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December 15, 2005

Odd cheat, now binned by vicar*
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

So there’s this book, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, sells like hotcakes, yadda yadda. I can’t stand it. It’s just too dumb.

For instance, you’ve got this French scholar dying of a gunshot wound. He has an important secret he wants to convey to his granddaughter. She’s a professional cryptographer. They’re both into complex word puzzles.

What does he leave her? Anagrams. In English, not French, so Dan Brown’s readers can figure them out and feel clever.

The anagrams are OH LAME SAINT, O DRACONIAN DEVIL, and SO DARK THE CON OF MAN. The characters figure out that these are anagrams of THE MONA LISA, LEONARDO DA VINCI, and THE MADONNA OF THE ROCKS.

That’s harder than you might imagine. If they’d made the obvious assumption that a dying man whose primary language was French would make up French anagrams for his French-speaking granddaughter, they could have wound up deciding that O DRACONIAN DEVIL meant something like ACE DINDON LAVOIR, meaning “swell turkey launderette,” which would have thrown the plot for a loop.

Know why you don’t use anagrams to encrypt messages? Consider the clue OH LAME SAINT. If you know it’s an anagram, and you know the original message was in English, the messages you can derive from rearranging its letters include Anaheim slots, Ashmolean IT, sloth amnesia, seaman litho, Althea Simon, Eliot Ashman, Athena’s moil, Thalia’s omen, Hi to Ameslan, Anatole Shim, silent Omaha, and heal a Monist. If you already know enough context to be sure that none of those are legitimate interpretations, you hardly needed a clue to start with.

O DRACONIAN DEVIL could prompt you to investigate the Laodicean Dr. Vino, or Arcade VII, London, or odd Alicia Vernon, who may have loved ocarina din and divine canal odor. Alternately, it could be a cryptic instruction to void one cardinal.

SO DARK THE CON OF MAN is my favorite; i.e., it’s the dumbest and unlikeliest anagram, and it gives the most ridiculous results: fathead conks moron, smooth naked Franco, Madonna’s Coke froth, hacker moons fantod, fetch Dakar monsoon, Fords choke Montana, Anton faked chromos, fresh Dakota noncom, Honda stock foreman, and conform, naked shoat!

Don’t even get me started on the business with the Fibonacci sequence. This book is full of seriously bad cryptography.

For more fun with anagrammed names, you might want to look up Dead Kitchen Radio, a thing I did years ago on GEnie in which every line, including the title, is an anagram of “Keith R. A. DeCandido.” If what you want is an anagram generator, I recommend the Internet Anagram Server, a.k.a. I, Rearrangement Servant.

Addendum: Lloyd Burchill, in the comment thread, pointed out a charmingly sharp-tongued piece by Geoffrey K. Pullum in Language Log: Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence.

The simple fact is that if you are ever mentioned on page 1 of a Dan Brown novel you will be mentioned with an anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier (“Renowned linguist Geoff Pullum staggered across the savage splendor of the forsaken Santa Cruz campus, struggling to remove the knife plunged unnaturally into his back by a barbarous millionaire novelist”), and you will have died a painful and horrible death by page 2, along with several curiously ill-chosen clich�s and mangled idioms.

And he can back it up, too.

_________________
*An anagram of “The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown.” A guy named Lawrence Alexander worked that one out by hand.

Comments on Odd cheat, now binned by vicar*:
#1 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 06:48 PM:

What got me is that the main character's supposed to be this world-famous academic, right? So why's it take him so long to figure out the name of the big head the Templars supposedly worshipped?

Indiana Jones would have figured the whole puzzle out in, like, five pages. Six tops, if he stopped for a fistfight with some passing Nazis.

#2 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:04 PM:

Unless Indy had the runs - then he'd just shoot 'em. Five pages.

#3 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:16 PM:

I know some actual scholars of the early Christian community are... displeased with the Da Vinci code. I don't have the expertise to evaluate their complaints myself. I do know a little bit about cryptography, though, so to try to get a general gauge on things, I picked a copy of another book of his, "Digital Fortress", out of a bin. The general background to this one concerns cryptography. I flipped it open to a randomly selected page, and found the Nazi Enigma cipher machine described as a "12 ton monster".

It's not hard to find pictures of an Enigma machine. Not hard at all. It's a little harder to get access to the actual device, but I have seen them up close. You can pick them up and carry them. And depending on the model, you may not need both hands.

Brown claims to be a crypto expert. His fans talk it up...

#4 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:28 PM:

When I was seven years old, in second grade, I wrote a mystery story that was a pastiche of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Godzilla (I was an eclectic child). My attempts at coded messages sounded a LOT like Dan Brown's.

...In fact, now that I think of it, the Da Vinci Code, in tone and style, distinctly resembles my second-grade story.

My favorite, however, is in Angels and Demons, where the protagonist mutters to himself "So...CERN has a particle accelerator."

I shouted at the page "CERN is a particle accelerator! You can't miss the thing, it's only several kilometers across!"

I love to MST3K Dan Brown.

#5 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:32 PM:

Oh, and "Charles Dodgson" -- I recommend Bart Ehrman's Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code for a cheerful and approachable and interesting introduction to the applicable scholarship. I think it's far more interesting than Da Vinci Code.

#6 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:32 PM:

Wait, I saw this movie. It had Bruce Willis and Sandra Bernhard and lots of exploding crap. (Well, not literally, but there were probably cuts.) And that picture was lousy, but at least it wasn't pompous-lousy. And it had one or two moments of actual invention, which Dan Brown's entire career hasn't managed. Love the moment in Digital Fortress where Super Cryptographer explains that a 64-bit cipherkey is 64 characters long. There are pretty average eight-year-olds who know the difference between a bit and a byte, and a few of them bust Windows-based systems the same way kids of my generation sent away for Sea Monkeys.*

And, yeah, you could make a big mess if you had just one lousy gram of antimatter, a speck so small it is positively weensy. You could also manage it with a billion metric tons of raspberry Jell-O plus Lake Baikal,** the difference being that there might actually have been that much raspberry Jell-O in modern history.

And I bet that even if the French guy were improvising dying messages like an Ellery Queen ghost on deadline, he wouldn't have called the painting "The Mona Lisa." Not when he could have turned its real name into CIA GONDOLA. "Send absolutely every available asset we have to Rome!"
"Sir, they have gondolas in Venice."
"Dammit, man, these people are devious!"

Crummy crypto joke:
Cryptographer takes cheap date to the flat where he takes cheap dates. ("How was I to know/She was with the Russians too?")
Cheap date says something to the effect of, "So, like, is this a real relationship?"
"Naah. This is my one-time pad."

*The object of power . . .
**Homage à Stan Freberg, by Christo.

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:36 PM:

Is it worth reading this book for laughs?

A friend gave me his copy when he was done with it. I'm not sure if he was sincere or pulling my leg when he praised it.

#8 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:39 PM:

That gives "Funny once, Mike" a whole new meaning.

#9 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:42 PM:

The queerest thing about The Da Vinci Code is how it was repeatedly billed as clever and intelligent and written for readers who are smarter than everyone else. As I have previously blogged, if all it takes to be super duper smart is to throw in a couple of lame anagrams and some Fibonacci numbers then I'm including a Sierpinski gasket and a Koch Snowflake in the book I'm writing now and I'll be hailed as a freaking genius.

I'm really not supposed to be here. I'm trying to find the name of the director who was brought in on Kong when Jackson collapsed but it appears that all roads lead to Making Light…

#10 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:43 PM:

Grumpy rant #1: Stpd bk. Clnky wrtng, dmb stry. Dnt wnt t rd t. Wnt rd it. t hs mr bd rvws thn ths stpd bks by Tm LHy. Nt gng t rd t; wld rthr rd th bck f th Chrs bx. Wld rthr wtch ll 'Rlly's Chrstms shw. Wld rthr t scrmbld ggs md wth dd scks.

Vowels available upon request.

#11 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 07:59 PM:

Lots of people told me to read it, but they were people I don't trust to give reasonable book reviews. So I wasn't going to, then my other half brought it home, not having as much resistance to book recommendations from suspicious non-readers. A book in the house is a book in the house, and I figured it was worth looking at. Silly me.

It was... eh. I was surprised that anybody in the art world calls it "Mona Lisa," as I thought that was considered ignorant. He did explain why the anagrams were in English -- they spoke English at home all the time despite being French. He didn't explain why it took anybody more than half a second to recognize the Fibonacci series; I saw it and rolled my eyes at the idea that anybody would think that was sneaky. The puzzles weren't all that puzzling, but they required the mind of the granddaughter to decode them because they were really more like hints at memories. The whole thing with the sex ritual seemed prurient and stupid to me; he had to really reach to find something so shocking that she would not talk to her grandfather again, and even then it wasn't terribly convincing to me. (I may have some details a bit off; it was a year ago that I read it.)

I was not terribly impressed; somebody who saw me reading it said I should read the earlier book, and I have not bothered. On the other hand, in discussing it with a friend and reading other reviews, I've found some interesting reading on Leonardo da Vinci by actual historians. So it wasn't 100 percent bad.

#12 ::: Damien Neil ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:00 PM:

My objection to "The Da Vinci Code" can be summed up in two words: Renowned curator.

Renowned curator.

Renowned curator.

It's like one of those horrible, horrible movies that they show on the Sci-Fi channel that you run across by accident and can't quite stop watching.

Renowned curator.

#13 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:03 PM:

Didn't read it myself, although in my day job (I am not getting much work done) I have some claim to be a scholar of early Christianity. Personally I'd rather people read the various Nag Hammadi texts that the bad theology is based on. It frustrates me that there are interesting aspects of the early church which a vast proportion of the population now know about entirely through the prism of this ridiculous Priory of Sion cr*p.

Possibly it's better that they know something wrong than nothing at all. But I'm not convinced.

On the other hand, I do really like the "san greal / sang real" redivider. But I don't think it's especially significant.

#14 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:07 PM:

Renowned curator.

Oh, but when I grow up I want to be Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard.

#15 ::: Cherie Priest ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:11 PM:

Those are so much fun - the Wordsmith link is where I came up with mine: Heretic Spire, Damn Lie (for my full name). I liked it so well, I made it the subtitle for my webpage.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:16 PM:

Thanks. I have a LOT of books in my in-queue I'm actually looking forward to reading. I'll politely push TDVC to the very back and, when I next move, donate it to GoodWill.

#17 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:23 PM:

Dan Brown drives me crazy. It's like the man does just enough research to know a dictionary definition without digging deep enough to get to anything really cool.
The aforementioned "hmm..So CERN has a particle accelerator?" thing really set me against him.

The thing is that his central "secret" about early christianity is far less interesting than what we actually know about it. When I heard what it was, I just thought "so what?" There groups that thought the YHWH of the old testament was an evil god and Jesus came to save us from Him.

Also, what the heck is a symbologist? Maybe he meant "scholar of religion" or "semiotician", but couldn't be bothered to look it up.

#18 ::: Jim Kiley ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:28 PM:

"George Herbert Walker Bush" is an anagram of "Insane Berserk Rebel Warthog." I do not believe this to be a coincidence.

#19 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:53 PM:

I cannot figure out why Da Vinci Code is so popular, much less why it's critically acclaimed.

Quite aside from the lameness of the codes and the improbability of the characters, the plot is a mediocre hash of every "thriller" cliche ever used, from convenient omniscience as plot driver to last-minute abrupt double-triple-quadruple crosses by "deeply trusted" characters the protagonists have known all their lives. Take away the codes and Biblical revisionism, all that's left is a by-the-numbers hack job that would've embarrassed Robert Ludlum.

#20 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 08:55 PM:

Lizzy L, dead socks really pep up scrambled eggs. (I love your self-disenvowelment -- very clever.)

I gave up on TDVC when they're at the bank and need a 10-digit password, and neither remembers the Fibonacci series they started with! After the "renowned curator" who drags himself 3 miles around the Louvre so he can leav stupid "clues" for his idiot daughter and the stalwart hero, that was too much.

BTW, what milage does a SmartCar really get? Brown's numbers didn't sound right on that, either.

#21 ::: pirate queen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:15 PM:

I was disappointed too.

The depth of my disappointment was such that even though I lost only two hours to the book, and that three years ago, I still feel compelled to comment whenever I hear it maligned.

I was particularly annoyed by the bit where Robert Langdon claimed that love songs about unnamed "My Ladies" were actually about Mary Magdalen.

Also, the way Sophie turned out to be a direct descendant of Jesus, with a bunch of family alive and well and living near a chapel full of unsolved codes in Scotland was excessively contrived.

#22 ::: Lloyd Burchill ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:17 PM:

Language Log's Geoffrey K. Pullum got his milk thoroughly curdled last month by the renowned curator.

#23 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:18 PM:

My college roommate and I, years after college, regularly e-mail and phone each other, and we each have recommendations when we do. I recommended "The Time-Traveler's Wife" because he was living in Chicago; he recommended I finally finish "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," which I found I loved.
When "The DaVinci" code blew up, there was a distinct lack of mention of it from either side. Which is odd; we're both relatively well read. We're at least always midbook.
I picked it up one day, read the first page, and set it aside. It read like a POD book. It read like a young, starting-out writer who wasn't yet aware of the economy and precision of words. It read like a cross between bad Dean Koontz and worse Tom Clancy.
Finally, one day, the book came up in a roundabout way; he was interviewing for med school residencies, and the the interviewer mentioned it. He feigned ambivalence. Because he, like me, had picked it up only to put it right back down.
I think it's telling when one must feign ambivalence.

And you know what I like most about MakingLight? I can ask, "So, what's the more known or famous or whatever name of 'The Mona Lisa?'" and I know both that someone will answer me and that no one will think me ignorant for not knowing.

#24 ::: Jenny K ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:30 PM:

"I shouted at the page "CERN is a particle accelerator! You can't miss the thing, it's only several kilometers across!"

Oh. My. God. I must find that part of the book so I can laugh at it even more.

And I second the question about the Mona Lisa - although I, personally, do feel a bit stupid asking since I minored in art history and have actually seen it in person.

#25 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:30 PM:

Caroline, thank you. I got as far as 'CERN has a particle accelerator,' and pretty much shouted the same thing to my laptop screen as you did to your book. Then laughed. Then I went to Amazon.com and used the 'search inside' feature to find 'CERN' in the text of Angels and Demons. That line is the fifteenth occurrence in the text - how can you mention CERN fourteen times before getting to the fact that it's a particle accelerator? So I laughed some more. I suspect I am going to break out in snickers for the rest of the evening. So thank you again - you made my day.

#26 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:34 PM:

The one that got me was toward the end of Digital Fortress, where the conclusion Dan Brown seems to push is that computer scientists and mathematicians know no physics at all.

#27 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:48 PM:

"So, what's the more known or famous or whatever name of 'The Mona Lisa?'"

La Gioconda - although of course, by Dan Brown rules, you should have been able to work that out without any aids because anagrams are easy like that. (Everyone knows, by the way, that Samuel Alito is an anagram of "I am a sellout"? Good.)

I guess it isn't the more well-known name - it's the name of the model, who was the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, but I suppose Mona Lisa is as well (technically "Monna Lisa", or "Madam Lisa"). An Italian site I just found randomly while googling suggests that "Mona Lisa" goes back to Vasari in 1550 and "La Gioconda" only to 1625. I don't suppose we know what Leonardo called it, or her.

My impression is that it's like The Laughing Cavalier - a name that's stuck regardless of the actual title of the painting. But certainly in Italy you would say "La Gioconda", and probably a professional art historian would do so as a matter of course.

I hadn't spotted, earlier, that 'renowned curator' were the first words of the book (so thanks for the link, Lloyd). Thankfully that's because I never got that far into it.

#28 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:57 PM:

I knew there was a reason I hadn't purchased the DaVinci code already. (Except, now that you've gone and made it ever so slightly more entertaining, I may have to check it out of the library.)

As I have previously blogged, if all it takes to be super duper smart is to throw in a couple of lame anagrams and some Fibonacci numbers then I'm including a Sierpinski gasket and a Koch Snowflake in the book I'm writing now and I'll be hailed as a freaking genius.

Georgiana: Minus the Sierpinski gasket, wasn't that part and parcel of the chapter intro gimmicks in the novel Jurassic Park. I seem to remember some Michael Crichton book which had a lot of Koch snowflakes and number theory running amok.

#29 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:01 PM:

More to the point, a friend of mine was a curator at the Louvre, and they all called it "La Gioconde" (the French version of the same name). After reading the book that was the one thing that stuck with me; I don't know any European art people who call it "Mona Lisa."

Then I reminded myself that this was mainstream pap for an uneducated American audience, and nobody would have known what he was talking about if he'd used anything else. I try not to be too overly critical when I'm clearly reading rubbish, just like I try not to dwell on the historical inaccuracies in romance novels. I just wish other people would stop pretending there was some kind of grand secret in there.

On the other hand, I've always wondered how L. Ron Hubbard managed to pull off the Scientology thing, and now I see that people are so willing to find secret messages in a text that it would have been a bigger feat for him to write the same book and then avoid creating a cult.

#30 ::: Jason Allard ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:09 PM:

I found a rather telling/annoying mistake even before CERN was mentioned. The curator's assassin uses a gun that clicks when empty, but is loaded with a clip. Clips go into automatics, which lock open when the last round is fired. They also throw brass that he would need to collect, or leave a lot of evidence. Revolvers click when empty. Sure, I suppose you could make the argument he was using a revolver and loading with full-moon clips, but that's rather esoteric for people who don't spend much time with firearms.

For that matter, did anyone else notice that to write DvC, all he did was open A&D in his word processor and use the "find/replace" feature for names and places?

#31 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:18 PM:

People of otherwise astoundingly good taste press the book on me.

My closest friend since high school, devotee of Tanith Lee and Angela Carter, admitted after a certain amount of grilling that the prose was perhaps not as scintillating as it might be. My parental units, who have not agreed with each other on anything for a decade, had passionate conversations about how eeeeevil the Christian church is and how many heretics they burned to cover up the Shocking Truth.

And my father has multiple university degrees, for Pete's sake.

(Unfortunately, this is when I came out to my family as kind of Episcopalian, which appeared suspiciously Catholic).

What frustrated me most is that the Da Vinci Code emerged as a template for Proper Feminist Religion, and if I was a Proper Feminist I'd buy into it, because even my lackadaisically orthodox Christianity was frighteningly misogynistic. And they imply that I'm gullible. Well, maybe. But if you get your religious beliefs from a book that badly researched, it's the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it?

#32 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:30 PM:

I can't sleep on planes, so I used it to occupy me on a flight to Russia. Eh. As the comments above, I didn't find it particularly profound.

#33 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:36 PM:

I put it down, never to return, when the world-renowned symbologist was being shocked by the devilish cleverness of symbols that can be read when reflected in a mirror, as well as directly.

Since I had just been perusing a web site on these creatures the day before, my suspension of disbelief suffered a critical sprain.

#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:40 PM:

"Twelve ton monster" is, of course, an anagram for "Newton's voltmeter." That's the real meaning.

Actually, anagrams make some of the most secure comm methods. You get a Scrabble set and arrange the tiles into your message. Your correspondent, thousands of miles away, takes his Scrabble set and arranges the tiles into a message. The forces of Evil will be totally unable to intercept or jam the transmission....

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:54 PM:

Uh, Jim, isn't that because no transmission is taking place? Is that the point? Are you being clever again? Igor feel slow.

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:57 PM:

Oh, and Will?

"And you know what I like most about MakingLight? I can ask, 'So, what's the more known or famous or whatever name of "The Mona Lisa?"' and I know both that someone will answer me and that no one will think me ignorant for not knowing."
You just made my day. That's exactly how it's supposed to work. Thank you.

