Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Wow! If you want to experience a lively discussion, bring The Da Vinci Code to the table, writes Jeannine. That book practically discusses itself. I brought the Reading Group Guide questions to the group and never used a single question. People couldn’t wait to share ideas, likes and dislikes, and there seemed to be a myriad of topics to discuss. Symbolism, subjugation of the female, the Gnostic gospels, movie casting, Church history, law suits - the list went on and on. And the discussion digressed quite often. I admit I started it on that slippery slope myself. Oops. The discussion just went hoppity-skip all over the place. And I took notes. But I now I don’t know what they mean. For instance: “666 – items related.” Huh? I remember it was really funny at the time, and something about an area code…. I hope someone remembers and puts it on the blog.

We started with a showing of hands – I DO remember that much. We tried it about 6 different ways – who liked it, who didn’t like it, who liked it with reservations, wait, which one are we raising our hands for? Who raised their hand twice? It was finally decided that about half of the group liked it unequivocally, and the other half liked it with reservations. There was no one who disliked it. But there were some who only saw the movie. And some who hadn’t read the book or seen the movie. And everyone thought it was funny that reviewers of the movie thought it was either not enough like the book, or too much like it. And you notice how quickly the discussion got away from us?

Dragging the discussion back to the book, we started (we didn’t finish, but we did start) getting opinions from members around the table. Most liked the theological, sociological and symbolic material of the story, but a few had problems with the writing itself. One believed it read like a movie script, with long verbal explanations to get the background in, a bit draggy in bits and that Sophie was just another simpering female letting the man figure out all the clues – a point which several other members took great umbrage with. This led to a brief discussion of some of Brown’s other books (most seem to think Angels and Demons was even better), and then back to picking apart his writing. One reader read off terrible examples of “show, don’t tell” telling. Which segued us into yet another “version” of the story, The Da Vinci Cod: A Fishy Parody by Don Brine. Seems “Mr. Brine” noticed some of these same problems and expanded on them in his version. A paragraph was read out loud and had us in stitches. It IS in our library system, so get your reserve in early. They’ll be lining up for this one.

Parody by "Farmland" on the Da Vinci Code,
not to be confused with Don Brine's

From here the discussion went all over the place, just like a discussion is supposed to. And everyone was lobbing zingers in the middle of serious topics. It’s no wonder my notes are so cryptic (pun intended). A great deal was explored about male/female agendas, matriarchal and patriarchal societies, the subjugation of women and brainwashing of men (don’t want to be “girly men”), the lack of evidence for Mary Magdalene’s supposed prostitute background (see Time article attached) and the concept of the feminine divine, ideas that some of the members said they had never really looked at and found fascinating, if not enlightening. This also led to the fact/fiction of the book, and the lawsuit with the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail which one member says after all the hoopla, publicity and umpteenth printing should be re-titled Holy Blood, Holy Smokes.

Another member who has read all of Brown’s books says there is definitely an anti-Catholic tone to most of his books. Others disagreed, feeling it was only the Church hierarchy that was being challenged, that religion is the Church, and faith is the people, and that maybe the Church hierarchy “doesn’t own the Church.” Which brought us to a discussion of the early Church, the compilation of the Gospels and the Gnostic gospels, and the appearance of God to man. One person said that God cannot be comprehended as He is, so takes on a human form as something man can conceive of, and this is where some of the male/female identity problems arise with patriarchal societies (women being forced out of leading church positions when the religion was officially adopted by Rome because of Rome’s patriarchal society). One joker, er, member said this is exactly the argument used by the aliens in Men in Black – the aliens took human form as something humans could relate to, using their own social structure to interact. It’s scary when those parallels work, isn’t it?

Cartoon (right) found on an Opus Dei priest's website

We were winding down off the heady topics when we came to a Catholic school graduate who absolutely loved The Da Vinci Code loved the irreverence, and found it absolutely liberating. She loved the movie - and this is where we go to the important subject – but thought Tom Hanks was all wrong for the part. Never mind the hair, he just didn’t work as an academic (sorry Tom). So I asked that really big question, Who should have had the role? And one member piped up “Liam Neeson should have every role.” He should be Dumbledore, he should be Gandalf, he should be all of them…. We laughed, but you know… she’s right. He would have been better. Huh. See attached.

Before we completely went off track, again, one member asked “But can we talk about it as a mystery.” And it was decided that as a mystery, the Code is a great success, a deep philosophical mystery surrounded by complex clues and red herrings. And it is never material that the reader will figure out several chapters before the characters do.

Before we left, one member recommended a science fiction title for those interested in the male/female dynamic The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri Tepper. It “is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country.” Award winning and highly recommended.

Almost forgot. We had wonderful refreshments, gourmet sweet treats from a local baker, and very special C.O.D.E. cookies from one of our members (who also donated some lovely patty pan squash). What are c.o.d.e. cookies you say? Cranberry Orange Divine Energy cookies of course, and if you eat them in the proper order, all will be revealed. We tried, but never seemed to get the right order. So we tried again. And again. Good cookies.

Decorations were fairly simple again. Lots of pictures of actual sites in the book, lots of books on everything from Da Vinci, to the feminine divine, to the Louvre, the Templars, cryptography and more, maps and papers, and all the stuff to look like someone is trying to crack an historical code. And a little lavender, from the south of France, no doubt.