Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code tempts the reader from the first time he or she reads the title. Da Vinci is known, if even in name recognition only, by the majority of the populous of Western civilization. The �Code� in the title brings to mind secrets, espionage, intrigue, adventure, and recently, reference to religion, e.g. the Bible Code books and associated controversies surrounding them. In addition, the book jacket features a detail of the Mona Lisa, a painting that has, through the years, always evoked questions.That stated, one has only to open the book to discover a page titled Facts:. This page introduces the reader to the Priory of Sion, a secret society founded in 1099, among whose membership includes Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci. Also listed is the Vatican prelature Opus Dei, a Catholic sect, rife with controversy, that has recently completed a $47 million Headquarters in New York City. Even more intriguing is the author�s statement that �all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate�. This description of the factual nature of the novel is always in the reader�s mind as he/she progresses through the book.
The book opens with the murder of Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louve in Paris. Before he dies at the hand of an assassin, he leaves several cryptic messages designed to keep a secret from being lost forever. Enter Robert Langdon, Harvard professor, in Paris for a lecture series. Langdon is a symbology expert. He teams with Sophie Neveu, a cryptology expert with the French police. Langdon and Neveu find many clues at the murder scene, and subsequently escape from the scene with the French police believing that Langdon and Neveu are in fact responsible for the murder.Thus begins a fast paced adventure, exciting, interesting, and often hard to put down. As Langdon and Neveu follow clues and decipher codes, the reader is subjected to an almost dizzying array of characters, mysteries, plot twists and turns, as well as an in depth description of art, art history, architecture, and the influence of more than one �secret society� whose members will stop at nothing to achieve it�s goals.The main characters, Langdon and Neveu, soon are crossing Paris from site to site following the clues that Jacques Sauniere left for them. By the way, the reader has found that Sophie Neveu is the estranged granddaughter of Sauniere! Langdon is amazed that Sophie was taught cryptology by her grandfather, who raised her from an early age after her parents, brother and grandmother were killed in an auto accident.A trip to a Swiss bank enables Langdon and Neveu to retrieve a cryptex left by Sauniere. A cryptex is a device invented by Leonardo da Vinci to transport secret messages. Rotating dials, similar to a modern bicycle chain combination lock, allow the cylinder to be opened. If it is forced, the papyrus inside is destroyed by a vial of vinegar that would break if the cryptex is forced open.Langdon and Neveu go to an old friend of Langdon�s, Sir Leigh Teabing, a British Lord living on a large estate near Versailles. There Sophie learns that the great secret being kept by the Priory of Sion is the truth of the Holy Grail. It is at this point in the novel that the reader is exposed to the da Vinci Code. Neveu is told that the Holy Grail is not a cup or a chalice, as most believe, but rather that the Holy Grail is in fact a person. Da Vinci�s paintings are then explained, showing the person of Mary Magdelene as the Holy Grail. She is portrayed in da Vinci�s arguably most famous painting (fresco) �The Last Supper�. Further explanation of the Holy Grail, i.e. Mary Magdalene, is given. This information is staggering to Neveu, and implicit is the fact that this information would turn the Christian world upside down, for this says that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, had a child with Mary, was not the Son of God, and that He wanted Mary to carry on the building of the Church, not Peter. In addition, details are given as to the history of the Catholic Church�s changing of the true story, controlling the Bible with omissions and additions, and other scurrilous actions dating back to the Council of Nicea, called by Constantine in 325 AD.The remainder of the book traces the perilous journeys that Langdon and Neveu make across France and England, all the while pursed by the French police, Interpol, British police, Opus Dei, the Prior of Sion, and the assassin. The mystery of Neveu�s family is revealed. The true villains are exposed. Perhaps as interesting is the fact that the end of the novel leaves ample openings for a sequel.While political and economic themes are briefly touched upon or suggested, the most striking themes in the novel concern, of course, the religious and social ramifications. Social implications would be the reactions of society to the news that would be revealed if the secret of the �true� account of Jesus� life came to light. By far the most important theme of the novel is religious. In fact the premise put forth in this novel is contrary to mainstream Catholic and Protestant teachings and beliefs. The effect of the �Holy Grail� as described in the novel would shake the entire Christian world.This book has three main components, all intertwined. The first component is the story of the adventures of Langdon and Neveu. The second component is the series of clues and puzzles that they must solve. Often the clues have double and sometimes triple meanings. The third component is the secret of the Holy Grail, as told in the narrative. This secret, as previously mentioned, challenges the most basic ideas and theology of Christianity. One comes away from the book with many questions:1. Is the information left by the daVinci Code to be believed?2. Are only a portion of the theories true?3. If the theories are in fact true, should they be revealed to the world?4. How much of the history you have been taught during the years can be believed?5. What does the author really believe?This novel is a good read, as well as a fascinating romp into the world of cryptology and religious symbolism. The premise of the �secret� really makes you think about your exposure to history.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

When my daughter brought home the book “Player Piano” and said it was for her English Class book report, I couldn’t believe it. A high schooler reading Kurt Vonnegut!! It wasn’t until I was in college that I had to read a Kurt Vonnegut book, and even then I didn’t understand it. “Cat’s Cradle” was my assignment and I just couldn’t get into the book. So, that turned me off of any of Vonnegut’s writings.I’m an avid reader, my daughter doesn’t like to read, so I was quite surprised to see her so intrigued with this book. When she was finished, I picked up the book and started reading. When I get desparate I’ll read anything. Much to my surprise this book is good. In fact, it is really good. Almost, not quite, an I can’t put it down type book.It was written in 1952 and it explains a life in the future,only the future it describes is what is now becoming our future. How could he possibly have known that we would depend so much on computers? On dishwashers and microwave ovens? I thought Microwave ovens were something fairly new, not something thought of in 1952. He includes humor in his books and they aren’t nearly as difficult to understand as I had thought. This is definately a good read and have rethought my thoughts on Kurt Vonnegut.My daughter also had to include some history of Mr. Vonnegut in her report. It was very interesting studying this with her. He has lived through so much, which make his books very real. I’m now looking forward to getting “Cat’s Cradle” and rereading it, to see if it now makes sense to me. I have a feeling it will.If anyone, out there, needs a book report on “Player Piano” reply to this and I will get a copy of my daughters to give you some ideas to use.