#37 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:04 PM:

James: just make sure to keep your spoons away from the board so they don't start bending; otherwise, you might get intercepted by the EULER GIRL. Of course, if you actually play Scrabble with those tiles, you'd want to use the RIGEL RULE.

Sincerely, I, GEL RULER.

#38 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:05 PM:

For anyone who does the London Times crossword or other cryptic puzzles regularly, and solves clues such as "Play disrupted--and it's us in court (5, 10),"* to take a recent example, these are child's play. I haven't read Brown's book, but if these anagrams are an example of his devilishly clever congeries...

And in fact the Times puzzle did have "Enigmatic girl cooing--a lad gets upset (2, 8)"** just a few days ago.

#39 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:07 PM:

*TITUS ANDRONICUS

**LA GIOCONDA

#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:11 PM:

Indeed, Teresa, no transmission is taking place.

The frequencies of letters in English is known. The longer your anagram the closer it will come to the frequencies, and the more it will resemble every other message with the same number of letters also written in English.

See too my review of another book that relied on anagrams here: Light Hearted Friend

#41 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:19 PM:

There is an inherent difficulty with Ancient Mystery Revealed! yarns, in that we are generally asked to accept that the clues have been lying around in more-or-less plain sight for centuries or millennia, and our characters have to put them together, run away from the bad guys, and blow a great many things up, all in under two hours of screen time.

That's another difficulty: like practically all thrillers nowadays, these books are screen treatments gracelessly expanded to prose. There's nothing wrong with conceiving one of the Big Scenes (the zeppelin, with its precious cargo of ancient Atlantean julienne slicers, bearing down on the Syracusan Duomo* as its Archimedian solar death mirrors rise from their crypts, click into place, and prepare for zep ignition), but it always helps if one actually makes it vivid and imaginable, instead of leaving that for the CGI dudes.

And Alan: I said "crummy," didn't I?

*Which (cue backstory) used to be a temple to Athena, who our renowned and fabulously cool curator heroes have discovered was the boss deity of Atlantis, before the Masonic copy-encodifyers hornswoggled Ignatius Donnelly.

#42 ::: Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:30 PM:

Good cryptography would be... ...welll... ...too cryptic for most humans to enjoy.

Many, many years ago I was wooed by a cryptographer. Anagrams were not his style - too easy. He never spoke plainly (in my recollection, at least - although I think he did once refuse a drink of milk by saying 'no'...) and it often took me so long to figure out when and where he wanted to meet that the information was no longer pertinent. He always loved to know I'd found out, though. Our relationship was (mostly) composed of him hoping I'd understand the key to his puzzles, so he could create even more cryptic ones.

I'd love to say that he left no mark on my life, but in fact, he did: after some trial and error I both became married a translator; this is a profession entirely dedicated to interpretation of cryptic messages. Is it a form of nose-thumbing at that twisted (but necessary, I suppose) profession? Perhaps. But I'm very happy with the man I make my life with.

#43 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:34 PM:

The DaVinci Code is a terrible book in nearly all respects, but the part I've seen knocked least is its attitude towards women. Thanks for reminding me, Emily H!

Aside from the typical "Oh, I'm so smart, and yet I'm astonished as you slowly grasp the plot and explain it to me, Gary Stu!", the book's all about "the sacred feminine"... Which immediately sets a warning to beeping. Every time I've seen talk along the lines of, "Oh, women are far more refined!" it's immediately followed by "Which is why they'd have no interest in doing manly things. In fact, we should protect them from it!"

I read with an eye to this. Why, exactly, is the "feminine" sacred? And I am rewarded with the thrilling revelation: it's because when a man blows his load, he's in touch with god in that moment of bliss!

Oh joy! Females are as sacred as a wad of kleenex! I can certainly see why the Catholic church has tried to supress such dangerous knowledge all these years.

#44 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:33 AM:

Encipherment in the sense of general algorithms -- something you can in principle use to limit access to any message you transmit -- is hard to make exciting for a broad audience (I didn't say impossible). Sufficiently strong encipherment between two people who are well acquainted is not terribly hard, though it likely won't be useful for absolutely any message. Two people who are close have lots of mutual information that others are unlikely to share, particularly movie-style goons in black shades.

If you were actually a writer -- and this would work in a movie quite as well as a book -- one could have a character murdered at the very outset of the yarn (half the thrillers you see start this way anyway) with the audience knowing only that he or she Knew Something Worth Killing For.

Goon: "Excuse me, sir or madam. Pardon my nondescript foreign accent. I am a stage goon of limited intelligence, hired for one reel only, and I and my associates are looking for an old and rare book of great importance to -- uh, absolutely nobody."
Resourceful Librarian: "I'm sorry, this is the British Library. Have you tried Foyles?"

Then the close friend/spouse/lover finds a page of dying endearments (with some oddity that indicated they were more than that), and has to go back to what those references meant when the victim was alive and they were together. Everything we would know about the dead person -- and most of the other backstory -- would emerge in those scenes, some of which the viewpoint character might now interpret in quite a different way.

If you did that right, you wouldn't half need to blow anything up. Until the movie, of course.

#45 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:51 AM:

OK, all those criticisms are fair except Madeline's. Yeah, his attitude toward women sucks. BUT he isn't saying the feminine is MORE sacred; just that the feminine aspects of sacredness were edited out by the patriarchy. In other words, the modern Church's ideas of sacredness are all masculine, and they ought to be more balanced.

I must confess I rather like this idea. Whether it has any basis in historical fact I strongly doubt; but then there really aren't any available historical facts about those specific people, so we can make up things that MIGHT have been true, right?

Ancient astronauts built the pyramids, too.

Oh, and: 'renowned curator' reminds me of Snoopy saying "Actually there aren't more than one or two world-famous grocery clerks." Can anyone who isn't an art historian or museum employee etc. even name a SINGLE curator? Of anything?

This is MakingLight, so I should probably specify that yes, that was rhetorical and yes, I'm sure you can each name five curators right off the top because you memorize the curator's name(s) on every museum exhibit you go to, which runs to a lot of memory because of course you go to the museum every day on your lunch hour, and no, I wish you wouldn't. You all intimidate the HELL out of me, you know that?

But I'm not bitter.

And: MaryJane Lenz. So there.

#46 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:55 AM:
Georgiana: Minus the Sierpinski gasket, wasn't that part and parcel of the chapter intro gimmicks in the novel Jurassic Park. I seem to remember some Michael Crichton book which had a lot of Koch snowflakes and number theory running amok.
No. What Crichton used there is known as the Dragon Curve - that site references this java animation that looks just like the pictures in the book. Also, Crichton ran amok not with number theory but with chaos theory, and included just enough to make you think that maybe Crichton had in fact read the entire back cover of the book Chaos.

The Dragon Curve is actually pretty interesting by itself and makes for a nice end-of-first-term programming exercise for undergrads. I prefer a formulation for it that is a bit different from the one given on the mathworld page, but that's neither here nor there.

As an allergory for "chaos theory says that bad stuff always happens, and I've got actual math so neener-neener", the Dragon Curve does less well.

I've never seen someone run amok with number theory, though I suppose the plot to the movie Sneakers comes close, what with someone being killed over a method of quickly factoring the product of large primes.

#47 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:56 AM:

If you were actually a writer...

I'd like to be the first to say: Rosebud.

Thank you.

#48 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:04 AM:

Well, there's Thomas Hoving. But that's New York for you. And Henry Cole, but that's London for you.

#49 ::: La Gringa ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:04 AM:

This made me laugh my ass off. Thank you!

#50 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:11 AM:

I must confess I rather like this idea. Whether it has any basis in historical fact I strongly doubt...

Well, to some extent the Catholic church (in its earliest incarnation, well before there was a big church on the Vatican hill) *did* suppress aspects of (what passed for) Christianity which favoured women: have a look at those Nag Hammadi codices.

The Sophia of Jesus Christ introduces a strong feminine element; Thunder, Perfect Mind features an apparently pansexual (or pangendered) God; and one of the apocryphal gospels has Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene on the [this section of the manuscript is missing. Scholars have had fun trying to restore the correct word.]

Of course, the church didn't have to hide away all knowledge of this stuff, or kill anyone who threatened to talk about it. The implausible part is the wishful thinking that says that uncovering a single piece of evidence will destroy some major institution or power structure. These things don't survive by being incapable of incorporating, or else ignoring, new ideas.

Mind you, I must also admit to being sneakily amused by the idea of Opus Dei as a secretive assassins' guild.

#51 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:20 AM:

Stefan Jones asked: Is it worth reading this book for laughs?

IMHO, only if you're a masochist. the book's not even "so bad it's good." it's just... bad.

it makes me wonder, though. when people criticize the quality of the Harry Potter books, saying they're superficial, they don't really add anything new, I counter by saying that at least it gets non-readers to read. Order of the Phoenix is the longest book my brother has ever read, and for leisure at that. it's gotta count for something.

but I like the Harry Potter books. simplistic or not, they've got likeable characters (some of them startlingly three-dimensional) and good underlying values.

so I wonder. if The Da Vinci Code gets millions of people to read, including those who normally don't, is that at least somewhat a good thing? even if the book is not just terribly written, but misleading as well?

(I know, I know, in an ideal world we would get millions of people to read quality books. but. you get my point.)

#52 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:28 AM:

I read that damned book a year ago or so, and I was very quickly struck by what appeared like the author's *enthusiasm* for his own research, such as it was. The bit where Langdon's on his way to the Louvre in the dead of night, but he pauses to reflect on the arcane fact that the perimeter of the Louvre building is x.y miles. [scratches head] Okay, how is this relevant? It read like authorial showing off, rather than anything more useful.

My wife, the smart one of the family, has not read the book, and has no plans to. I told her about the dying curator guy going to all this elaborate trouble, with the puzzles and the messages and the Fibonacci bit, etc etc, all as a ploy to tell crypto grand-daughter and Langdon what's going on. The wife remarked, "Why didn't he just call her on his mobile phone?"

I sat there, all stupefied. The text, to the best of my recollection, doesn't say the curator has a mobile, but I thought, gee, if only he did have one. Or, I suppose, he could have found a public phone nearby. You could cut the book's action by half. There he is, dying on the floor. Grabs phone, rings grand-daughter and maybe even Langdon too, tells them the salient details, and then dies. But I suppose that wouldn't be nearly clever enough.

What's been said here about CERN is his other book, and about 64-bit numbers, has left me gobsmacked, too.

Meanwhile, has anybody read THE RULE OF FOUR, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason? Came out around the same time, and billed as the thinking person's Da Vinci Code. I've got it, but have yet to approach it, fearing the worst.

#53 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:38 AM:

By strange coincidence, I was in my local shop about 12 hours before this went up and the young man behind the counter told me that he'd just finished his law exams and is reading a novel for the first time in four years, the novel in question being _The Da Vinci Code_. Before I could stop myself I delivered an inappropriate but heartfelt rant. I did read the horrible thing from cover to cover a year or so ago, and the best I could come up with then was to say that whereas _Foucault's Pendulum_ was a terrible book, at least it was full of scholarship; this was like _Foucault's Pendulum_ based on a skimming of Google. In the shop the other day I threw in the charge of ignorant anti-Catholic bigotry as well as terrible writing (because the shopkeepers are Catholic), I hadn't thought deeply enough about the stupid cryptography to mention that as well. Thank you for articulating this so well, Teresa. The young man in the shop said his previous most enjoyable reading had been John Grisham and words came out of my mouth I would never have expected to hear: I recommended he go back to Grisham. I don't know why I feel so strongly about the book-- perhaps because it takes subjects that I think are important and misrepresents them in a trivialising way. I do deeply resent the hours of my life that I gave to it. (At least I didn't buy the copy I read.)

#54 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:01 AM:

OK, all those criticisms are fair except Madeline's.

Aw! Dang.

Yeah, his attitude toward women sucks. BUT he isn't saying the feminine is MORE sacred; just that the feminine aspects of sacredness were edited out by the patriarchy. In other words, the modern Church's ideas of sacredness are all masculine, and they ought to be more balanced.

Divvying up sacredness into masculine and feminine is just begging for the feminine part to get kicked to the curb. And the reason Dan Brown gives for why specifically feminine sacredness shouldn't get kicked to the curb is ludicrous. He cuts females out of general sacredness and offers something flimsy instead. That's why the book is terrible from an "attitude towards women" point of view.

#55 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:10 AM:

the book's not even "so bad it's good." it's just... bad.

No, it's not bad; it's merely mediocre. In many ways, that is worse.

#56 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:19 AM:

"There he is, dying on the floor. Grabs phone, rings grand-daughter and maybe even Langdon too, tells them the salient details, and then dies."

Ok, I haven't read the thing, and after reading this thread I have no inclination to do so, but now I'm puzzled. Were the anagrams written in blood, a la A Study in Scarlet?

#57 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:46 AM:

All right, who is going to develop a Da Vinci Code version of clench racing?

Now, this is what I call a Fibonacci sequence.

#58 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:11 AM:

Were the anagrams written in blood, a la A Study in Scarlet?

"This is a toughie."
"Wait! It's REACH! He wanted us to 'reach' for something!"
"I think he meant it's under the CHAIR."
"But --"
"Look, I know he was brilliant and now he's dead and his tenure spot will go to that creep from the Pre-Columbian Pessaries Department, but we both know he couldn't spell for beans."

As for the book's success, there are a lot of bestsellers that seem to get by on being a kind of Splenda-dusted nonfiction. Arthur Hailey stumbled into this formula with Hotel and refined it with Airport, and for the rest of his career the infodumps got denser as the characters went transparent. Michener's done much the same thing with history -- Centennial, Poland, and the like.

I think one reason is that a lot of affluent people feel a bit guilty about reading fiction. It's just, you know, entertainment. It's not helping your portfolio or giving you a bigger, uh, car. But if you learn something from it, that's ROI and it's okay. Even if what you pick up is doo-doo. da'Vinci, International Man of Mystery threw in a conspiracy theory, so you could learn something that was secret, at least from anyone who hadn't read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Batman! And though it had its moment, there aren't that many who have, because most people won't read nonfiction at all. They'll read rants, and they'll look at picture books, but intellectual engagement costs effort. Remember that every equation in a popular work halves its audience, and power functions can turn nasty on you fast.

LeGuin noted some time back that people will buy bestsellers (and go to hit movies) because they can participate, through the Law of Contagion, in the money involved. Film is the most expensive art form we have, which is one reason it's taken so seriously.

And there's also the Book Everybody is Reading factor, which is like the Movie (or, if you live in New York, Broadway Show) Everybody is Seeing. It's easy to get left out of the conversation if you don't get the references. (Note that there's at least one book annotating the references, so you can both not read the novel and pretend you know more about it than people who have. Which leaves you both about even.)

#59 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:16 AM:

The Rule of Four is quite a bit better than the Da Vinci Code - it's reasonably plausible that this particular set of riddles could have gone unsolved et cetera, plus you actually believe that someone has to be quite clever (and work quite hard) to solve them. OTOH, the coming-of-age part which takes up about half the plot is pretty paint-by-numbers.

The thing that struck me about the DA VINCI CODE is that Umberto Eco both summarized and mocked its entire central conceit on one page of FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM.

In advance.

#60 ::: Peter Flint ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:02 AM:

I got nearly half-way through 'Odd cheat, now binned by vicar', just because I felt I needed to know what *absolutely everyone* on my daily commute thought was so great about the book. The last straw - really quite a small error compared to some of the clunkers in this awful book - came when the Smart car's fuel mileage was mentioned in passing. Because the French - like many Euro countries - reckon their fuel efficiency the other way round to the anglophone nations, Brown followed suit and gave a figure in litres per kilometre, rather than miles per gallon. I don't remember the exact figure, but as I recall it worked out to about 250 mpg. They're good, but not *that* good.

#61 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 05:21 AM:

this is when I came out to my family as kind of Episcopalian

Parents! Does your teen come home late at night reeking of incense?
Does he or she have any older male friends who wear long flowing robes?
Have you ever heard him or her address a telephone caller as "Bishop" or "Your Grace"?
Has your child ever referred positively to Henry VIII, the execution of Sir Thomas More, the Doctrine of Supremacy or the Dissolution of the Monasteries?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', your child may have become exposed to Episcopalianism.

DO NOT PANIC!

Episcopalians are made, not born - our ministry has saved countless teens from a life of Episcopalness. But don't just take our word for it!

"As a teen I and many of my friends experimented with Episcopalianism. But since my successful intervention I am now happily Jewish and have never looked at another archdeacon" - S.G., Hants.

"I had my first Episcopalian experience when I went to college. But after I realised it would only harm me, I sought help, and I have been in a stable Methodist relationship for the last thirteen years" - B.G. de V. P., London.

"When my daughter announced she was Episcopalian her father and I were horrified. Fortunately her intervention worked perfectly - after only six weeks she was cured and has been a Copt ever since" - A.M., Luton.

#62 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 05:46 AM:

Tom: thank you for the heads-up re THE RULE OF FOUR. I read FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM years ago (in hardback, no less--[weep]), on the strength of how much I'd enjoyed THE NAME OF THE ROSE. And yes, now you mention it, I do remember the bit where the protagonist's enormously convoluted conspiracy theory about the Templars, et al, proved to be no more sinister than a grocery shopping list or some damn thing.

Wasn't FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM also the book where Eco has much sport at the expense of evil vanity presses?

#63 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 06:01 AM:

jhlipta,

a Smart needs 3.4 to 5.5 l of fuel per 100 km, depending on the model, that is, 43 to 70 mpg.

Adrian:

I read "Foucault's Pendulum" because I had enjoyed "Illuminatus!" (I was that kind of age) and liked it a lot - especially the evil vanity presses, and in generall all those needlessly complicated things being recognized as needlessly complicated, but fun to play with.

#64 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:01 AM:

I've skimmed bits of the DVC, and I remember an especially daft part in which the detective (Bézu Fache or whatever he's called) contacts Interpol to get the names of registered guests at all the hotels in Paris. Firstly, he wouldn't need to go through Interpol to get information from within France. Secondly, Dan Brown lifted the whole thing from Frederick Forsyth's Day of the Jackal, which explains that every evening the Paris police collect registration cards from every hotel and send them to the Renseignments Générales (IIRC), the intelligent branch of the Police Nationale. I don't know whether that is or was true, but anyway Brown, trying to modernise it or just make it different from Forsyth's version, throws in Interpol.

Brown also seems to think that a safety deposit box in the Paris branch of a Swiss bank would enjoy the protection of Swiss banking secrecy rules, as if the branch has diplomatic immunity or something.

#65 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:14 AM:

I didn't finish Foucalt's Pendulum and I did finish Odd Cheat.

However, I will say that Odd Cheat went very fast. . . and as long as you're reading fast enough, you get the impression that he's doing something smart.

A friend of mine said "I stopped reading [whatever Dan Brown book] when he started talking about Steve Jackson Games like they knew something about hacking."

I have what I call "The MacGyver rule"- science is hard, so I overlook the first blatant failure of knowledge in any movie, TV show, or episode of MacGyver.

That gets you to, like, sentence 3 of Angels and Demons. I think I managed to get to page 12, just because I couldn't believe what I was reading.

BOOK: CERN has a spare hypersonic passenger plane.
SANDY: I didn't just read that.
BOOK: And when you get to an altitude of 80,000 feet you are at 2/3 gravity, and that's what makes you airsick.
SANDY: Obviously the two pieces of insanity cancel, leaving no sentence there. Move along, nothing to see.
BOOK: All scientists are sneering atheist geeks, JUST like in the old '50s movies.
SANDY: Screw this.

Later, a friend of mine said "It was literally the exact same plot with the exact same characters as the Da Vinci Code" and I said, "So it WAS the guy in the wheelchair, huh?"

