Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Books Behind The Da Vinci Code-cont'd

Schonfield's The Passover Plot
[continued] Return To Home Page
... As far as finding inspiration in earlier fictional works goes, Brown’s own defense statement says he had ‘read almost no commercial fiction at all since The Hardy Boys as a child.’ And though the author is only 41, the family had no TV. Then in 1993 while holidaying in Tahiti he read a Sidney Sheldon thriller, The Doomsday Conspiracy. (Though now out of print, it was apparently about a missing ‘spy’ balloon being tracked by the CIA.) “The Sheldon book was unlike anything I'd read as an adult. It held my attention, kept me turning pages, and reminded me how much fun it could be to read. The simplicity of the prose and efficiency of the storyline was less cumbersome than the dense novels of my schooldays, and I began to suspect that maybe I could write a "thriller" of this type one day.” A Daily Telegraph article even claimed “he gave up his job to write full-time after he read a Sydney Sheldon novel, The Doomsday Conspiracy, on holiday and imagined he could do better.” In terms of similar fiction, we should mention that American thriller writer Lewis Purdue has been claiming Brown plagiarised chunks of his novels The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter of God (2000). He hasn’t been successful in this but has now sold film rights to his work. (More on his legal saga here. )
The other sources given are all nonfiction, or rather that mix of history and speculation classed as ‘historical conjecture.’ One exception was a result of Brown’s youthful art studies, which led him early on to Joseph Campbell, author of a book on eternal myths which has been influential among Hollywood scriptwriters, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, who became a ‘partial inspiration’ for Robert Langdon. For The Da Vinci Code, he says he and his wife Blythe got the idea initially from the books ‘we were buying at around this time’, namely: The History of the Knights Templars by Charles G. Addison, The Templar Revelation by Picknett & Prince; The Goddess In The Gospels and The Woman With The Alabaster Jar by Margaret Starbird, and The Tomb of God by Andrews & Schellenberger. Later in his statement, he names the 7 books he cited as factual background in the proposal he originally sent to the publishers. As well as those mentioned above, there were The Hiram Key by Knight & Lomas, The Knights Templar by Partner, and Born in Blood [-The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry] by Robinson. He notes: “In this bibliography, Holy Blood, Holy Grail does not appear. That is because when I wrote the Synopsis I did not own a copy of Holy Blood, Holy Grail nor had I, or Blythe, read it.” He says the bloodline theory is in most of these books - Addison’s History of the Knights Templars, Templar Revelation, Starbird’s Goddess In the Gospels and Woman with the Alabaster Jar, and Tomb of God.
Several of these belong to the favourite genre he calls the “… ‘secret history’ - those parts of mankind's past that allegedly have been lost or have become muddied by time, historical revision, or subversion.” Picknett & Prince’s 1997 The Templar Revelation seems to have been the first major book in this field that he encountered – and he claimed that was as late as spring 2000. The judge said “It is plain that the title The Da Vinci Code is taken from TR. The cover of the book describes it as being "The Secret Code Of Leonardo Da Vinci Revealed". Chapter 1 is headed "The Secret Code of Leonardo Da Vinci". Mr Brown's original copy as provided in this action has significant notes and markings on them.”
From Andrews & Schellenberger’s The Tomb of God he got ‘information on coded paintings’. From Knight & Lomas’s The Hiram Key he got “secret Templar history and the possible involvement of Leonardo da Vinci ... the role of the Masons and The Knights Templar in excavating and then hiding a cache of early Christian writings ... the nature of what the Templars found and the subsequent impact on Christianity ... the family of Jesus (siblings as opposed to children), the origins of Christianity, the Gnostic Gospels, and Rosslyn Chapel," this being the ‘the predominant source for my Rosslyn information.’
From Margaret Starbird’s Goddess In The Gospels and Woman With The Alabaster Jar, he got the idea of the Hieros Gamos (the sacred-marriage rite, a version of which young Sophie sees, causing her to run away and never speak to her grandfather Sauniere again). Though he adds, ‘The description of the ritual itself was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's film 'Eyes Wide Shut'.’ (The film was adapted by Frederic Raphael [Darling etc] from a 1925 Arthur Schnitzler novella called Traumnovelle or ‘Dream Story,’ the famous ‘orgy’ scene being based on rumours of depraved versions of the then-fashionable high-society masquerade party.) Brown also got from Starbird “the bloodline theory from a Lost Sacred Feminine perspective … the story of the misrepresented Mary Magdalene … the image she created of Mary Magdalene being the bride, the lost sacred feminine, was very elegant - it seemed like the "big idea" -- like the core of a classic fairy tale or enduring legend. This concept of the lost sacred feminine became the backbone of The Da Vinci Code.’ Starbird in turn said in her WAJ preface that she wrote the book after she read HBHG and, being a Catholic, was appalled at what she thought was not only wrong but bordered on blasphemy, but then found "there was real substance in their theories". (Brown says he wanted to use the name Starbird for a character but thought it sounded too much like an American Indian name.)
