-producing magnets -- so yes, absolute, world-building insanity.
Yet Eco didn't just write a cool thriller, for you see, he was indeed really, really smart.
The kind of smart person that could get a room full of stiff scholars in Medieval philosophy interested in old Superman comics, the man was playing the whole Slavoj Žižek's philosopher rockstar thingie way before Žižek was cool. Thus, as a world-leading professor of Semiotics, his conspiracy-ridden novel is also an essay on the very use of conspiracy theories, on the reasons people need easy, even intelligence-insulting explanations to complex problems in the first place. The novel then runs circles around Brown's not only as a fun thriller with even more intriguing plots but also as a reflection on the very logic of conspiracy thinking and its harmful effects. Because they are harmful, and Umberto Eco knew this so well that he wrote one of the best novels of the genre just to prove it.
Top Image: Columbia Pictures