#66 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:21 AM:

Oh, by the way, I have to throw this in (I forgot yesterday):
"when the world-renowned symbologist"

Detective: So, what's the, uh, symbology?
Smecker: I believe the word you're looking for is "symbolism." What's the symbolism of the coins? (brief description of Egyptian practice of putting coins over eyelids, so the dead will have toll) And that's the symbolism of it, Detective Alapopskalia.
Detective: Hey, you're the first person who ever got that right.
Smecker: That's because I'm an expert in... nameology.

(from "The Boondock Saints," written and directed by Troy Duffy, starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, and Willem Dafoe. It's usually $6 at BestBuy. It's very much worth the money [also worth it: "Overnight," a documentary that follows Duffy as he shot it. It's not pretty. Duffy was an overnight success in Hollywood. And he let it get to his head)

#67 ::: Paul Herzberg ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:26 AM:

The thing that struck me about the DA VINCI CODE is that Umberto Eco both summarized and mocked its entire central conceit on one page of FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM.
Not that Eco's bitter. Though he did turn up in the Telegraph (link may be dead) this week to ramble on about the shrinking of God, or something. He used Dan Brown as an example of how we believe anything these days, which seemed to be slightly truculent point scoring to me. He also argues that Atheists are comforted by the idea that Jesus was the King of France...

I've noticed people can get away with being ridiculously general about what Atheists want or need. The New Yorker recently published an article where it said:

Atheists need ghosts and kings and magical uncles and strange coincidences, living fairies and thriving Lilliputians, just as much as the believers do, to register their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes.

Which, I think, is in total opposition to Eco and suggests that, far from believing anything, they really ought to believe in just a bit more. It would make their world a touch broader and just a little less material.

#68 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:56 AM:

I will confess I actually enjoyed The DaVinci Code. I was ill and wanted something completely brainless that slipped down easily and that I could occasionally laugh at. It succeeded in that (and in helping me sleep).

And I enjoyed Foucalt's Pendulum immensly. I couldn't have read it when ill, however.

#69 ::: almostinfamous ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 09:31 AM:

it's like fine literature, except run through a blender carelessly such that there are lumps that stick to your mouth when you try and gulp it down. and then you realize that it didn't even taste that good.

that's pretty much my da vinci code experience.


PS: props on the foucault's pendulum references

#70 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 09:38 AM:

My people! I have found you at last! (Huge hug for everyone)

There is an advantage, though, to having The DaVinci Code in your library. When your mother comes for a visit, and you are about to go screamingly loopy because all she can talk about are the harpies at her job and her favorite TV shows, you can bring up The DaVinci Code and have her kvell how marvelous, how well written, how interesting it is. Is she wrong? OF COURSE she is, but she's also wrong about her co-workers and her damn TV shows, but at least she's saying something POSITIVE.

My personal favorite is when the "renowned curator" is dying, and he's writing all these anagrams in his blood, and WALKING AROUND the museum to leave them all, and then, just as you think he's finally going to expire from shock and blood loss, decides to strip naked and contort himself into yet another "clue."

I said to husband, "I just want you to know if I'm ever gut-shot, I'm planning on screaming, "Oww!" and expiring immediately."

It's so bad, I'm in love. I put this with my other MST3K obsessions: Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee, and Colleen McCullough's series about the Roman Empire. Comedy GOLD, people!

#71 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 09:48 AM:

There is an inherent difficulty with Ancient Mystery Revealed! yarns, in that we are generally asked to accept that the clues have been lying around in more-or-less plain sight for centuries or millennia, and our characters have to put them together, run away from the bad guys, and blow a great many things up, all in under two hours of screen time.

Did you see National Treasure? I thought that was a rather well-done example of AMR! myself, in that there was a reason for Our Heroes to be able to put things together that no one else had been able to work out so far.

if The Da Vinci Code gets millions of people to read, including those who normally don't, is that at least somewhat a good thing? even if the book is not just terribly written, but misleading as well?

About the time DVC was really big, I read a comment somewhere to the effect of:
"The thing about that book is that people hear about it, and read it. They discover that reading is a pleasurable activity, but, having little to compare to, they impute this pleasure to that particular book, rather than reading in general. They start telling people how great DVC was, more people read it, and the cycle continues." So, no, I'm not convinced that DVC is going to do anything but (possibly) convincing people to read more of Dan Brown's books.

What puzzles me are the otherwise well-read friends of mine who also think DVC is the best thing since sliced bread*--I wouldn't have read it at all were it not for one such. He went on and on about it, so I read it.

It was like cotton candy: Mildly pleasant providing one turned off all one's quality filters** while consuming it, but liable to make one slightly ill afterwards.

*What's supposed to be so great about sliced bread, anyway?
**As opposed to, e.g. Xena Warrior Princess or The Mummy, which require the installation of the "same names" filter for me.

PS If this for some reason posts twice, someone please delete the duplicate.

#72 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:24 AM:

ajay: many giggles.

Way upthread:

There [were] groups that thought the YHWH of the old testament was an evil god and Jesus came to save us from Him.

Satan. It was Satan (or Lucifer, if you prefer) who came to save us from YHVH.

That's what I got from reading the Nag Hammadi texts - well, technically, it was the serpent, not necessarily identified as Satan, who came to liberate Eve and Adam from Eden, and explain to them that YHVH was not the only, or the first, or even the most powerful deity. Good stuff.

#73 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:26 AM:

I realize, of course, that it's entering into a sticky issue, but I contend it's *not* at least somewhat good "The DaVinci Code" has gotten people to read. Largely, it's convinced them to read "The DaVinci Code" and, perhaps, "Angels & Demons" and "Digital Fortress".
It hasn't gotten people to read "The Great Gatsby," or "Catcher in the Rye," or "Foucalt's Pendulum." It hasn't gotten them to read "The Time-Traveler's Wife," or "The Lovely Bones."

Just because people are reading doesn't mean they're reading anything *good*. And yes, I'll argue that I think it's more valuable to read certain books than others.

This is part of the problem with majority rule. I once read P.J. O'Rourke state that, by majority rule, we'd all eat pizza every night and be married to Mel Gibson. Tongue in cheek, of course, but also somewhat true; pizza's a safe alternative, (most) people like it, etc. But just because it's cheese and tomato sauce and dough does not a balanced diet make.

(this is not to argue that what is popular can't be good. If everyone were reading "Night Shift" or "Different Seasons", I'd be far happier)

#74 ::: Lucian Lamely ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:29 AM:

Sane hen edits eel yarn
Keen Chaplin edits yarn
Mind cold jam
Tricky Zen mule
Botanic Salk
Classier short
Pathetic shorthorn
Enamel dock
chord zeal
Hardy hart vault

#75 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:30 AM:

The great thing about sliced bread, of course, is that it's already sliced! The slices are nice and uniform and fit well into the toaster and make easy to hold sandwiches, and you don't have all those messy crumbs to clean up.

DVC is the only book a total stranger ever approached me and told me i had to read (at one of my daughter's soccer tournaments in Greensboro sometime in 2003). when i did read it, i had to keep reading to find out it it ever achieved any sort of redemption. It didn't, but as i recall, near the end, the main character walks out into the dusk and admires Venus's shining beauty high in the eastern sky.

You can't buy that kind of research anymore, can you?

#76 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:34 AM:

When I came to the line in tD'VC about how Leonardo invented public-key cryptography, I was tempted to throw the book across the room and thoroughly wash my hands. There must be some reason why I not only resisted the temptation but continued to read the book through to the saccharine end...what was it?

#77 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:36 AM:

"When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." G.K.Chesterton (from memory).

I doubt if Eco's bitter. He already knew when he wrote FP that Holy Blood, Sweat and Tears had sold more than he would ever sell of anything, and he's hardly hurting on the film rights from Name of the Rose.

But it's a little scary, when you look at a train carriage full of people and think, there are probably at least ten people here who believe Dan Brown is a scholar.

#78 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:40 AM:

Speaking of "Catcher in the Rye," I reread that as a 35-year-old and it was a totally different experience from reading it as a 16-year-old.

My sympathy and identification was with all the people that Holden Caulfield bashes into and dents.

I think that it's also possibly the source of an entire generation or two of really annoying narrators.

#79 ::: Captain Slack ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:41 AM:

It's actually Huge Berserk Rebel Warthog.

#80 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:48 AM:

"at least it gets non-readers to read" is valuable to the degree that the book is either worthwhile in itself, or that it prompts the reader to continue reading additional things. I am prepared to believe that some fraction of young Harry Potter readers get sufficiently jonesing waiting for their next fix that they might try reading something else with wizards in it. Try as I might, though, I can't imagine anyone's reading fires being stoked by Dan Brown.

People read it because it's Officially Approved as Safe. Their friends have all read it, it won't confuse them, lots of stuff happens, it's just controversial enough to feel Smart, and in general it flatters their intelligence all to hell. Symbolism! Just *mentioning* symbolism is deep thinking, in the same way that hiding a cross in a painting makes it more important.

I read it way long ago before it was famous, or I had heard a single word about it from another source. It was a gift from someone who I think had thought it looked interesting in the store. Gah. It has not one but two characters who enjoy trading indigestible page-long soliloquies, and is full of people who think symbolism is the deepest form of thought.

#81 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:50 AM:

The great thing about sliced bread, of course, is that it's already sliced! The slices are nice and uniform and fit well into the toaster and make easy to hold sandwiches, and you don't have all those messy crumbs to clean up.

Well, yeah, but why is sliced bread the benchmark, as opposed to the Hope Diamond, or penicillin, or something? I mean, sliced bread is great and all, but I can think of a whole lot of things that are greater, just off the top of my head--and many of them have happened since the introduction of sliced bread, too.

#82 ::: Laina ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:52 AM:

I have a small flyer about the Astronomical Gnomon in the Church of Saint-Sulpice. It contains these sentences.

"It has never been called a "Rose Line"

"It is not a vestige of an ancient pagan temple. No such edifice ever existed on this site."

It has never been used to define a "prime meridian", a role now played by the Greenwich meridian...."

When I was in Paris this summer, our tour guide kept mentioning that there were tours that just did the DiVinci Code sights. I did read the book, just because so many other people were reading it. What I remember is how it paused at the strangest moments for long explanations. I have very high standards for conspiracy theories - it didn't come close to meeting them.

#83 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:07 AM:

1. Jim Kiley wrote:

"George Herbert Walker Bush" is an anagram of "Insane Berserk Rebel Warthog." I do not believe this to be a coincidence.

Hahahahahahahahhahahaaaaaahahahaha! For some reason that just killed me.

2. Chryss wrote:

When your mother comes for a visit, and you are about to go screamingly loopy because all she can talk about are the harpies at her job and her favorite TV shows, you can bring up The DaVinci Code and have her kvell how marvelous, how well written, how interesting it is. Is she wrong? OF COURSE she is, but she's also wrong about her co-workers and her damn TV shows, but at least she's saying something POSITIVE."

Great tip!!! Just in time for Christmas!!! Has it occurred to you that there might be a book in there somewhere? Sort of an anti- Martha Stuart Holiday thing, e.g:

Ch. 1 - Drugging the Egg-nogg -- Pros & Cons
Ch. 2 - Training the Dogs to Bite When Drunken Guests Grab Your [Wife's] Ass.
...

3. My $0.02 on TDVC:

To truly appreciate TDVC, you should listen to the audio book version. The guy who did the reading affects French and British accents so ridiculous that you won't notice any shortcomings of the prose & plot.

God, I love this site.

#84 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:11 AM:

I managed to hold off on buying a copy of DVC for my mother until she heard enough about it to stop wanting it. (A lame-ish cable TV show on Leonardo helped with that.)

I have to get offline now and get some work done, so can't go back and find the link, but there was a story today about Dutch researchers "decoding" La Gioconda's smile -- 83% happy, etc. They weren't really serious, and it's an entertaining item. I found it on SFGate (where Jon Carroll also has a good column about "X," including "Xmas").

Oh, but wait.... I simply must add that my first novel The Illusionists (published ages ago, sank like a stone) has a character named Leodvin. Sounds kinda Anglo-Saxon, but I think you can guess where I really got it.

#85 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:25 AM:

Sandy: Your quotations from the text made me laugh out loud. Thank you. I may have to read the book if it's that funny.

N! N! (Fingers crossed in air, backing away in horror from the screen.) Gt th bhnd m, Stn!

#86 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:26 AM:

Great tip!!! Just in time for Christmas!!! Has it occurred to you that there might be a book in there somewhere? Sort of an anti- Martha Stuart Holiday thing, e.g

You need to get ahold of "Mastering the Universe" currently being broadcast on Radio 4 (and the penultimate episode (all standalone)) should still be on Listen Again.

#87 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:28 AM:

I think that for many people, entertainment of any kind is primarily social. I mean, that's why we have fandom, right? And for the people who don't have fandom--maybe we at least have a friend we can squee with about Serenity, or Lord of the Rings, or whatnot. Or a friend we can press books upon, and have books pressed upon us by. And--sometimes it feels like half the point of the book, or the movie, is to be able to squee about it later.

So--I think perhaps for many people, there isn't much point in reading a book unless reading can be in some sense a social experience. And unless you're in a few contexts where reading books is the Done Thing--Making Light, library school, Livejournal among them--then there really aren't very many books that you can talk with your friends about, because your friends haven't read them. And the quality of the book is made almost irrelevant...

#88 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:31 AM:

Carrie:

i always assumed it was because sliced bread made everybody's life a little bit easier, expecially working people.

this site claims that sliced bread came into being in the late 20s in the mid-west US, a time of change in American culture. Wikipedia claims the phrase is an outgrowth of an early Wonder Bread advertising campaign, which makes a certain amount of intuitive sense, even without research.

The late, lamented Random House Word of the Day, never got around to that phrase, although they did have a wonderful discussion of the New York colloquialism sliding pond. Cecil doesn't have anything on "sliced bread" either.

It seems that current usage is more sarcastic than the original earnest use of the phrase.

#89 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:37 AM:

Lloyd, `last month'? Last *year*. This has been a minor bugbear of Geoff's for a while; he's even written a chapter in a book on _Angels and Demons_, specifically about the flaws in the book.

(Alas, I can't read it because I don't want to waste money on all those other chapters I won`t care a damn about.)

Geoff Pullum: the archetypal Angry Grammarian. :)

#90 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:45 AM:

it won't confuse them

Oh, to have your faith in humanity....

I actually know someone who was confused by it. Of course, she also found Coraline confusing, and couldn't understand how the door in Howl's Moving Castle could possibly connect with part of our world, no matter how many times you tried to explain that it was magic.

My own lingering impression of The Da Vinci Code, actually, was that it was a member of that class of fanfic where the author has a basic grasp of grammar and nothing else, and where you feel they're jumping up and down waving their hands screaming, "Look at me! Look at me! I can do research!!" regardless of the quality of that research. The type who'd throw in a Babelfish translation and assume it a) made them look smarter, and b) actually made sense in the target language.

I particularly hated the way someone would use a word, and then there'd be something like, "...and he knew, because the root of XXX came from the ancient Whatever word for YYY, that what the person was actually saying was...." Yes, because everyone knows and uses words based on their historical meaning rather than what they mean now, and expects their listener to do the same. On Making Light, I could see it; in DVC, not so much.

I still haven't forgiven my father (who gave me his copy, as he often does with books he's finished, not being much of a re-reader) for not telling me how bad the book was until after I'd read it--"Yeah, I thought so too; I just wanted to see if you would feel the same."

#91 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:46 AM:

Lizzie: no, nay, never! Do not open the Brownomicon and blame it on me!

I'm trying to think how to put this.

If someone tells you the movie "Anaconda", it seems like the kind of thing you could spend 90 happy minutes MST3K'ing. "The anaconda pukes someone up! On someone else! And there's the part where it's swimming around and you can see the person it just ate inside them! And they cruise through the jungle like they're on jets! These snakes strike from, like, fifty feet away!"

If you actually WATCH "Anaconda", you will get no enjoyment from these events. It has all the ingredients to be an excellent bad movie, but the cook screwed it up. It's just. . .bad.

Angels and Demons may sound like a good time, but it is not.

#92 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:55 AM:

I read the book as an exercise in "Okay, I'd like to be a very popular novelist, so what in this book do I think has resulted in it being on the bestseller list for half a decade or so?"

I did finish it, though I didn't really enjoy it a whole bunch. And yeah, it was pretty stupid in a lot of ways. I did, however, feel like I took away some useful thoughts, at least for my own writing. The short versions of what I remember are:

1) The average reader doesn't care about cheap author tricks. Dan Brown would do those awful things where you're in somebody's head and they'd see something horrifying, and then they'd talk about how horrifying it was for six pages without telling you what it was, and then they'd do a scene-cut. Blatant POV violation, but the average reader just went, "Oooooh! Suspense!" So I'm not going to worry quite as much as I used to about keeping my point of view sacred.

2) The average reader doesn't really care how you infodump. Apparently the average reader is just fine with having the main character be in the middle of a frantic chase scene and then flash back to a course he taught several years ago on art history -- and then give you that scene complete with dialogue from students he was teaching, only to then flash back to the chase scene with a muttered, "Damn it, man, focus on the present! There's no time to recollect!" And there, you've just infodumped, and you didn't have to try real hard to integrate it seamlessly into the present.

3) The average reader likes to THINK of themselves as cultured and open to new things, but really wants to feel comfortable. Take away the trappings of the cool gadgets and pseudoscience, and what you have is a by-the-numbers thriller with a by-the-numbers plot and by-the-numbers outlandish characters. This, for me, was the most valuable lesson -- if I decide to break some rules and write something weird and different, I'm going to try to make the weird and different be the setting or the philosophizing or whatever. I'm going to keep my plots nice and accessible.

I emphasize that I didn't actually enjoy the book, that I alternated between bemusement and annoyance for a lot of it, and that I read it because it had been on the bestseller list for-freaking-ever, and regardless of how much I might turn up my nose at it, there's got to be something useful to learn there for anyone who wants to be a popular author. (Which is not to say that everyone should want to be a popular author, or that being a popular author requires being exactly like Dan Brown. But he evidently did some things right, given his sales figures.)

#93 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:58 AM:

Sandy: What about the part where the Anaconda coils around that dude and then bites down on the helpless dude's head and SNAPS HIS NECK? C'mon. That part was awesome. Watching an Anaconda neck-snap somebody like the ex-Navy Seal protagonist of a mass-market action thriller is worth the price of admission all by itself.

#94 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:59 AM:

Thank you all for confirming my suspicion that TDVC isn't worth wasting time perhaps better spent by re-reading Cryptonomicon.

Michael Crichton ... eeeeeeek. My experience with him ended when the 9-year-old girl in Jurassic Park exclaims, "Oh, this is UNIX! I know this!" I threw the book across the room and that was that. :P

#95 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:02 PM:

"the main character walks out into the dusk and admires Venus's shining beauty high in the eastern sky."

He fell victim to one of the classic blunders! Got him with the old "Earth revolving the wrong way" trick. Huh - haven't got anyone with that since Larry Niven back in the seventies.

On the writing style, I have heard people in the publishing industry say that while he is a dreadful writer and ignorant to boot, he is good at structure; i.e. DVC is an almost textbook example of how to structure a novel of suspense in terms of where you introduce a new plot detail, when you have action, when you have exposition and so forth. Anyone want to comment?

#96 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:10 PM:

I agree with the recommendation of _The Rule of Four_ as a not-agonizing substitute for the Odd Cheat. And if you like _The Rule of Four_ and don't feel like reading _Hypner... spelling ... Poliphilii_, I recommend _The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance_, Joscelyn Godwin, which is dreamy. Make space in your garden first...

The only thing that really annoyed me about _The Rule of Four_ is that it seemed much more fascinated with Being Erudite than with the actual subject of erudition, but that can also be thought of as a natural flaw of the annoying protagonists. It's sort of _The Secret History_, with even better real-estate.