His novels being "location driven", he drew on standard guide books like Fodor's Guide to Paris 2001, and the internet. Here, he had web searches done for him. “I was helped in my research ... by ... a librarian based at the University of Ohio, via his access to Lexis-Nexis [subscription database used by academics and journalists] who did keyword searches on "Merovingian", "Magdalene", "Priory of Sion", "Templar", "Grail", "Opus Dei", "bloodline of Christ." However his main internet researcher was his wife, who he insisted had no need to appear in court. She printed pages out for him, often unattributed. This seems to have been where he ran into difficulty. The judge was quite scathing about this, for in court he plainly had no idea where some of his facts came from, and obviously, the judge said, just uncritically utilised material of value to his story that she emailed him.
Significantly not on the disclosure list was Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh’s 1982 The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which Brown claimed he had never even heard of till the novel was half-finished, saying he used it later on, mainly as a crib during book tours, to rebut attacks by Christian fundamentalists. In Chapter 60 of TDVC, Sir Leigh Teabing shows Sophie his library, identifying several books. (Brown has said he lists real nonfiction books in his novels to encourage people to go to these sources, saying it’s the teacher in him.) Listed on the page, in block capitals, together with subtitles are what he obviously felt were the top three sources in the field: The Templar Revelation, Woman With The Alabaster Jar, and The Goddess In The Gospels. Then he pulls ‘a tattered hardback’ of HBHG off the shelf as "perhaps the best known tome". Teabing says: "This caused quite a stir back in the nineteen eighties. To my taste, the authors made some dubious leaps of faith in their analysis, but their fundamental premise is sound, and to their credit, they finally brought the idea of Christ's bloodline into the mainstream." Brown says he has Sophie astonished that it says ‘The Acclaimed International Bestseller’ on the cover because he himself was astonished, having never heard of it. (The other books on his reading list are much later than HBHG 1982. In fact they are near-contemporary with his own thriller-writing career, some of the DVC research being admitted left-overs from his earlier ‘Vatican conspiracy’ Robert Langdon novel Angels & Demons.)
At the trial he did admit he obtained information from HBHG for what the judge called ‘the Teabing lectures.’ "A lot of this information (including some of the text), I believe, had come from The Hiram Key, as did some of my research on the Templars.... [Re] the Priory of Sion, San Graal, and marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene… I understand that this information (and some text) appears to have come from Holy Blood, Holy Grail.” (There is also his use of the name Sauniere, after the controversial priest at the heart of the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery first publicised by HBHG.)
But he said for this part he also ‘looked at' The Hiram Key, Templar Revelation, Elaine Pagels’s Gnostic Gospels, and Starbird’s Woman with the Alabaster Jar. ‘I was uncomfortable including specific information in the novel unless I could corroborate it in at least a couple of sources.’ He pointed out HBHG “does not mention Atbash and Sophia” - referring to The Atbash Cypher, which Brown used as the code which in his plot opens the Cryptex cylinder, since “application of the Atbash Cypher to the word 'Baphomet' [the name of the Templars’ controversial idol] yields ‘Sophia,’ the Greek for wisdom, which he used as a character name. However he doesn’t mention Hugh Schonfield, who first published (in mass-market paperback terms) about the Atbash Cypher in his Secrets Of The Dead Sea Scrolls. Evidently Brown got this via a secondary source, Picknett & Prince’s Templar Revelation.
Brown tried to distance himself from HBHG for another reason – that it implies the Crucifixion was a staged event. (This would be what Teabing’s critical remark re the HBHG authors’ ‘dubious leaps of faith’ refers to.) "This is not an idea that I would have ever found appealing. Being raised a Christian and having sung in my church choir for 15 years, I am well aware of Christ's crucifixion and ultimate resurrection as the very core of the Christian faith. The resurrection is perhaps the sole controversial Christian topic about which I would not desire to write. Suggesting that they marry Jesus is one thing but questioning the resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief." He says he invented the Teabing character as a mouthpiece for anti-Church views as he did not want his hero to support such theories or appear to be too anti Catholic.
The judge said he thought HBHG was in fact the main source for ‘the Teabing lectures.’ (The fact the character name Leigh Teabing is an anagram of HBHG co-authors Leigh and Baigent was a bit of a clue here.) The copy of HBHG submitted in evidence was heavily annotated by Blythe Brown, and the judge said he didn’t believe their claim they had mostly done this post-publication, since Brown had claimed he did thorough research beforehand. The judge pointed out that ‘on the cover of TR is this statement. "One of the most fascinating books I have read since the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" – Colin Wilson. HBHG is extensively cited in the text. After the first annotations at the front of the book in Mr Brown's copy of TR the next significant annotation is at page 39 where HBHG is referred to for the first time. The title of the book is actually underlined and along side it Blythe Brown has written "get this book".'
A lot of TDVC readers have since decided to ‘get this book’ with sales of a new ediiton of HBHG increasing a hundred-fold to around 3,000 a week during the trial, and other books on the list have been similarly reissued. Brown says Margaret Starbird has thanked him, and Picknett & Prince evidently have no issues either. (They and other authors now appear in DVC-tiein documentaries.) There is now a thriving genre of nonfiction works, which will no doubt continue long after TDVC has wound up in the bookshop remainder bins. A regularly- updated chronological book list of fiction and non-fiction on Rennes-le-Chateau and related mysteries since HBHG in 1982 can be found on a ‘debunking’ website the judge cited in his verdict, here.
Return To Home Page