My favorite Dan Brown idiocy is at the end of _Digital Fortress_ (I skimmed!), when a roomful of cryptanalysts describe a letter sequence starting 'quis' as "a bunch of random letters". Ohhhhh, yeah.

#97 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:16 PM:

I just want to add that "Ace Dindon Lavoir" sounds like the name of someone who played for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1930s. If I ever write a story where such a character is needed, I shall have to use it. ;)

#98 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:22 PM:

New Scientist a while back had a bit about Dan Brown and antimatter. Apart from how many years of USA GNP it would take to produce that much antimatter, there was the question of just how easy it would be to smuggle it anywhere in a sodding enormous magnetic confinement device at superconducting temperatures.

#99 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:25 PM:

Cryptonomicon does manage to come up with a novel cypher using a deck of cards. Better than that though is the protagonist's complaint of "you want to 'send me a message' ? I do have email"

#100 ::: Dave Levin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:28 PM:

In French anagrams, would an "e" with an accent aigu be considered distinct from an unadorned "e" (or from an "e" carrying a different mark)? I could see not wanting to deal with that in an emergency.

#101 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:33 PM:

Yeah, well, Stephenson did it the right way and got a real cryptographer (Bruce Schneier) to produce Solitaire, then renamed it and used it in the book.

#102 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:34 PM:

And Mr. Brown laughs all the way to the bank! Especially since the Catholic Church has put together a team to debunk him...which will make him all the richer from all the idiots that will run to read him because they are certain the Church is up to something. At least, that's what I heard...
I remember watching an interview with the guy where he slyly referred to "making the fictional facts meld seamlessly with the truth". The problem is, IMO, that HE didn't know which was which himself!

#103 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:42 PM:

Emily H.'s point about reading as a social exercise is well made; hell, it's the only reason I'm still reading The Tale of Genji (skank! Sorry, it's become a reflex by now.).

#104 ::: Emma Bull ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:45 PM:

Re the Addendum: Dear me. I think I'd rather appear in the first two pages of a Destroyer novel.

#105 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:06 PM:

*Foucalt's Pendulum* a bad book? It's one of my favourite books of all time. Also, Eco got immensely wealthy on his fiction (I suspect more than Dan Brown), gets to happily buy all the antique books he covets, and generally has to be dragged with promises and adulation to write more fiction for his publisher because he'd rather just teach and read. And yes, he gets enormous fun out of mocking conspiracy theories, millenarists, and generally mystics of all kinds, though he loves to study all these sort of things. The Name of The Rose actually had all sorts of traditionalists and strict Catholics terribly mad at him. So he thought he'd be a tad more explicit in F'sP.

The POD publisher is not seen as terribly evil, just very despicable. He published a non-fiction essay about real vanity press in Italy long before the book, and it was hugely entertaining, while managing to be genuinely sympathetic to the authors.

He is also a confirmed, thorough, uncompromising atheist.

And the painting is called either Monna Lisa or La Gioconda pretty interchangably in Italy, but never Mona Lisa, which means "Pussy Lisa" and would have people cackling at you.

#106 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:07 PM:

One of my friends thought the symbolism in TDVC was truly hot stuff, until I walked him through the actual symbolism in actual medieval paintings of the Annunciation as an example of the real thing. "See the tapestry of a walled garden behind her? See the light shining through that clear glass vessel in the window? See the unstained white cloth? See how she's dressed in blue? See how she stands on a floor tile depicting March, and Gabriel's standing on December? See Joseph making a mousetrap in the other room? All of those mean something."

It's sad when TDVC's fiction doesn't come close to the richness of the real thing.

#107 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:14 PM:

"I read the book as an exercise in 'Okay, I'd like to be a very popular novelist, so what in this book do I think has resulted in it [sic]being on the bestseller list for half a decade or so?'"

This was exactly the same reason I picked it up, and I think, as another writer whose goal is succes which is, among other things, commercial, Brown and his book offer interesting areas of contemplation.

For example: Yes, Brown's publisher has printed and sold a bazillion copies of the novel. If his name isn't household-level, certainly the novel is.
But it's terrible. It's just dreck, plain and simple. For all the reasons already mentioned in this thread and probably a thousand others.
So Brown has probably, with just this one book, made enough on which to retire. He never has to write again. Millions of people are reading it, and, as you noted, he's been on the Best-Seller's list for ages.
Personally, I wouldn't be happy to retire on a terrible book. No matter how much money I made from it, I wouldn't be happy about having written a bad book.

It's funny; all that used to be my goal. That Entrekin would be a household name, and that my book would find that amount of success.
Is it really worth it, though, if you're producing dumbass fiction like "The DaVinci Code"? If your readers like your story because they're not intelligent enough to know any better?

I'm glad the book taught you it's okay to break rules (it is. You just have to know them beforehand, and then break them *well*).
As for "average readers"... you're a writer. You shouldn't *be* an average reader.
And, as a writer, you should be writing for yourself *first*. Else, where's the fun?

Did Brown do something right to sell as well as his book did? Perhaps. But also consider his publisher sent out thousands of ARCs, and had full page ads, and etc. There was a huge push.
Which even then doesn't necessarily a commercially successful book make. There was another book published that same day, "Tropic of Night," by Michael Gruber (who was a ghostwriter and a bestseller many times over under someone else's name): it's far, far better than "The DaVinci Code" in many, many ways. It's smart and literate, and you can learn as much, if not more, about structure from it as you can from "Code".

#108 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:16 PM:

Slipped by Aconite, and doubleposting to request that she (he?) please, please elaborate on her/his post.

#109 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:20 PM:

Kate Nepveu: I thought for a second that you were dissing The Tale of Genji, which I would have to take issue with, because it's one of my favorites, but it seems like you're not, so okay.

#110 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:33 PM:

All right, could we please stop throwing books across the room, even if we don't like them? Acts of violence against books disturb me.

Colleen McCullough's series about the Roman Empire. Comedy GOLD, people!

Hey, now. At least the appendix to the first book gives a good overview of a lot of those tricky Roman political thingummies. And the later stuff gets more treacly because of her premature deification of Julius Caesar (he becomes "Divus Julius" after he dies, ma'am), but at least the first book demystifies the Romans of the Republic, who were not lofty toga-clad demigods striding through marble halls.

Oh, okay, the prose is overwrought and often stupid. I've made fun of it myself. But it's the Internets(TM); it's mandatory that someone take a contrary position.

the zeppelin, with its precious cargo of ancient Atlantean julienne slicers, bearing down on the Syracusan Duomo* as its Archimedian solar death mirrors rise from their crypts, click into place, and prepare for zep ignition

Mr. Ford, could you please write this story? I would pay you thousands of dollars for it.* If you could somehow make it a sequel to The Last Hot Time, that would be even better. Thanks in advance!

*DISCLAIMER: This should not be construed as an actual offer to pay thousands of dollars. Void in the United States and its Territories, with the exception of Guam. Void in Guam.

#111 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:38 PM:

Will Entrekin: Any good book on medieval art will do a better job of this than I will, but briefly:

A enclosed garden is symbolic of female virginity. Sometimes Mary is shown in a garden, and sometimes there's a tapestry of one in the room--a symbol of a symbol, which tickles me.

Light passing through a glass vessel symbolizes both the immaculate conception and the birth of Jesus, as light passes through but does not break glass.

The unstained white cloth is female virginity again, and also reflects the belief that Mary was without original sin (as her parents did not sin in conceiving her).

Blue is the color of heaven; one of Mary's titles is Queen of Heaven.

Re: the floor tiles: Mary stands on March, which is when the Annunciation is happening (March 25, nine months before Christmas, and what used to be the date the new year began); Gabriel stands on December, the month of the event he's describing (the birth of Jesus).

Joseph making a mousetrap is symbolic of what God is doing, namely, making a trap (in the form of Jesus) for the Devil.

There's oodles and oodles more, and I'm describing even this little bit crudely. I urge you to get a good book by someone who can write properly.

#112 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:41 PM:

As for the book's success, there are a lot of bestsellers that seem to get by on being a kind of Splenda-dusted nonfiction. Arthur Hailey stumbled into this formula with Hotel and refined it with Airport, and for the rest of his career the infodumps got denser as the characters went transparent. Michener's done much the same thing with history -- Centennial, Poland, and the like.

I think one reason is that a lot of affluent people feel a bit guilty about reading fiction. [...]

In a slightly less cynical mood -- I suspect there are also a lot of people who might like to know more about, say, Polish history, but are afraid an actual (non-fiction) book on the subject would be, well, boring, like those history textbooks they vaguely remember from school.

#113 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:44 PM:

off the top of my head, memories of art history/appreciation:

small dog: fidelity
candle, just extinguished (smoke still rising): the Incarnation
unicorn: purity, chastity, or virginity (take your pick)
pattens or shoes on floor (not on feet): 'take off your shoes, for this is holy ground'

#114 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:51 PM:

This thread is rolling by at tremendous speed-- it's risky to attempt to leap aboard.

A long time ago, now, Xopher wrote:

Can anyone who isn't an art historian or museum employee etc. even name a SINGLE curator? Of anything?

[subsequent disclaimers of "rhetoricalness" omitted, in order to point out:]

Brother Guy Consolmagno, whom many here have met, is a curator. Of a meteorite collection. At--

wait for it!

--the Vatican Observatory.

(As someone who does a lot of public speaking, he gets this Da Vinci Code stuff all the time.)

#115 ::: Jeff R. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Incidentally, the "Insane" probably slipped in through Ronald Wilson Reagan's anaram, "Insane Anglo Warlord"

#116 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:02 PM:

Laura Roberts, is it okay if I diss Genji himself? => (Because, skank!)

mds: I have never thrown a book across the room. I probably never will. But occasionally my hands just *twitch* of their own volition, wanting mightly to get this *thing* as far away from them as possible . . . so I understand the impulse.

#117 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:15 PM:

Kate: Genji is absolutely shameless. He is so shameless that I wonder if his behavior was considered to be socially acceptable. Does anybody in the book ever criticize him?

Reading Genji, for me, is like reading science fiction. It depicts an alien culture (where skank=perfection.)

#118 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:22 PM:

I think Genji's father, or emperor, or both, criticize him in a dream, but women seem to universally swoon. Which is why he's such a *successful* Shining Prince...skank.

#119 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:23 PM:

Aconite concluded a thumbnail course in the symbolic language of paintings with these words:

I urge you to get a good book by someone who can write properly.

Even yanked from context, this strikes me as pretty good advice.

#120 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:25 PM:

I have never thrown a book across the room.

An academic at a conference I was at in the summer described throwing Paul Veyne's 'Did The Greeks Believe In Their Myths?'[*] across the room, watching as it disintegrated, and then gazing at its "bare, ruined quires". The pun almost made up for the image.

[*] Mike Ford mentioned this on another thread. It's a really good book, if you like that sort of thing.

"making the fictional facts meld seamlessly with the truth"

The BBC did a programme - hosted by Tony Robinson - which basically demonstrated how far the whole thing was nonsense and *also* how far Dan Brown was going in public in claiming that it was true. This took up about two and a half hours of publicly-funded programming and aired at prime time on a free-to-air channel (well, BBC2). Now that's what I call a public service commitment.

As for easy reads: I read Robert Harris' Enigma and found it was an incredibly compelling read as long as I didn't put it down to do something else. Once I did that I had no recollection of where in the plot I was or who the characters were or whether it was even well-written. I still can't remember these things. It was as though the pages were coated with sugar or worse.

But I suspect Harris writes a lot better than Brown, and gets the research mostly right too.

I have been in a stable Methodist relationship

I hope it isn't some of that crystal Methodism.

#121 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:26 PM:

Kate: Genji is absolutely shameless. He is so shameless that I wonder if his behavior was considered to be socially acceptable. Does anybody in the book ever criticize him?

There are a few episodes of him being disgraced, but they're due to the machinations of Bad People. In general, he's utter perfection.

Reading Genji, for me, is like reading science fiction. It depicts an alien culture (where skank=perfection.)

I do Heian-era garb in the SCA on occasion, and the hardest thing about it is remembering how to move--it's a lot different from the way you'd move even in medieval Western clothing.

#122 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:30 PM:

Did anyone else see Tony "Baldrick" Robinson's Channel 4 documentary "The Real DaVinci Code"? The History Channel in Canada broadcast it in the past year or so, but it may not have hit the States yet. He targeted both Brown and the Holy Blood, Holy Grail crew on their claims. Effin' brilliant.

#123 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:30 PM:

mds,

Some books just deserve to be thrown across the room. I've only done it once myself, but I believe I was fully justified.

No book should treat a reader in such a rude and abusive manner and not expect some sort of retaliation.

#124 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:41 PM:

clew said: I think Genji's father, or emperor, or both, criticize him in a dream

I remember something like that. But it wasn't a criticism of his womanizing ways, was it? (Don't think his father was aware that Genji had sex with one of his [Genji's father's] wives . . .)

Carrie S: that's cool. How many layers do you wear?

#125 ::: Merideth ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 02:55 PM:

I read tDvC on the recommendation of my foster sister, who said it was the best book she had ever read in her life, and I had to read it RIGHT NOW.

It was awful. And I never really questioned Brown's scholarship. Once I got to the part about Walt Disney sneaking secret pro-"Divine Feminine" messages into his films, I just assumed he was making it all up. Whole thing makes a lot more sense that way.

I think it's a rotten book because 1) The main character is a total Mary Sue, 2) the plot was so hackneyed -- in an "One (good looking) man against the evildoers" sense 3) the female character didn't act, talk or look like any woman I've ever met.

On an unrelated note, I can tell you that kids who are big Harry Potter fans do indeed come to the library and look for books like HP. Or at least their parents do. Whether the kids actually read the books, I couldn't say.

#126 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:12 PM:

Laura Roberts: Genji is absolutely shameless. He is so shameless that I wonder if his behavior was considered to be socially acceptable. Does anybody in the book ever criticize him?

Yes. The main one, at least through chapter 11, is that everyone thinks he's an utter skank for wanting to steal away Murasaki, the prevailing attitude being, "Dude, come back when she's hit *puberty*!"

Of course he does it anyway.

*suppresses long rant on Murasaki's treatment at the hands of Genji through chapter 11, since I've posted it all before on LiveJournal*

Carrie S., one of the members of the loose _Genji_ reading group has designated "G=P" to represent all those many occasions where someone goes on at length about how perfect Genji is. When you need such an abbrevation, well.

#127 ::: Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:13 PM:

Xopher wrote:
This is MakingLight, so I should probably specify that yes, that was rhetorical and yes, I'm sure you can each name five curators right off the top because you memorize the curator's name(s) on every museum exhibit you go to, which runs to a lot of memory because of course you go to the museum every day on your lunch hour, and no, I wish you wouldn't. You all intimidate the HELL out of me, you know that?
Thank you for saying it. :)

Michelle K:
No book should treat a reader in such a rude and abusive manner and not expect some sort of retaliation.
Precisely!

#128 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:20 PM:

I just recently re-read The Da Vinci Code, because even though it's terribly written and frequently stupid, it's exactly the kind of mindless distracting pap one wants to read while gerbil-wheeling at the gym.

I agree that one thing Brown did get right was the structure of a thriller-suspense type novel. It's the whole cliche of the "breakneck pace" - little mini-cliffhangers at the end of every short chapter, followed by a switch to another setting and POV entirely, and so forth, is a perfect design to keep the reader tearing through pages to find out what the hell had just happened.

It's a very similar formula (and I recognize that not many would find this a compliment) to how your basic episode of hour-long television drama is constructed: the story is designed to ramp up at the end of every segment to keep the audience agog (i.e. not changing the channel) through the commercials, and then coming back to relieve you of the suspense, ah. And then ramp back up, up, hold for commercials, strain, hold, then ah, back down.

I think of it as the Clench/Release Theory of storytelling.

I may have wandered off track there, somewhere. Um.

I will say that I am terribly, morbidly curious to see the movie adaptation of this thing. Maybe it will finally prove (or disprove) the urban myth that good movies can be made from bad novels.

#129 ::: Abigail ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:24 PM:

When I first saw the topic of this post, I assumed it was in response to the upcoming film, and I'm surprised that no one has brought up the new trailer. Be honest - isn't Tom Hanks' haircut the scariest and most unintentionally hilarious thing you've ever seen? He looks like a cross between a serial killer, a rock star, and Randal Flagg.

#130 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:27 PM:

Will Entrekin wrote:

"But it's terrible. It's just dreck, plain and simple. For all the reasons already mentioned in this thread and probably a thousand others."

I am in no way debating that point.

"Personally, I wouldn't be happy to retire on a terrible book. No matter how much money I made from it, I wouldn't be happy about having written a bad book."

...and:

"As for "average readers"... you're a writer. You shouldn't *be* an average reader.
And, as a writer, you should be writing for yourself *first*. Else, where's the fun?"

That's a tad condescending, and you seem to have inferred somehow, despite the multiple caveats I put into my post, that I really really loved the book and think it's a valuable primer for how to write a blockbuster, and that I want to write exactly like Dan Brown.

I don't.

However, I think that it's a bit silly to say that it has no redeeming value whatsoever, and that even people who want to write GOOD books shouldn't take a look at it and try to figure out what made it so popular.

And gosh, I should have known that trying to point out some of the things I found interesting -- not even the plot, which was formulaic with a bit of new paint, but the style in which he wrote -- would get me branded as a shameless hack who just wants to write crappy books and retire. That's not what I wrote, and I believe that a careful reading of my post would bear that out.

I'm *not* an average reader. I was so bored with the plot by a third of the way through that I was analyzing his scene composition and information-delivery style to see how he did what he did. An average reader at my level of enjoyment would have put the book down -- except that the average reader really loved this book, and told his or her friends to read it.

You're not obliged to like the book, and I certainly didn't, but if you don't think you can learn anything from a book that's sold as well as this one has, then what you perceive as your own high standards are working against you here.

"Did Brown do something right to sell as well as his book did? Perhaps. But also consider his publisher sent out thousands of ARCs, and had full page ads, and etc. There was a huge push."

Not sure what the point is, here. Yeah, any book I sell might or might not have that kind of backing. That's not something I can control. What I can control is how I write my book. In fact, that's about the only thing I've got full control over.

"...it's far, far better than "The DaVinci Code" in many, many ways. It's smart and literate, and you can learn as much, if not more, about structure from it as you can from "Code"."

Much as I appreciate you offering me a reading list, you err in assuming that the only book I've ever read to learn style is "The DaVinci Code". In fact, barring a few guilty pleasures, most of what I read these days is stuff I'm looking at for style and structure. If I happen to enjoy the book, that's a big plus. I didn't enjoy this one, but again, it's been on the bestseller lists forever. It seemed worth getting through to try to figure out what gave it such great word-of mouth.

Incidentally, how many weeks did "Tropic of Night" spend on the bestseller lists?

Again, to rererereiterate: I'm not in favor of writing bad books. I am in favor of looking at popular books to see if I can write a popular book of my own, preferably a very good one. There's a subtle difference there.

Also, I'm by no means certain that POV-cheats, infodumps, and flashy macguffins overlaying a formulaic plot are WHY the book was so successful. It could be that it's popular DESPITE those features. I had hoped those might be ideas worth discussing, instead of just assuming that I was praising Dan Brown and posting my stated desire to be just like him.

#131 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:27 PM:

Also, IIRC, Genji is not supposed to spend even as much time being a skank as he does... he's supposed to be even cooler and more detached. (Nearly unimaginable.)

Kate Nepveu, what an excellent Genji-gossip site. Staying completely off-topic, Ann Hollander has a couple of books - esp. _The Suit_, I think - which support Western Industrial Culture exceptionalism by saying that the West was inspired to innovations in trade and production because we invented fashion. She's an insightful writer if you can stay in blinkers that big, but I just can't get past that argument without thinking of Heian robes.

#132 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:41 PM:

Leigh Butler wrote:
"I agree that one thing Brown did get right was the structure of a thriller-suspense type novel. It's the whole cliche of the "breakneck pace" - little mini-cliffhangers at the end of every short chapter, followed by a switch to another setting and POV entirely, and so forth, is a perfect design to keep the reader tearing through pages to find out what the hell had just happened.

It's also not all that different from Lester Dent's explanation of How to Write a 6000-word Pulp Fiction Story. Interested scholars of the thrller genre could probably point out that Fenimore Cooper does the much same thing, and manages to make Brown look like a good writer, but I'm not, so I won't.

#133 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:46 PM:

The Genji-Murasaki thing does start off pretty creepy. But personally, I can't think of him as a pedophile when he's continously chasing adult (and in quite a few cases, older) women. Maybe I'm just foolish enough to believe him when he says that what he and Murasaki have is special.

#134 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:54 PM:

Leigh: That's a great point with regard to structure. I was so busy noting that lousy ways in which he built suspense that I overlooked the fact that he was building suspense in the right places and at the right times, generally speaking. Worth thinking about.

#135 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:01 PM:

Carrie S: that's cool. How many layers do you wear?

A hitoe (unlined robe), for most of the year 5 lined robes, an overrobe, a "Chinese jacket" and a "Chinese skirt". I haven't finished embroidering my skirt (mo) yet, though, so I often leave it and the jacket (karaginu) off. This makes it the equivalent of business dress rather than formal, and technically I ought not go to court that way.

In the summer, one wears a hitoe and one unlined robe, both made of gauze--bodystockings are your friends in this case. :)

#136 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:07 PM:

I think the thing that made the book so successful was that it made the average reader feel smart to be thinking about a puzzle that seems hard (well, the hero has a hard time with it, so it must be hard) and to have it eventually work out all neat and nice. In contrast, I could make an argument that most "smart" books I read spend a lot of time trying to convince me the author is smarter than me. I can see why that would not generally sell well.

#137 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:20 PM:

James D. Macdonald wrote: See too my review of another book that relied on anagrams here: Light Hearted Friend.

The best rebuttal I've seen was in a letter to Harper's after they excerpted Wallace's book. See the Cecil Adams column.

#138 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:32 PM:

Teresa: I'm certainly glad I made your day, but consider it simple repayment for all the days MakingLight has made mine.

Aconite: Thank you much for the perfunctory lesson, and I'll certainly seek out further reading (I knew I should have studied art, rather than music, in college).

Patrick: Firstly, I apologize. If I came off as condescending in my previous comment to you, it's simply because it was a bit rushed and off the cuff.
I hadn't taken your post to mean that you enjoyed it. I read it as simply stating that you had read it to explore things like structure and plot in a popular, commercially successful novel.
Neither did I intend to imply I was branding you as "a shameless hack who just wants to write crappy books and retire. That's not what I wrote, and I believe a careful reading of my post would bear that out."

So, I apologize. My comment came off as more instigatory than I had intended, when in fact I meant it to convey a more... collegial tone. As I noted, I'm in a similar situation: a writer trying to write the best book he can and, ultimately, build a career around my writing.
What you inferred as a "reading list" was just another example, and not even really a recommendation. But if you were reading "The DaVinci Code" to examine its plot, style, and structure but disliked the story and novel itself, you might read "Tropic of Night" for the same reasons and enjoy it more. I hadn't assumed that the only book you'd read for style was Brown's.

To be honest, I haven't a clue how many weeks "Tropic of Night" spent on the Best-Seller list (although I believe it was in the top 12 bestselling books of 2004, overall), but I do know that it sold over 300,000 copies (hardcover and paperback). Perhaps not "DaVinci Code" numbers, but still pretty impressive. I'm impressed, anyway.

About high standards... I've certainly misrepresented myself if I've come off as having high standards. I don't. I love Stephen King. I love the Harry Potter books. I love fun books as much as I love books like, say "The Great Gatsby" (in fact, a general note, for everyone: I just picked up a book called "Lost Girls" by Andrew Pyper, I'm really, really enjoying. I'm only a hundred pages in, but I have high hopes. It's got a murder mystery, a young, impotent lawyer with a coke problem, and it seems like it's heading into ghost territory).

Anyway, Patrick, I can't stress enough that I had intended that post not as an attack but rather as further contemplation (one of my favorite quotes in reference to art and commercialism: Metallica, when they cut their hair and made a more mainstream, accessible album ["Load," which is my favorite Metallica album] said, "Yeah, we sold out. Every CD, every seat, every show, every time.")

#139 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 04:48 PM:

Re: Genji:

A tremendous amount of Heian-era court literature is similarly creepy, and behavior equally skanky is considered pretty much normal.

My least favorite example is from a story called Towazu-gatari, in which the Emperor's teenage bride is recruited to pick up the Emperor's half-sister to sleep with the Emperor, and the girl-bride has to listen to the whole thing. It really DOES seem like a kind of anthropological science fiction, so alien are the characters.

#140 ::: Rose White ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 05:04 PM:

On the subject of anagrams and religion, my husband's just posted the latest installment in his "Holy Tango Basement Tapes" -- they answer the question "What if songwriters wrote songs whose titles were anagrams of their names?" The new song is "Presbyterians" by Britney Spears, and I think it's quite likely to amuse a lot of folks here.

#141 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 05:04 PM:

Just how alien? well, Bujold didn't put it into Cetaganda.

#142 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 05:14 PM:

fidelio wrote:

It's also not all that different from Lester Dent's explanation of How to Write a 6000-word Pulp Fiction Story.

Heh. I would be tempted to say that Someone took a Screenwriting 101 class (or, alternately, studied Campbell and Aristotle), because all that is is a slightly mutated form of the Three Act Structure.

(One of my favorite ridiculous things I've learned in this industry: many creative execs in Hollywood are so firmly married to the Plot Points theory mentioned in that article that if a submitted screenplay doesn't reach Turning Point 1 by page 25, the readers are instructed to trash it, regardless of the quality of the writing up to that point. Gotta love it.)

#143 ::: Francis Heaney ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 05:49 PM:

I was going to bring up "Light-Hearted Friend" as an example of the absurdity of expecting a long anagram to yield a single answer without some other sort of corroboration, but I see someone else has already done so. (And I was one of the two authors of the letter to Harpers linked above, so thanks for the props, Dan.)

There was an MIT Mystery Hunt where a team who had never run a hunt before expected solvers to unscramble a ridiculously long anagram -- it was at least a full sentence, maybe even a paragraph. I can't remember anymore. Anyway, no one solved it, and had they actually tried test-solving it themselves before the Hunt, they would have known that would happen.

Also, since Rose linked to my anagram pop song above, perhaps it is not too off-topic for me to point you all to my book, which, even though it is entirely anagram-based, is not selling quite as many copies as The DaVinci Code. Go figure. I feel weird about self-promoting on a blog-that's-not-mine's comment thread, but I know y'all are a literary-pastiche-loving crowd, so I think you'll be into it -- and I'm braced to get slapped if you think mentioning it wasn't worth the pixels. Anyway, I'm giving the whole book away for free here, in a couple formats.

#144 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Leigh Butler writes:

Heh. I would be tempted to say that Someone took a Screenwriting 101 class (or, alternately, studied Campbell and Aristotle), because all that is is a slightly mutated form of the Three Act Structure.

Don't give in to that temptation. I doubt Lester Dent ever took a Screenwriting 101 class. He was too busy writing hundreds of novels.

I imagine the Three Act Structure does predate Dent, though, on the stage if not on the screen.

#145 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 06:19 PM:

Is it too late to trash Brown's accuracy here? In one of his books a character goes on about the word "sincere," which is supposed to be from "sin cere" (without wax) and to refer to a more authentic way of making marble statues, one that doesn't put wax over cracks or something. I thought this was one of the coolest things I'd ever heard, and I went around explaining this derivation to everyone who would listen. Then one day it occurred to me to check the Oxford English Dictionary, which said, "There is no probability in the old explanation 'without wax.'"

Dang. If you can't trust your potboiler bestseller for etymology, who can you trust?

#146 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 06:27 PM:

Bill Higgins says:

I imagine the Three Act Structure does predate Dent, though, on the stage if not on the screen.

Well, since its invention is generally credited to Aristotle, I would imagine so. *grin*

#147 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 06:30 PM:

All of Dan Brown's facts are true in an alternate universe. However, in that alternate universe, Dan Brown doesn't write books.

#148 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 06:43 PM:

I note that both Sherlock Holmes and Peter Wimsey manage to handle code-breaking without getting too unreal. Watson's account of the Dancing Men cipher holds up pretty well, although there are errors.* Similarly, Lord Peter is lucky that an example of the Playfair cipher included the word "Warsaw".**

It may be simplified, and it may be lucky, but it manages to feel like real cryptanalysis.

* Decribed in The Codebreakers by David Kahn.

** The Playfair*** cipher works on digraphs, each pair of letters defining the corners of a square on a grid-pattern, with the output being the letters at the other two corners. "Wa" and "aw" will generate the same two letters, such as "BY" and "YB", and you also get the "rs" set. But the guess at "Warsaw" depends on bad cryptography letting Lord Peter and Harriet guess at some of the plaintext.****

*** Invented by Wheatstone.

**** And they get a mention here. And apparently some reviewers thought the chapter "too complicated".*****

***** This is more likely to be too complicated.******

****** Seeing stars yet?

#149 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 07:37 PM:

It's a tough choice, but the low point of the Da Vinci Code just has to be the portrayal of Sir Leigh Teabing. At the outset Brown manages the quite difficult feat of finding a surname that has not only never existed in a thousand years of English surnames but appears unprecedented, even impossible, in any language. He then goes on, with the American tin ear for English status, to describe Teabing's home - "an exquisitely [well, that's just poor writing] adorned [ditto] drawing room, softly lit by tassel-draped Victorian lamps. The air inside smelt antediluvian [which Brown vaguely thinks means 'old' - Victorian, even], regal somehow, with traces of pipe tobacco, tea leaves, cooking sherry, and the earthen aroma of stone architecture. Against the far wall, flanked between two glistening suits of chain mail armour [incidentally, the preferred usage is 'chain mail'; mail armour' is redundant], was a rough-hewn fireplace large enough to roast an ox."
The crowning touch, though, has to be that 'cooking sherry'. Sir Leigh is a millionare, has pretensions to being an aristocrat, and he drinks COOKING SHERRY? There was once actually a kind of sherry that was labelled cooking sherry - it had salt in it, and the idea was to stop the servants glugging it down on the sly - but the term's now used to describe cheap sherry that's undrinkable except when masked by gravy. Not, on the whole, the preferred tipple of the upper crust.
It's all of a piece; Brown works on the basis of degraded memories of past stereotypes, conjuring a vague fog of associations that give a comforting background hum and the illusion of scenepainting.

#150 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 07:53 PM:

"The air inside smelt antediluvian."

Like a dinosaur had recently been sodomized there, perhaps.

Chris, that passage has convinced me to transfer my gift copy of TDVC from my "read queue" to my "donate to GoodWill" pile, ASAP.

Sheesh . . . ROUGH HEWN fireplace? Was it chipped out of a single piece of wood?

#151 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:33 PM:

Just today I happened to reread a blog entry of mine about throwing Angels & Demons against the wall.

The ambigrams are cool, though (I only got far enough into the book to have seen one.)

#152 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 09:13 PM:

An "antediluvian" smell would seem to me to be likely to be one of damp and mold, mixed; something like a flooded basement.

It is an interesting thought experiment to consider how DVC would sell if it had been positioned as "alternate history". My gut feeling is that it would have bombed, because what appeals to most of the readership is the sense that they're finding out esoteric facts about the real world, mixed with a trace of anti-Catholic prejudice, along the lines of the readers of Maria Monk. (How well would the novel be received if the Catholics were replaced by the Jews?) This makes Brown's insistence that his farrago of nonsense about the Merovingians, Opus Dei, and Da Vinci is based in fact all the more upsetting.

#153 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 09:42 PM:

I read that the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail were suing for plagiarism, but haven't seen any followup.

#154 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 09:51 PM:

LeGuin noted some time back that people will buy bestsellers (and go to hit movies) because they can participate, through the Law of Contagion, in the money involved.

Paul Fussell made a similar conjecture about t-shirts (&c) adorned with brand-names. (Class: a guide through the American status system, 1983)

#155 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 10:31 PM:

Possibly the most irritating thing (a tough call, certainly) about the Da Vinci Code is its assumption that you can change one thing and have everything else be as it was. Jesus was said to have died on the cross and risen from the dead(from quite early on, well before Constantine: "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain - 1 Cor. 15") and a religion was founded on it, and while it's flagging a little now it's had quite a good run.

Brown has the idea that you can have an alternative religion waiting in the wings that's founded on a tradition of Jesus not dying on the cross or rising from anything and not in fact claiming to be god. Which is surely a non-event, either as a ripping yarn or as a theology. If Jesus was no more than a shithot teacher, why would his descendants been revered?

Why would anybody give a fuck about whether Sophie is a descendant of Jesus or not? The sons of famous rabbis and famous ayatollahs get respect only if they take up the family stall in the same business; if they go into government service they can't also claim the allegiance of the synagogue or mosque, depending. And we have lots of descendants of Mohammed and Confucius,and while it's certainly a feather in one's turban or a coral button on one's little cap it's not really something that has people adopting them as rulers without other factors intervening (such as, in the case of prominent blood-of-Mohammed and blood-of-David and blood-of-the Merovingians descendant Elizabeth II & I, being the niece of the oldest son of her grandfather).

Why would we be interested in the opinions of a pretender to the throne of Jerusalem? or even to a pretender to the conjoint crowns of Jerusalem and France, seeing that both jurisdictions have decided to go republican? Would Robespierre and Danton have come to a different decision if they'd believed that Louis was the descendant of Christ, or if there was a Merovingian candidate? Come to that, would Charles Martel have come to a different decision about kicking the Merovingians off the throne if he'd thought they were of Christ's blood (diluted, to be sure, by one hundred and eighty trillion over the course of seventy generations)? Hardly.

Taking everything that Brown says as gospel, the notable thing about the secret doctrine and the secret line is that it lost every fight at every point. Constantine ditched it, the Merovingians lost their throne to the hired help, the Templars were wiped out - from a social Darwinian point of view the secret doctrine seems a peculiarly ill-adapted meme.

#156 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 11:37 PM:

When I read TdVC, I was amazed at how bad it was. Then I read A&D to see if he had improved his writing any, and I could not believe just how much worse the writing was. There was not one single believable thing about it.

When I took them to sell at the local used book store, after the buyer had paid for them, I said something to the effect of "I couldn't believe how atrociously bad those books were." She literally sighed in relief and said "I'm so glad you said that!" I'm sure she gets to hear all the time about how wonderful they are.

Patrick Weekes:
If you want to learn how to write really popular books and still write well, in my humble opinion you could do a lot worse than Stephen King for a model. He gets dinged a lot - and he went through some major periods when his work seemed to suffer from being "above editing" - but I think he has dramatically improved again in recent years. Both his early and late books are damn good thrillers. He's written some short stories in recent years that are real gems too.

#157 ::: dagny ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 12:02 AM:

I picked up the DVC a few years ago, looked at the first page, then put it down again, stating, "Nothing with font that big is going to be any good." The moral of the story: judging a book by its cover may be bad, but judging a book by its type-face is infallible.
That does lead me to some interesting analysis of the DVC, however. The font is huge and the text seems to be triple-spaced. This is obviously symbolism. It lets the reader know that the book will be light and airy; light on facts, light on style, light on intellectual investment. Perhaps Dan Brown understood a bit about symbolism after all.
As for books of questionable literary merit inspiring non-readers to read: My ex only got interested is reading after I suggested he read the Harry Potter books. The problem is, he went from that to Dan Brown novels.

#158 ::: Annwyd ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 12:08 AM:

I made the mistake of trying to read Angels & Demons before The DaVinci Code, and it was just so amazingly, vomitorily bad that I had to put it down after about two chapters--and normally I can finish and enjoy silly popcorn thrillers.

Every time I see someone point out how bad Dan Brown's writing really is, it lifts my faith in humanity just a little and makes me feel a bit warm inside.

#159 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 01:39 AM:

Zed: the ambigrams get dumber and dumber as the book goes on. You didn't miss much...

Oh, and someone waaaaayyy up above mentioned getting a kick out of Opus Dei being an assassins' order... David Morell goes one better, I think, with his thematically-connected series of angsty, religious, ex-Special Forces killers getting drawn into the political struggles of the Catholic Church.

#160 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 02:10 AM:

Oh, and someone waaaaayyy up above mentioned getting a kick out of Opus Dei being an assassins' order

That was me. Is that David Morrell, as in the author of Rambo? Where on the scale of Dan Brown / Richard Harris / Stephen King / Umberto Eco does he fit? [I think I skipped a couple of levels at the end there. It's a logarithmic scale, OK?]

You may like to bear in mind that I once spent a happy weekend staying at a youth hostel next to the Vatican and reading Pontiff. Which is not terrible, but not exactly worth seeking out. Gotta love the amazon review at the end which says: The authors say that Cardinal Benelli had 70 votes and if he had gotten 75 he would have elected Pope. Since Benelli died Oct. 25, 1982, if he had been elected the whole history of this latter part of the 20th century would have been different!

Er, yeah. Elections are like that. *History* is like that.

As for Sir Leigh TEABING, it is not a coincidence that the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail were Michael BAIGENT, Richard *Leigh*, and Henry Lincoln. It is a bit clumsy, though.

#161 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 02:21 AM:

Well, the pulp prime text for that may have been the four volumes of The Inquisitor, a run of men's adventure pbs (remember those?) about the Vatican's top assassin, who answers to the Holy Office of Guess What and has to do fifteen days' penance every time he terminates somebody with extreme unction.

They were written, under one of his several pseuds, by Martin Cruz Smith, and although reissues were announced not long after Gorky Park made it big, it's never happened. The new editions were supposed to use the author's real name, and it's been claimed that he blocked that, at which point the publisher lost interest.

But, y'know, one could do a considerable bibliography of Catholic Conspiracy Yarns, divided into Fiction, Alleged Nonfiction, and Matthew Lewis Has a Lot to Answer For.

#162 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 02:23 AM:

"There is an inherent difficulty with Ancient Mystery Revealed! yarns, [...]"

Well, yes. And yet...the Nag Hammadi scrolls have genuinely transformed our understanding of early christianity. I wonder what the Villa of the Papyri will reveal.

#163 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 02:35 AM:

What amazes me is how many people have trouble remembering that the book is fiction. Um...perhaps this explains the success of a certain creepy president and his party.

#164 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 02:39 AM:

Someone mentioned (British) cryptic crosswords earlier, and it reminded me to look this up. It was a clue from a Guardian crossword by Paul on Sat 8th Feb 1997:

Here 'n' there in the heaven's watery mire are tiny slits, so the harsh weather is slight, not bulky, perhaps (poem by Spike Milligan)
(5, 3, 5, 2, 3, 3, 5, 3, 4, 4, 2, 3, 4'2, 4, 2, 5, 4'1, 3, 4, 2, 4)

Answer at the end of this post. If you want to solve it yourself, LOOK AWAY NOW.

But, y'know, one could do a considerable bibliography of Catholic Conspiracy Yarns, divided into Fiction, Alleged Nonfiction, and Matthew Lewis Has a Lot to Answer For.

I do have a weakness for this sort of thing (and don't think I didn't spot the Hudson Hawk reference earlier, either). But there is some good Catholic conspiracy nonfiction: John Cornwell's A Thief in the Night is very good indeed. Of course, he ends up by concluding that there is no conspiracy. At least, not as far as murdering John Paul I went.

Then again, what kind of conspiracy theory *doesn't* involve the Catholic church? It would be like forgetting to include George H. W. Bush.

Answer:
There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in
But they're ever so small
That's why rain is thin

#165 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 03:10 AM:

President Bush is clearly the result of poor maintenance of the orbital mind control lasers. Regardless of the values and goals he had going into office and the agendas of the various organizations struggling for control of the satellites, the result has been exactly what you'd expect from psionic pink noise being blasted through his cranium at an intensity capable of melting the gold in his teeth.

#166 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 03:11 AM:

Sorry to keep posting, but I've gone and looked at www.danbrown.com, which was a serious error.

Brown has the idea that you can have an alternative religion waiting in the wings that's founded on a tradition of Jesus not dying on the cross or rising from anything and not in fact claiming to be god.

That isn't what he proposes, though, AFAIR. He seems quite happy to think that Christ was divine (whether he claimed to be or not), and so any heir of Christ would be a pretty significant figure. I agree that it hasn't seemed to do any of them much good so far, though. And who wants to be King of France, anyway? (There is a clear answer to that: the man who invented the whole Priory of Sion business in the first place.)

What amazes me is how many people have trouble remembering that the book is fiction.

It's hard to blame them when there is a page in the book labelled FACT which (even in DB's own, new self-serving version, quoted from the FAQ at his website) "clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist." Yes, even the Priory of Sion, which demonstrably does not. And look too at his page of "Bizarre True Facts" - not just facts, but *true* facts - which even in its calculatedly misleading language makes some actually false statements.

How about: Most scholars agree that even Da Vinci's most famous pieces—works like The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and Madonna of the Rocks—contain startling anomalies that all seem to be whispering the same cryptic message…a message that hints at a shocking historical secret which allegedly has been guarded since 1099 by a European secret society known as the Priory of Sion.

(That's his ellipsis, by the way.) Can you see where the false statement begins? Yes, it's at the point where "most scholars" are said to agree that the various anomalies "all seem to be whispering the same cryptic message" (which he goes on to speculate about). That's simply untrue, and all of your "hints at" and "allegedly" won't make it true. I wonder if the scholarly community could sue for libel.

Oh well. You know, I wonder if the problem is that a lot of people simply can't read.

#167 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 03:44 AM:

I believe James Randi once said something to the effect that the problem with the modern library system is that they don't have a section marked outright lies. This was in reference to Von Daniken, but Brown sounds like he would fit in this section as well.

#168 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 04:01 AM:

Unfashionable excuses #51: whilst the Enigma machine is indeed the size of a fairly small briefcase, and comes with a convenient carrying-handle, I have a feeling that the 'bombe' machines built in WW2 for breaking Enigma might be described as "Twelve ton monster"s.

If I remember rightly, they were the size of four or five present-day 42U 19-inch equipment racks, and consisted of several dozen sets of rewired Enigma-innards turned by large electric motors, which put series of contacts against brushes in such a way as to run inputs into a complicated inference system.

There were quite a lot of them, but the British ones were carefully smashed into rather small pieces and buried under what's now the croquet lawn at Bletchley Park. I think one cupboard-full has been rebuilt now.

#169 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 04:59 AM:

Oh well. You know, I wonder if the problem is that a lot of people simply can't read.

Nah. I think that it's a lot of people don't like to think... but enjoy the illusion that they do.

#170 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 05:23 AM:

Hey, I was on good terms with one of the Grand Masters of the Priory of Zion.

The fact that Isaac wasn't Catholic (and it shouldn't have been too hard to determine that from public sources) doesn't affect the connection to Great Conspiracies in the least.

And, of course, the Priory did actually exist, in that the forger and swindler* who set it up filed papers so they could legally collect memberships from aspiring conspirators.

*Who apparently used their skills successfully for the Resistance, making fake documents and pulling minor but real scams on the occupying Germans. Both, according to Timewatch's excellent debunking episode, were pardoned after the war for their (rather small-time) prewar offenses. I think a highly entertaining history-based thriller could be built around two guys like that.

#171 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 10:23 AM:

Speaking as the author of a Catholic Conspiracy novel dealing with the Templars ... I think everyone should buy and read 'em. Or buy 'em, anyway. Multiple copies. Reading 'em isn't necessary.

#172 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 10:43 AM:

For WW2 "crooks conning the Nazis", try Private Schultz. OK, so it's a small-time German crook.

#173 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 11:33 AM:

From waaaay up above:

Did anyone else see Tony "Baldrick" Robinson's Channel 4 documentary "The Real DaVinci Code"? The History Channel in Canada broadcast it in the past year or so, but it may not have hit the States yet.

I think I channel-surfed past the beginning of this on PBS (NYC's Channel 13) just the other night. I said to myself, "Hey, what is Baldric doing sitting in the middle of the Last Supper?!" and moved on.

#174 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 12:05 PM:

I saw it. I thought he was entirely too kind and far too polite. I did admire the weary politeness of the clerics he interviewed, especially in Scotland.

#175 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 12:06 PM:

John M. Ford intoned: Well, the pulp prime text for that may have been the four volumes of The Inquisitor, a run of men's adventure pbs (remember those?) about the Vatican's top assassin, who answers to the Holy Office of Guess What and has to do fifteen days' penance every time he terminates somebody with extreme unction.

Which reminds me of the splendid Papal assassins in (ObGenre) Bryan Talbot's Heart of Empire and John Whitbourn's To Build Jerusalem.

Never having actually read Dan Brown, I'm fascinated by all the revelations here. "Renowned curator" made me think at once of the (thankfully long lost) bible for a planned multi-authored spoof of disaster novels. One of the rules was that every character not marked for rapid and hideous death must stand at the peak of their profession. Top climatologists, world-famous alien contact experts, the "finest junior-school teacher in the Western Hemisphere", etc.

This was all back in the mid-1980s, long long before Atlanta Nights. Most contributors had the sense to drop out, leaving John Grant and myself to finish Earthdoom! by ourselves. (Acknowledgements: "This book could not have been brought into existence without the assistance of very many people, but nevertheless it was.")

Now, as I learn more of Dan Brown from the massed expertise of Making Light, I wonder whether this author somehow acquired a copy of the Earthdoom! bible. It would be a confirming data point if any of the women in his fiction should be described as "pert-nippled".

Dave

#176 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 12:10 PM:

I saw it. I thought he was entirely too kind and far too polite. I did admire the weary politeness of the clerics he interviewed, especially the Scots.

#177 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 12:53 PM:

Rats. Sorry about the double-post. I pressed the wrong button, obviously.

#178 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 02:39 PM:

Speaking of assassins (ordained Catholic, if not necessarily working directly for the Pope), I love "King of the Hill"'s occasional glimpses of a TV potboiler series about Monsignor Martinez -- the cool Hispanic cleric with the shades. Whenever he shows up, it's hilarious.

P.S. British-style cryptic crosswords rock, and I adore my book featuring Araucaria's best from The Guardian.

#179 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 07:32 PM:

An "antediluvian" smell would seem to me to be likely to be one of damp and mold, mixed; something like a flooded basement.

Flooded basement would be "postdiluvian," Shirley?

#180 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 07:56 PM:

Speaking of "The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread," there was a book by that title about a boy growing up in the 1940's.

By the way, I thought cooking sherry was salted so that you wouldn't have to pay a revenue tax.

#181 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 08:55 PM:

Recommended to those interested in cryptic crosswords: the book Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour. (excerpt, author's page)

#183 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 11:23 PM:

the Nag Hammadi scrolls have genuinely transformed our understanding of early christianity.

True. For one thing, early Christians apparently wrote a lot of texts that start out, approximately: "Here's a bunch of the secret stuff I got from Jesus!" Weird how that sort of thing didn't make the final cut. Personally, I have an unreasoning aversion to thinking of early Christianity as just another mystery cult scam, but that might be accurate regardless of my feelings. All those rapidly-becoming-unemployed Mithraists had to go somewhere. "Exhausted by Isis? Does Dionysios worship make your liver hurt? Take charge of your destiny with Secrets of Jesus(TM)! SoJ changed my life...and it can change yours!" Hmm, okay, that does sorta sound like Jerry Falwell.

#184 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 01:56 AM:

I remember years and years before the DaVinci code seeing a rather more interesting investagative documentary about hidden things in some of his more famous works. This was more than five years ago, so my memory may be inaccurate.

As I recall the main subject of the program was the similarity in facial feature ratios in a large number of his works. This led to the theory of a "secret stand in model" who DaVinci used when working on his paintings at times when the main model was unavailable. There was a lot of neat supposition about who this person may have been.

At one point someone noticed that the girls also had quite similar features to DaVinci's self portraits. This led to the idea that the model may have been a previously unknown daughter. The more mundane explanation was that DaVinci had just used himself for a model for almost everything, fudging details as he went. I rather like the idea that DaVinci himself is all the beautiful women he ever painted. Now that's vision and imagination!

On an entirely different subject, my favorite catholic conspiracy theory story was in Koudelka, an unregarded video game from the late playstation era. One of the governing premises of the story is that the Vatican got a hold of a secret druidic text about immortality and raising the dead. They had the Franciscan Friar Roger Bacon copy, translate, and otherwise decipher the text. When he had completed they attempted to kill him in order to preserve the secret, but it turned out that the act of processing the text so deeply had made him immortal by accident. We find him in Wales in the early 1900s, still expirimenting with science and alchemy, though impossibly old and mildly but harmlessly insane.

#185 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 03:32 AM:

Faren Miller: British-style cryptic crosswords rock, and I adore my book featuring Araucaria's best from The Guardian.

Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose has already been recommended upthread. Somewhere I have a book called The Strange World of Crossword, containing such oddities as Max Beerbohm's suggested Times puzzle which lures the reader in with four easy clues, only for the rest to make no sense at all. The fiend.

A current favourite is the Weekend Crossword in the Saturday Independent, where it's usually unwise to fill in even obviously correct answers, because some weird "thematic treatment" may be required. Last week's, titled "Thin Air" (a hint), had a bunch of answers that were too long for their grid entries. Parts of these had to disappear: BRIDE PRICE would fit once you removed BIERCE, and likewise SEARCH PARTY without EARHART, RELUCTANT without LUCAN, HALL OF FAME without HOFFA ... Argh.

#186 ::: Adrian Bedford ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 04:12 AM:

After all the bizarre revelations about Brown's ANGELS AND DEMONS, I find I'm feeling unaccountably, and rather disturbingly, compelled to dig out the copy I once bought for airline reading and actually read it. I keep thinking, No, it can't *possibly* be *that* bad, can it?

Where did I put the damned thing?

I need help!

#187 ::: Madeline Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 04:34 AM:

candle said: Someone mentioned (British) cryptic crosswords earlier, and it reminded me to look this up. It was a clue from a Guardian crossword by Paul on Sat 8th Feb 1997:

Here 'n' there in the heaven's watery mire are tiny slits, so the harsh weather is slight, not bulky, perhaps (poem by Spike Milligan)
(5, 3, 5, 2, 3, 3, 5, 3, 4, 4, 2, 3, 4'2, 4, 2, 5, 4'1, 3, 4, 2, 4)

I remember this! It was one of the few Paul crosswords I ever managed to complete. I was lucky, though, because that's the only Spike Milligan poem I know. (I'm ashamed to say that I didn't even bother working out the anagram.)

Faren Miller said: P.S. British-style cryptic crosswords rock, and I adore my book featuring Araucaria's best from The Guardian.

Most memorable Araucaria crossword was the double one where none of the clues were numbered, and most of the answers turned out to be items from the poem, "Cargoes".

#188 ::: qB ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 07:27 AM:

My then nine-year-old son read tdvc one summer holiday and thought it was great. But he was, of course, nine.

Re literary cryptography there was a pleasing episode of the radio series Baldi called Cross Purposes when the Franciscan priest/semioticist/sleuth solves a series of annagram-related murders.

#189 ::: g-clef ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 09:59 AM:

I've come to this discussion a bit late, but wanted to comment on the whole CERN thing. I hate to be pedantic, but CERN isn't a particle accelerator. It's a research center that hosts accelerators.

They're right now working on replacing an accelerator called the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP) with one called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

CERN didn't change anything about its mission or its name when they changed colliders...just the title of their "flagship project."

Info:
Their about page

a page from my old uni on the LHC & LEP (sorry about the background on that one)

#190 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 10:23 AM:

g-clef:

Pedantry is welcome here.

And yes, CERN isn't a single particle accelerator, but the idea of someone taking that long to realize that they have particle accelerators is decidedly implausible nonetheless.

I can think of only two contexts for discussing CERN in which the particle accelerators wouldn't come up: either early history of the Web, or "we need to deliver this laundry/stack of catering supplies/office supplies to our clients, let's see, today we have $restaurant, CERN, and...."

#191 ::: Walt Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 03:46 PM:

Clifton: You wrote "When I read TdVC, I was amazed at how bad it was. Then I read A&D to see if he had improved his writing any, and I could not believe just how much worse the writing was. There was not one single believable thing about it."

If I remember correctly, A&D was published before TdVC. I think all of his other books predate TdVC and were hurriedly republished after TdVC became a hit.

#192 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 04:13 PM:

Did you see National Treasure? I thought that was a rather well-done example of AMR! myself, in that there was a reason for Our Heroes to be able to put things together that no one else had been able to work out so far.

Carrie S: I was profoundly greatful that the various devices/gadgets didn't include any Indiana Jones-style death traps. The Founding Fathers (I see Jefferson at a drawing board) dreaming up giant ball-rolls or rotating sawblade rigs is vaguely disquiting.

Michael Crichton ... eeeeeeek. My experience with him ended when the 9-year-old girl in Jurassic Park exclaims, "Oh, this is UNIX! I know this!" I threw the book across the room and that was that. :P

meredith: The first time a friend of mine saw that film was on a survey ship off the Sea of Japan--everybody crowded into the messhall to watch. The girl said "Oh, this is UNIX!" and the four programmers on the trip simultaneously burst out with "We're so SCREWED!"

John M. Ford: Lake Baikal? Surely you mean Lake Michigan, unless there are different recording of Freberg's ad out there...


I have to ask a question of those poor souls that waded through TDVC. There seem to be enough victims here that someone must have read Fennimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. I have to ask, of the 18 rules Twain listed, how many does Brown break?

(I'm not curious enough to check myself. It's like my strong suspicion that "American Psycho" has less literary value than "Chasing Hairy" did, but the review by Our Hostess of the former and the reviews of the latter when it was published make me unwilling to do the reading involved to compare unless I get pneumonia again...)

#193 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 05:20 PM:

Let's contemplate the alternatives offered by our hostess:

Know why you don't use anagrams to encrypt messages? Consider the clue OH LAME SAINT. If you know it's an anagram, and you know the original message was in English, the messages you can derive from rearranging its letters include Anaheim slots, Ashmolean IT, sloth amnesia, seaman litho, Althea Simon, Eliot Ashman, Athena's moil, Thalia's omen, Hi to Ameslan, Anatole Shim, silent Omaha, and heal a Monist. If you already know enough context to be sure that none of those are legitimate interpretations, you hardly needed a clue to start with.

O DRACONIAN DEVIL could prompt you to investigate the Laodicean Dr. Vino, or Arcade VII, London, or odd Alicia Vernon, who may have loved ocarina din and divine canal odor. Alternately, it could be a cryptic instruction to void one cardinal.

SO DARK THE CON OF MAN is my favorite; i.e., it's the dumbest and unlikeliest anagram, and it gives the most ridiculous results: fathead conks moron, smooth naked Franco, Madonna's Coke froth, hacker moons fantod, fetch Dakar monsoon, Fords choke Montana, Anton faked chromos, fresh Dakota noncom, Honda stock foreman, and conform, naked shoat!

Recalling that this sprang from the same mind that gave the world the Evil Overlord Random Plot Generator suggests that a different, possibly more interesting, potboiler might be written by choosing solutions other than Brown's for these anagrams.

There's a whole manifold of related, but radically different, novels implicit in the anagrams!

#194 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 05:28 PM:

BRIDE PRICE would fit once you removed BIERCE

A friend of mine just compiled a crossword in which a fair proportion of the answers can only be entered into the grid if you first remove the letters COO. The theme was global warming, natch.

And my favourite Paul crossword was one in which all the clues described a murder mystery, based I think on Cluedo (or Clue). I know Stephen Sondheim did a similar thing once, but either I don't really understand how American cryptics work or it was all far too clever for me.[*]

Bruce: the Mark Twain piece reminded me of Clive James' review of Judith Krantz. There needs to be a widely-recognised review of tDVC along the same lines, I think. I though Geoffrey Pullum made a good start with the opening sentences.

#195 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 06:49 PM:

I may have overstated the difficulty of that Sondheim crossword, seeing as I've just gone back and solved it. (All except the name of the murderer, irritatingly.) I would link it here but it keeps running up against a "questionable content" page, so I just suggest you google for Sondheim murder crossword. That's what the [*] was about in the previous post, by the way.

#196 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 07:49 PM:

Cooking Sherry revisited

For those curious about the place of cheap sherry in the Anglo-American class system, here is a definite marker;

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas woman has been indicted for criminally negligent homicide for causing her husband's death by giving him a sherry enema, a police detective said on Wednesday.

Tammy Jean Warner, 42, gave Michael Warner two large bottles of sherry on May 21, which raised his blood alcohol level to 0.47 percent, or nearly six times the level considered legally drunk in Texas, police detective Robert Turner in Lake Jackson, Texas, told the Houston Chronicle.

"We're not talking about little bottles here," Turner said. "These were at least 1.5-liter bottles."

Warner, 58, was said to have an alcohol problem and received the wine enema because a throat ailment left him unable to drink the sherry, Turner told the newspaper.

#197 ::: Jeff LeBlanc ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 09:06 PM:

Personal pet peeve: I hate hate hate it when writers try to cast the movie in the character descriptions. In The Da Vinci Code, a Boston Magazine top ten most intriguing people list describes Robert Langdon as "Harrison Ford in Harris tweed".

*cringe*

#198 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 09:41 PM:

Question: has anyone here (here? where's here? Never mind) read the new Anne Rice book about Baby Jesus? I'm blanking on its title. If you have, I would love to know what you thought of it. I am mildly curious; the trouble is, I tried to read Anne Rice (some vampire book or other, possibly the very first one) and could not get through the prose.

Comments, please? And, Teresa, if this is too off-thread I suppose I could take it over to Open Thread 56.

#199 ::: S. Dawson ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 09:43 PM:

I was in a museum in Venice when an American couple walked by me listening to a spiel from an English-speaking Italian tour guide. The guide pointed out various saints surrounding the Virgin and Child on a late medieval altarpiece. "And there's Saint Mary Magdalene, and there's Saint John the Baptist..."
"Wait," says one of the Americans. "Mary Magdalene is a saint?"
"Of course," says the guide, with a genuinely puzzled how-can-Americans-be-so-very-dumb look.
I could just hear the Americans thinking, But I thought the Church covered her up and made her out to be a prostitute!--and I haven't even read TDVC.

#200 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 09:55 PM:

Dammit, here I have to defend the man. Barry Ragin said above that “i recall, near the end, the main character walks out into the dusk and admires Venus's shining beauty high in the eastern sky. You can't buy that kind of research anymore, can you?” On doing an inside-the-book check with amazon I find "...in the west, a single point of light glowed brighter than any other. Langdon smiled when he saw it. It was Venus. The ancient Goddess shining down with her steady and patient light. The night was growing cooler, a crisp breeze rolling ..."
He may have changed east to west in the second edition (anybody got a dvc 1st to check?) but I doubt it; after all, he left in “Jacques Saunière despised city driving and owned a car for one destination only-his vacation château in Normandy , north of Paris” when Normandy is damn nearly due west of Paris.

#201 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 10:07 PM:

O heavens. I quit reading Making Light so as to live through the end of the semester, and now I must infodump.

candle: On the other hand, I do really like the "san greal / sang real" redivider. But I don't think it's especially significant.

[irritated professional pedant] That's because it's not significant at all. It's complete bullshit. I confess that I've forgotten the phonological rules, but it is absolutely impossible that "san graal" could have progressed to "sang real." [/ipp]

The French name of the Mona Lisa is also spelled "La Joconde."

Fran: *facepalm* Of course that was Baldrick's voice. I couldn't figure out why I knew it. I didn't object to the program that much, though he did keep trying to pretend that TDVC wasn't utter codswallop.

James MacDonald: You write 'em, I'll buy 'em.

#202 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2005, 10:59 PM:

Candle: if you enjoyed the Cooper piece (and there's another section in "Letters from the Earth") I suggest you get hold of a copy of "Christian Science." Long unavailable because Twain's surviving daughter was an ardent Christian Scientist, the book is out again and amazing because when it comes to Mary Baker Eddy's prose Twain put away the harpoon and pulled out a baseball bat.

It's considered minor Twain because he's clearly angry as hell (I've read accounts that the family that was taking care of Suzy when she died were Christian Scientists and Twain blamed their religion for not getting her to a doctor soon enough, but haven't found solid evidence on this), but his descriptions of the diffference between Eddy's prose style in the original edition and later editions is corrosively funny. (I read parts to a friend recovering from cancer surgery once and she almost pulled her stitches.) It also brings to mind the question of what Twain would have done with a copy of "Dianetics," but that's another issue...

#203 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 12:07 AM:

Tony Robinson has become a center point for history programming. I believe Time Team is still running in the UK after ten years (we got a handful of reruns, and nothing now) and The Worst Jobs in History, which is on History International Mondays at 11pm EST -- "The Tudors" is tomorrow's episode (the third of six -- Roman/Dark Ages, Medieval, Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, and Victorian). Key line: at one moment in the Georgian episode, a historian shows Robinson what they're going to be working with, and he wearily says, "If it's a historical job, it's going to involve pee, isn't it?" (He'd already been a fuller for an eight-hour shift, and the number of other industries that used Urine, the Wonder Compound caused me to think seriously a nonfiction work -- you know, something like Smelling the Longitude.)

"Feller offered me a whole shillin' to scrape the pig-piles."
"Yah, and he wants all the charcoal I can spare 'im."
"He's also got a cartload o' brimstone from someplace. I think he's odd."
"Well, I heard 'e went off to China for a couple years. Man might come back odd from that."
[Very loud boom, followed by distant castle tower falling over, and army running very fast making typical extra-player noises.]
"Gennamun, I think we is at one o' them key 'istorical moments."

#204 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 12:38 AM:

The French name of the Mona Lisa is also spelled "La Joconde."

Ah, that's why I couldn't find anything about it searching for the spelling I used. That's what sucks about learning a language by speaking: you don't get the right spellings from people as they talk.

#205 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 12:40 AM:

Come on, fellows, let's get back to Dan Brown, shall we? We haven't even started on his chamber of horrors.

At the beginning, remember, the renowned curator has stripped off, drawn a pentagram on his chest, written several anagrams and a list of numbers, and drawn a perfect circle around himself with magic marker while at the same time balancing a tower of bottles on his nose and playing the ukelele, so that
"Sauniere had created a life-size replica of Leonardo Do Vinci's most famous sketch.... Vitruvian man... a perfect circle in which was inscribed a nude male... his arms and legs outstretched in a naked spread eagle."

No, Vitrivian Man doesn't show a spreadeagle, or at least not only a spreadeagle. VM has two of every limb, and thus shows a man in sixteen different possible positions.

Sauniere hadn't replicated it, and couldn't. If you piled two renowned creators in a stack you could just about do it (though even then I think you'd have difficulty maintaining the side-facing foot positions required) but with one Sauniere you have as much ambiguity as with the anagrams; sixteen possible positions would all qualify. I personally see the renowned curator in the left-leg-straight right-leg-45-degrees right-arm-straight left-arm-45-degrees pose. Very Monty Python.

And if he'd created a half-life-size replica, that would be a trick.

#206 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 01:18 AM:

I personally see the renowned curator in the left-leg-straight right-leg-45-degrees right-arm-straight left-arm-45-degrees pose.

"His right hand, which was very stiff, because dead people do that, a condition that forensic experts call Rigor mortis, meaning 'stiff dead guy.' The rigid fingers were contorted, which is to say, bent, into the secret sign that the early Templars had shown to King Philip the Hardly Even Middling Where Certain Things Are Concerned -- the sign later famous (notably when shown by Winston Churchill, who shall figure later in our thrilling story) as the 'V for Victory,' only reversed, so that it meant the opposite of victory, that is, defeat."

#207 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 02:08 AM:

A few years back, my wife and I both read TdVC, Deception Point, Digital Fortress, and A&D, hoping for some pathetic reason that one of them would live up to their reputation. Boy, did we get sick of reading "POV-character-X saw the *most* horrifying|significant|amazing thing ever" just before switching to a different POV without revealing what thing was seen!

Anyway, my wife accused Brown of being sexist. I responded by pointing out that most of his books have a very smart, accomplished female sidekick (and usually love interest) of the main character. She responded "yeah, but they never do anything or figure anything out". We realized then that the female supporting character is always so smart and accomplished only so she can properly appreciate the hero's greatness.

One particularly hokey touch in A&D that's stuck with me (and no one else has mentioned yet) was the anti-matter containment vessel with the power supply whose battery would last for *exactly* 24 hours, complete with an LED display counting down the seconds until power failure.

#208 ::: Ark ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 02:19 AM:

Oh, no, I may be too late. I was on a cruise several years ago-- a very ritzy cruise. (Never mind how I was included.) One of the day's activities include a DVC discussion. I went along to it assuming that we would have a fine time ferreting out all the rubbish. Since there would be more educated heads, we would find more a greater variety of rubbish and have a fine time. Instead, it was quite a serious discussion until the moment that I offered, "You understand that DVC is pretty much all rubbish." There was a moment of profound silence and glares. Later on, no one wanted me on any of the trivia teams, so I joined in the other orphans. The orphans, bye the bye, were victorious. It was a learning experience on many levels.

#209 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 04:52 AM:

Tony Robinson has become a center point for history programming.

Tony Robinson is involved in a lot of the best programming in the UK, I think. His series of biographies of famous Romans was good.

My earliest introduction to him, though, having missed The Black Adder during its first showing, was a retelling / one-man dramatisation of the Odyssey that ran in the BBC's children's TV slot one summer.

#210 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 07:54 AM:

someone waaaaayyy up above mentioned getting a kick out of Opus Dei being an assassins' order

That's just silly. Everyone knows it's the Poor Clares that supply the Catholic Church with its assasins.

#211 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 08:59 AM:

Carrie S: I was profoundly grateful that the various devices/gadgets didn't include any Indiana Jones-style death traps. The Founding Fathers (I see Jefferson at a drawing board) dreaming up giant ball-rolls or rotating sawblade rigs is vaguely disquieting.

You're right. I can't see Jefferson doing it. Franklin, on the other hand - no trouble. Definitely the Mechanical Genius of the Founding Fathers superhero teamup. He's the slightly geeky one who gets called in when they have to defuse the bomb, or hack into the mechanical semaphore system, or build a 44-gun frigate from parts lying around in the shed they've been locked up in. To be steered during the escape by Gouvernor "Howlin' Mad" Morris, of course.

(John 'J.A.' Adams: "I ain't boardin' no frigate, fool!"
Thomas "The Face" Jefferson: "Sure. Just drink this ale...")

Everyone knows it's the Poor Clares that supply the Catholic Church with its assasins.

I think not. An AR-15 is an Armalite, right? So a CAR-15 must be a Carmelite.

#212 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 09:47 AM:

Our neighborhood book club read tDVC earlir this year. Most of them were just dumbfounded at the very idea of Jesus getting married, having descendants. I don't think any of them had ever run across that theory before.

I did like the odious dei bashing.

#213 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 10:26 AM:

Anyway, my wife accused Brown of being sexist. I responded by pointing out that most of his books have a very smart, accomplished female sidekick (and usually love interest) of the main character. She responded "yeah, but they never do anything or figure anything out". We realized then that the female supporting character is always so smart and accomplished only so she can properly appreciate the hero's greatness.

This phenomenon is also known as "Bond girl syndrome."

#214 ::: Leslea ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 10:36 AM:

Praise you.

#215 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 10:54 AM:

Everyone knows it's the Poor Clares that supply the Catholic Church with its assassins.

I thought it was the Benedictines? (one of the best things about Ringo's Posleen novels - otherwise described as the aliens are learning faster than the humans)

#216 ::: Barry Ragin ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 11:16 AM:

chris, perhaps you're right. i don't have a copy of the book. and it may have been dawn, or midnight or some such time, and Venus was in the west, or high overhead, or some other place where it pretty clearly didn't belong. i certainly remember my reaction to it much more clearly than the text itself. if i'm mistaken in my recollection, well i suppose there are worse skeletons in my closet to be embarrassed over.

hey, speaking of poorly written best-sellers with religious themes, anybody read Joe Bageant's latest rant on the Left Behind books and their culutral significance?

#217 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 11:50 AM:

anybody read Joe Bageant's latest rant on the Left Behind books and their culutral significance?

I just did.

Please tell me his figures are wrong. Please.

#218 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Venus can be in the west just after sunset. It can be high overhead around noon (but likely not visible). It was Venus being in the EAST at DUSK that was the stupidity.

#219 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 12:33 PM:

The anagrams are OH LAME SAINT, O DRACONIAN DEVIL, and SO DARK THE CON OF MAN. The characters figure out that these are anagrams of THE MONA LISA, LEONARDO DA VINCI, and THE MADONNA OF THE ROCKS.

See, I'm picturing the scene where the hero finally has the insight that O DRACONIAN DEVIL means LEONARDO DA VINCI. Which immediately leads to the dechiphering of OH LAME SAINT. "But", asks the admiring love interest, "what of SO DARK THE CON OF MAN?" At which the hero heaves a sigh. "Oh, that," he says. "I think he was on the Iguanacon bid committee."

#220 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 01:14 PM:

"The ambigrams are cool, though (I only got far enough into the book to have seen one.)"

Ah, that would be the point where he says "And nobody's been able to make an ambigram of MacGuffin in four hundred THOUSAND years!"

And I believe I said, And nobody went to an art college, and put up a sign saying "$25,000 prize for the best ambigram of MacGuffin" ?

#221 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 01:38 PM:

P J, the Poor Clares bit comes from sometime Making Light writer and commenter James D. Macdonald, more specifically his The Apocalypse Door and surrounding short stories co-written with Debra Doyle ("Stealing God" is the only one I've read of those - there're at least two more: "Selling The Devil" and "Sleeping Kings"). The precise groups is "the Special Action Executive of the Poor Clares".

#222 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 01:47 PM:

cd: Oh good, more books to track down. Or more stories. Someday I'll get the time and the money for all these wonderful things to dao, simultaneously. (And I'll win the lottery also. Not.)

#223 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 02:13 PM:

I love you guys -- are we going to trash the LaHaye/Jenkins books now? No -- because to do that we would have to READ THEM. (Fingers again crossed, backing away... Fingers getting tired of this position.)

I am trying to remember the last book I chucked across the room. It was years ago, because I now read the first two or three paragraphs before I buy a book, and that's usually enough to tell me I'm going to hate it. I don't throw books in bookstores or libraries.

#224 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 02:41 PM:

Lizzy L: Fred Clark has been reading Left Behind so we don't have to.

#225 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 02:42 PM:
Franklin, on the other hand - no trouble. Definitely the Mechanical Genius of the Founding Fathers superhero teamup. He's the slightly geeky one who gets called in when they have to defuse the bomb, or hack into the mechanical semaphore system, or build a 44-gun frigate from parts lying around in the shed they've been locked up in. To be steered during the escape by Gouvernor "Howlin' Mad" Morris, of course.

You know, this sounds like a lot more fun than that lame "X-Presidents" comic book that actually published several issues a few years back.

But do we get the Young Washington --- the bold, dashing, borderline reckless explorer who was probably the first Englishman to ever see the future site of Pittsburgh, and naive enough to start the French and Indian War by mistake, or do we get the Old Washington --- the established, unchallenged leader whose granite visage is a mere facade, erected to shield the howling temper underneath? Choices, choices...

#226 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 02:46 PM:

hey, speaking of poorly written best-sellers with religious themes, anybody read Joe Bageant's latest rant on the Left Behind books and their culutral significance?

Hmm. Earlier today, I saw the first of that series in a 2nd hand bookshop I frequently visit. Apocalyptic fiction, I thought, briefly scanning the cover. Could be a good read. I'll come back when I have more money tomorrow.

That post found me in the nick of time. It sounds dreadful.

#227 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 06:59 PM:

That's because it's not significant at all. It's complete bullshit.

Sorry, I didn't mean to trip anyone's pedantry switches. It was my English understatement. I'm happy to agree that it's bullshit, but it is at least the kind of bullshit which can pass muster at first glance. I mean, as opposed to most of the Dan Brown tricks, which are so self-evidently ridiculous as to destroy any incipient attempt at the suspension of disbelief.

Of course, this requires a reader sophisticated enough to suspend disbelief, which perhaps rules out most tDVC fans.

a retelling / one-man dramatisation of the Odyssey that ran in the BBC's children's TV slot

Me too! I still think that's the best re-telling of the Odyssey I've encountered, and it's not for want of seeking them out. I wonder if you can get it on DVD now? Probably not, since the BBC is surprisingly slow about releasing much of its stuff.

get hold of a copy of "Christian Science."

Thanks, Bruce - I'll look it up. I've been meaning to get hold of Mencken's book on Christianity too, which has always given me the impression of being his best. There's nothing like a good writer writing angry.

As for Christian Science, my understanding of it has been forever ruined by Spalding Gray at the start of Gray's Anatomy, where he describes his dog. I don't really want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet encountered the book (or the film, I presume).

#228 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 08:24 PM:

[irritated professional pedant] That's because it's not significant at all. It's complete bullshit. I confess that I've forgotten the phonological rules, but it is absolutely impossible that "san graal" could have progressed to "sang real." [/ipp]

Isn't it supposed to be the other way around, i.e. "sang real" -> "san graal"?

#229 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 08:39 PM:

Another hairball in my throat throughout The Da Vinci Code was the secret doctrine thing. I know that this is one of the tropes in the Lost Treasures genre (Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, etc)- the cult that tends the lost temple through untold aeons and murders anybody who defiles it (and I've always had a bit of a problem working out what was in it for them, too) but there at least the secret McGuffin is supposed to be hidden. In DVC you have the situation where there are the four people who know the big secret [Cocteau could keep a secret? Excuse me! That man never had an unexpressed thought] as to where the bodies are buried and where the last will and testament of Jesus is, yes, but there are also other people like Shakespeare and Walt Disney who are part of the movement but not one of the big four. Skipping over for the moment the lack of fit between either the Shrew or Minnie Mouse and the worship of the eternal feminine, the question that arises is what exactly Will and Walt got to see and/or hear. Was, in other words, a textbook of some kind involved, or was all this handed down orally since 75 AD? Or was there a crib of some sort? Even masons can't remember their funny walks without cribs.

Did the eternal femininists have heresies? Hierarchies? Hieresiarchs? No, that's the detested male way. Then how did they manage to agree what to tell Shakespeare?

To put it another way, was the repressive Catholic church suppressing greenery-yallery ideas generally or an organised (in some way) movement? As it has ritual sex ceremonies, it's presumably a movement;what does the movement believe, and how does it remember the details of its rituals? How does it choose, for example, its Priors? How have they got through two millennia without so much as a songbook in writing?

And if it's in writing, or even if it isn't written but is recited like Homer or Farenheit 415, shouldn't it be the secret? If you were a christian and had the choice of saving the last existing copy of the new testament or a box of holy relics, wouldn't you choose the text over the bones?

If you were of the inner circle, no problem; you're summoned to a deathbed and told "Mary Mag is buried under the Louvre and the Merovingians are descendants of Christ, keep it a secret until you're near death and then pass it on with the same condition" - simple enough to remember. But having enough of a doctrine to be able to sell Walt on it, without telling him the big secret - that's another matter (though I suppose they might just have told him it was anti-communist).

#230 ::: real name ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 08:45 PM:

You may not like his book, but he could buy and sell you. So neener.

#231 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 08:54 PM:

He may be able to buy and sell me, but I don't like his book.

Or was there a crib of some sort?

It may have worked like the Manichees did, insofar as that worked. They had an inner circle of Elect who had the texts and knew all the secret rites, and had to follow all the complex rituals. And then there were hangers-on called Hearers, who knew the basic idea but weren't allowed to know any of the secret stuff or take part in the rituals (but didn't have to forego all the nice parts of being a human being). Sort of like being a member of Opus Dei, in fact.

The job of the Hearers was to look after the Elect if they were passing through your area. Otherwise, you presumably just hung around with other Hearers and speculated on what the secrets might be. Or, if you were Augustine, decided that it didn't make much sense and decided to ask some tough questions of the next Elect member who passed by.

Yeah, for Dan Brown's thing to work, there would probably have to be a text and some rituals. But it wasn't really much of a secret, to be honest. Think of it as being like the secret recipe for Coca-Cola.

#232 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 09:06 PM:

Well, the Coca-Cola Company has managed to keep that formulation a secret for - what is it? - a century now. Many have come close, and there's agreement on the main ingredients, but nobody knows exactly.

But the Dan Brown stuff is of a whole different order, no pun intended.

#233 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 05:09 AM:

Thanks, Charles Dodgson - I was thinking of an Old George Washington with frequent flashbacks. But the spinoff titles are still available.

Anyway, the whole thing's on the back burner behind my plan to blackmail Mike Mignola into signing on to my "William Ewart Gladstone - Liberal Avenger" concept.

#234 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 09:52 AM:

Isn't it supposed to be the other way around, i.e. "sang real" -> "san graal"?

Doesn't matter--still couldn't happen in a millennium of Sundays.

Incidentally, when Chrétien de Troyes invented the thing, "graal" meant nothing more than "big plate." It didn't become a cup until later.

#235 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Why not both the young Washington and the old Washington? Dumas did it with D'Artagnan.

And then you have people, like Rogers, who can be with the Good Guys in the first story, but not the second. With could be a whole issue of angst and dramatic posing.

#236 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 12:25 PM:

The latest trend:
Next 'Da Vinci Code'? Plenty of choices
Publishers jumping on religious mystery bandwagon

One of them has a website with a blurb from Brown that he writes 'with all the assurance of a veteran'. (Whatever that might mean.)

#237 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 01:13 PM:

Incidentally, when Chrétien de Troyes invented the thing, "graal" meant nothing more than "big plate." It didn't become a cup until later.

OK, I was reasonably sure it was bullshit until I saw this. Couldn't de Troyes have heard some story, and mistaken the one for the other? Thus inventing the Holy Graal, whether plate or cup? Cinderella's silken slipper, which turned into a glass one through mistranslation, comes to mind.

What was this plate supposed to be, anyway? (I mean in de Troyes' version.) The plate Jesus ate from at the LS?

#238 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 01:16 PM:

One of them has a website with a blurb from Brown that he writes 'with all the assurance of a veteran'. (Whatever that might mean.)

It means it's a partial quote. The guy actually said "He writes with the assurance of a veteran. This is unfortunate, because he lacks the ability of someone more seasoned, and with his level of assurance he's unlikely to acquire it. That and his utter lack of talent for storytelling, the craft of writing, or research mean that he will continue indefinitely to contribute to the ignorance of the reading public with each book."

I made that up. But I bet it was something like that.

#239 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 01:22 PM:

Xopher: I wasn't going there; if Brown thinks the guy writes like a veteran, this is not reassuring. (The author in question is one Steve Berry. There are several books and authors in the article.)

#240 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 01:39 PM:

Oh, I misread your comment. I thought it was a blurb about Brown. Sorry.

#241 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 01:54 PM:

Applies to Brown, or by Brown, equally clueless people.

#242 ::: Ann ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 03:21 PM:

What was this plate supposed to be, anyway? (I mean in de Troyes' version.) The plate Jesus ate from at the LS?

Your guess is as good as anyone else's. Chretien died before he finished the story, and never explained it. There are various continuations, but nobody really knows what Chretien intended it to be.

#243 ::: Ann ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 03:24 PM:

There are various continuations,

This should read "there are various continuations by other people." Sorry about that.

#244 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 03:24 PM:

Xopher, Cinderella's slipper was -fur- originally not silk nor yet glass...

(I believe the word in French was 'vair' which somehow got miscopied to 'verre' or so one explanations I read many years ago went.)

#245 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 05:31 PM:

William Ewart Gladstone ... No doubt lots of people here (or at least that Charles Dodgson guy) know that Lewis Carroll rearranged this name without computer aid:

Wilt tear down all images?
Wild agitator. Means well.
#246 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 06:12 PM:

Lori - yeah, that sounds right. I misremembered the substance. But the point is the "glass slipper" was invented by the translator, and by mistake. Even if one were to wear glass slippers, one would NOT wear them to go dancing. Even if they were Pyrex™.

The idea that the word 'slipper' can describe a high-heeled shoe is, AFAIK, a Disney invention. I guess "glass pump" just wasn't as evocative.

#247 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 06:15 PM:

I guess "glass pump" just wasn't as evocative.

I have this vision of laboratory glassware as jewelry. Or head ornament (like those fantastic 18th century wigs with ships).

#248 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 06:50 PM:

I've made bubble bottle necklaces out of test tubes.

#249 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 07:51 PM:

What was this plate supposed to be, anyway? (I mean in de Troyes' version.) The plate Jesus ate from at the LS?

Ann's right--no one is utterly certain, but I've got a good theory.

Here goes. I'm away from my books, so my grasp of the details may have slipped. But I'm certain of my main point. Anyway, to the best of my recollection, the Grail Procession in Chrétien's Perceval, ou le Roman du Graal consists of "la Lance qui seigne" (the Bleeding Lance),* a serving dish containing a single Host, and...I forget, I think a chalice. Note that there's a distinction made between the "graal" and the chalice. Also note that the graal is special ONLY because it contains the consecrated Host, on its way to the wounded king; light emanates from the dish, but it's the Host that's glowing. It's not the dish that matters, it's what's inside. Metonymy and non-Catholic readers have done the rest.

There. My theory about Brontosauruses, by Ann Elk, brackets-Miss-brackets!

*Often identified with the lance that pierced Christ's side on the cross. This is kinda nifty in itself, because the centurion is often identified as "blind Longinus"--I can't remember if his blindness is caused by Christ's blood hitting his eyes, or cured by it. I want to say cured, but it's been a long time since I've studied him.

#250 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 07:58 PM:

Lori: (I believe the word in French was 'vair' which somehow got miscopied to 'verre' or so one explanations I read many years ago went.)

This is correct.

More pedantry follows: the technical name is lectio facilior ("easier reading"). When a scribe is confronted with an unfamiliar word, he will often assume that his source is wrong, and change the difficult word to a familiar form. So editors, when confronted with two readings, usually prefer the lectio difficilior because it's assumed that the original would have the more difficult form.

I believe it's time for me to shut up now, lest I become the Person Whose Long Boring Posts We All Skip.

#251 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 08:19 PM:

Both Snopes and the Straight Dope both scoff at the "verre <- vair" theory, fwiw.

#252 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 08:42 PM:

Texanne: Please don't shut up. (But also please don't start talking about prime numbers, at least not at great length.)

#253 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 09:11 PM:

Longinus' eyes were healed by the blood of Christ in the developed form of the story (which was, originally, independent of the Grail story).

All of this is pulled together in the way familiar to most English readers through Malory only in the relatively late Lancelot Cycle, in which Lancelot is a descendent of Joseph of Arimathea (as the reader is reminded on a regular basis). I read through the whole cycle, once, in graduate school.

The clear identification of the Grail with the chalice from the last supper is an outgrowth of the outburst in Eucharistic devotion which also gave us the feast of Corpus Christi and, via that feast, the English (and continental) mystery cycles.

Difficilior lectio always wars with the tendency to try to get rid of "obviously" nonsensical readings; overall, it is a good principle to go by, or Bentley's version of Milton would not be so bizarre.

One of the immediately silly things about TDVC is that the story it takes as the point of departure for its "secret history" is so clearly and blatantly a late mediaeval confabulation made up more for the fun of telling than for any other reason, utterly divorced from any historical basis.

#254 ::: jhlipton ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 09:45 PM:

The ambigrams were another big turn-off. Am I the only one to remember the ambigrams appearing regularly in Omni ("The Penthouse of science magazines") magazine? And yet they're supposed to be some deep, dark secret? Yeesh.

(The calculation I did on the smart car was around 250 mpg as well. I thought my math was waaaaay off -- thanks for reassuring me!)

#255 ::: lisa@digitalmedievalist.com ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 10:31 PM:

The graal was, as TexAnne says, a Really Big Dish, often carried in food processionals in Chretien's day. They were frequently used for fish, and there's a lovely one in the collections of the Cloisters which used to be on display, but wasn't, the last time I was there.

Since Chretien didn't finish the story, various other people did, in pretty much every language used in Europe.

The graal in one version is a severed head; in another it's a big green stone.

I'm supposed to be reviewing DVC, but I can't get past page sixteen. I've tried, really I have!

#256 ::: James J Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2005, 10:46 PM:

Xopher wrote:

The idea that the word 'slipper' can describe a high-heeled shoe is, AFAIK, a Disney invention. I guess "glass pump" just wasn't as evocative.

Perhaps, if it works like certain other pumps are alleged to, it "extends" your beer mug from a US to an Imperial pint.

#257 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 12:02 AM:

They were frequently used for fish, and there's a lovely one in the collections of the Cloisters which used to be on display, but wasn't, the last time I was there.

In the case is a small white card reading Temporarily removed because, while we are glad to answer questions from visitors, there are some things a curator's job does not include. No matter how damn renowned they are.

#258 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 01:36 AM:

I guess this is the reason that Leonardo da Vinci is one of the top gainers (#10) of 2005 in Google's Zeitgeist (here).

I found Rule of Four readable but annoying in that "set at the author's university which is coincidentally not the one you went to" sort of way. But then, I read it because the authors went to my high school.

#259 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 02:49 AM:

the feast of Corpus Christi and, via that feast, the English (and continental) mystery cycles.

Wait! Corpus Christi? Murders? Mystery cycles?

Surely this is the lead-up to a joke about the feast of St. Agatha Christi?

#260 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 03:11 AM:

La Gioconda (La Joconde) is a personal name? Here I've always taken it to mean "The Happy One". We learn something every day (if we're not careful).

#261 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 03:17 AM:

The graal in one version is a severed head; in another it's a big green stone.

"It needs more to make a king than a piece of [green] elvish glass ...."

#262 ::: Anton Sherwood ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 03:53 AM:

Both Snopes and the Straight Dope both scoff at the "verre ← vair" theory, fwiw.

Hm. Snopes says the word vair was dead by the time Perrault wrote verre; but it is still a standard word in heraldry (denoting fur of a specific pattern), and so might well be used for an old-timey touch. Snopes also says "the glass slipper is peculiar to Perrault's telling of the story"; how this is evidence against the vair theory is not obvious to me.

I find the Straight Dope's argument more persuasive: "As the French folklorist Paul Delarue pointed out in a 1951 essay, "‘one can also find [glass shoes in Cinderella stories] in other countries where there is no homonym which permits the confusion.’"

#263 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 08:31 AM:

Hmm. They're scoffing at the evolution of fur into glass, but not actually offering any alternative scientific explanation. How could wearing glass shoes (slippers, pumps, mules or anything else) to the ball make ANY sense?

I suppose it could be a way of saying how light she is on her feet: "Look, she can dance in glass shoes without breaking them!" But just because you can make sense of it doesn't mean it's right (I have one word for you: sparrowgrass). Does the earliest version of the story come from a period when attractive women were tiny, or zaftig?

#264 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 08:51 AM:

They're magic glass. Of course they won't break.

And I always supposed giving a fairy story character glass shoes was just another example of the "shiny! sparkly! nice! pretty!" syndrome that seems to afflict a) all six-year-old girls and b) trout.

They could have been mirrored shoes, as in 'Witches Abroad', I suppose...

#265 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 08:53 AM:

Apparently the earliest recorded version of "Cinderella" (or a similar story, anyway) is from ninth-century China, though there isn't necessarily a direct chain of transmission across Eurasia-- Perrault's version could've come from an entirely different root source.

There seems to be a really excellent website on Cinderella and other fairy tales with various annotations, historical/cultural comparisons, modern adaptations, and so on; dunno whether you'll find their take on vair/verre any more convincing, but they also dismiss the supposed mistranscription.

#266 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 09:02 AM:

And now I get to combine two great obsessions, Making Light and Duran Duran.

Simon LeBon's review of tDVC. He doesn't like it either.

#267 ::: Lanisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 09:51 AM:

I love this site!

Actually, I read TDVC twice. The first time, because I needed a candy floss book to read while I had the flu, and the second time to produce a short series of lectures (for a GCSE English class) on how *not* to write. Hey, if he can get 30 angsty teenagers to laugh, he must be doing something right :-)

#268 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 09:56 AM:

Often identified with the lance that pierced Christ's side on the cross. This is kinda nifty in itself, because the centurion is often identified as "blind Longinus" . . .

So some blind guy managed to successfully stab and draw blood from some other guy hanging on a cross?

That reminds me of the death of Baldur . . . does the Longinus myth say that a Loki-like figure guided his aim?

#269 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 10:07 AM:

Julie L: Apparently the earliest recorded version of "Cinderella" (or a similar story, anyway) is from ninth-century China, though there isn't necessarily a direct chain of transmission across Eurasia....

Now I'm imagining her dancing with bound feet! (But no, that monstrous fashion must have come into vogue much later.)

#270 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 10:27 AM:

The Straight Dope article linked earlier said that footbinding began in China during the 10th century; the Wikipedia article on footbinding has all of its chronological references in the form of dynastic names, which would probably be enough to cross-reference for people less likely than me to be distracted by ooh shiny thing and haplessly wander off elseweb.

I remember being told a fairy tale about the origin of footbinding: a fox took on human form to become an Imperial concubine, but her transformation had been incomplete, forcing her to keep balancing on little fox feet (hidden by her robes/shoes) in a precarious, swaying gait that became considered graceful and sexy-like. So to compete, the ordinary human concubines started binding their feet to emulate her.

I suppose if you put it all together, you end up with an odd story about a vixen who mostly turned herself into a human to attend the ball, but fled at midnight when her disguise started to wear off; the prince swore to marry whoever could wear the itty bitty shoe she'd left behind, and so all the women in the kingdom began to bind their feet... meanwhile, the vixen has gone back to hunting rabbits and snoozing in her den, or something.

(If she'd been a Japanese fox-spirit, she'd have trouble answering the phone, or at least I think that's what the modern salutation of "moshimoshi" is supposed to guard against somehow....)

#271 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 10:46 AM:

The true story of the Grail is told in my own (plug! plug!) short story "Stealing God," reprinted in Our Kind Host's New Magics.

#272 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 11:45 AM:

Julie: so we get back to the same thing: Cinderella was a foxy lady.

#273 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 11:52 AM:

I assume everyone on this thread knows that there is soon to be a movie of TDVC. Geck. More total nonsense pretending to be fact.

BTW, TexAnne, thanks for the link to Fred Clark's site. I admire his -- I'm not sure what to call it. Stamina. Obsession? There is no way I am going to read any of those books; the prose is awful and the premise is so wrongheaded that it gives me hives.

#274 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 11:57 AM:

Vair/verre: I could've sworn I'd seen an edition of the Perrault with "vair" in it, but it was modern, so that's no guarantee. I have to admit that I don't care enough to go digging.

Laura Roberts: So some blind guy managed to successfully stab and draw blood from some other guy hanging on a cross?

Yeah, I've always wondered how a blind Roman centurion could successfully do his job. How would he know when the breastplates were polished?

That reminds me of the death of Baldur . . . does the Longinus myth say that a Loki-like figure guided his aim?

Not that I've ever heard of; it's usually an ordinary soldier who does the aiming. But I've never sat down and traced the story's development. I really ought to see if somebody's written an article on it, and write it myself if not. Or, you know, Lisa could, when she's done with her diss. (g,d,&r)

#275 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 12:13 PM:

I've always wondered how a blind Roman centurion could successfully do his job. How would he know when the breastplates were polished?

That too.

About Cinderella - I just have to get pedantic here for a second. Fox jokes are funny, but the Chinese Cinderella was not a fox, and could not have been (the point is that she's an ordinary human girl.)

I found a page which summarizes the history of the Chinese Cinderella. Since I find their color scheme a little hard to read, I'll quote it here.

According to R.D. Jameson, one of the oldest variants of the tale comes to us from ninth-century China (74). A junior minister named Tuan Ch’eng Shih recorded the story of Yeh-hsien, a Chinese Cinderella, as told by one of his servants (Jameson 74). It is through Tuan’s record that we are first introduced to the famed slipper, though in a slightly altered form. To truly understand Cinderella’s origins, we must explore the Chinese culture surrounding this particular Cinderella story and analyze the symbolism associated with the golden slipper.

Tuan Ch’eng Shih, author of a collection of Chinese folktales called Yu Yang Tsa Tsu, was the educated son of a statesman (Jameson 74). Tuan lived in Shantung, where he served as a junior minister in the ministry of rites (Jameson 74). He was known as a man with “a very good memory [who] read extensively, possessing a very large collection of strange and rare books” (qtd. in Jameson 74). In the middle of the ninth century, he recorded a story told by one of his servants who had lived in southern China for some time (Jameson 77). Arthur Whaley translated this ancient story, Yeh-hsien, in 1947 (For a complete text, refer to Classic Fairy Tales, Maria Tatar, ed.). Yeh-hsien is the pitiable tale of a young Chinese girl abused at the hands of her wicked stepmother and stepsister. Each day, Yeh-hsien must go and cut wood from dangerous forests and draw water from bottomless pools. The stepmother despises her, but for no apparent reason. When young Yeh-hsien finds a companion in a 10-foot-long fish with red fins and golden eyes, the stepmother promptly kills it and serves it at dinner. Then Yeh-hsien prays over the fish’s bones for gold, pearls, dresses, and food. Through a twist of fate, one of her golden shoes (not a glass slipper, as we Westerners would expect) falls into the hands of the king of T’o-han, whom she consequently marries.

#276 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Restrains self from making bad joke about Chinese girls with fairy goldfish, godmothers aparently not being a traditional Confucian custom.

#277 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 12:25 PM:

There was already a movie of The DaVinci Code. It was called National Treasure and it starred Nicholas Cage.

#278 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 01:00 PM:

"Cinderella was a foxy lady."

You'd think the foxy musk would be a dead give-away.

Maybe she had to flee the ball before her Fairy Godmother supplied magic deodorant wore off . . .

* * *

National Treasure was far more entertaining than it had any right to be.

#279 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 03:09 PM:

ANARTHROUS MODIFIER--

Famed horror in a suit

A ratified rush moron

Tide ruins ashram roof

(more where that came from)

#280 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2005, 05:20 PM:

I've always wondered how a blind Roman centurion could successfully do his job. How would he know when the breastplates were polished?

I guess that's why he got the job of guarding the crucified Jewish prisoners. Poor Longinus.

#281 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 12:39 AM:

Not entirely relevant to this discussion, but in the same vein as Cinderella textual/species variations, I just ran across this paper on the general cladistic analysis of manuscripts. Unfortunately the actual cladograms don't seem to've made the transfer to the web.

#282 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 01:16 AM:

Is Longinus the same as the Roman Centurion at the Cross, who is quoted in Mark 15:39, Matthew 27:54, and Luke 23:47 (but not in John) as saying "This must have been a son of God" (Mark, Matthew) or "Surely this man was innocent" (Luke)?

Is he also the man who is said to have pierced Jesus' side with a spear? (This detail appears only in John.) One hears of "the lance of Longinus", an interesting use of the word. The medieval storyteller would know a lance as a horseman's weapon, even if telling the tale in Latin, but to a first-century Roman a lancea was a footsoldier's spear of a specific type, one that was used not by legionaries, but by the infantry auxilia. This would be fully consistent with the period, of course. The troops doing duty at the foot of the Cross would quite likely be auxiliaries rather than the higher-status citizen legionaries.

#283 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 01:33 AM:

OTOH, a footnote at the end of this semi-random Google result says:

When John employs lonchê in referring to the instrument that pierced the side of Jesus, he may have been rendering the Latin telum. The Greek term could refer to a lance as well as to the tip of a javelin. The use of the term lonchê is so unexpected in Greek that Christian tradition built out of it the legend that the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus was named Longinus.
#284 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:55 AM:

"Is Longinus the same as the Roman Centurion at the Cross"

Yes, that might be the same one - the Book's a bit unclear on the subject. The spear is only in John, and the centurion at the cross is only in the other three, as you point out.
Played in "The Greatest Story Ever Told", of course, by John Wayne.

("Surely this wuz the son uf Gahd."
"Cut! No, John, say it with awe!"
"Aww, surely this wuz the son uf Gahd."
Very old joke.)

#285 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 02:35 PM:

Apropo of nothing, here are the vowels missing from Lizzy L's post:

ui oo. u ii, u o. o a o ea i. I a oe a eie a ee ui oo i eae. o oi o ea i; ou ae ea e a o e eeio o. oi ae a i Oei ia o. ou ae ea ae e ae i o o.

Or perhaps the last two are:
ea o.

I think it looks kind of neat.

#286 ::: Ganymede ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:37 AM:

I'm completely blown away that anyone ever comes away from this book thinking it's true. Nevermind all the historical details (thanks to the mental vacuum called "my new room mate" I've had to face up to the fact that there are people who really are that ignorant), there's this giant problem with the whole basis of it: it's a really big secret. If anyone found out, society would CRUMBLE. Because it's such a big fucking secret. A secret that NO ONE must ever even suspect. A secret which... is revealed in a popular best-selling novel.

I know there are a LOT of people who believe it is a scholarly treatise, and yet I'm not seeing the rioting and pandemonium.

I guess no one really cares, after all. Pity all those people went and offed eachother over it, if only someone had told them not to be such drama queens.

#287 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 12:11 AM:

As Jakob pointed out in Open Thread 60, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail have filed a plagiarism suit in the UK against Dan Brown.

Thought I should drop a pointer here. This ought to be entertaining.

#288 ::: Ruth Bygrave ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2006, 05:29 AM:

Wow, Simon Le Bon really isn't all that bright, is he?

Went to the link to Simon Le Bon's book review page expecting the usual good-giggle-over-bad-book review, and realised that (unless my irony glasses have slipped off again) he's managed to notice the poor writing while remaining under the impression that THB&THG is good investigative journalism about something that actually exists.

The following search and replace would improve the article, being a) truer and b) shorter:

s/"rides on but completely cheapens some very real and important past investigative journalism conducted in genuine good faith"/"is a bad airport book referencing another bad airport book"/

Oh dear.

tDVC shouldn't be reviled for being a bad book about important ideas. It should be reviled for being a bad book about bad (non-existent) ideas and research.

#291 ::: mn ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2007, 07:32 PM:


wll s dn brwnz cmplshd wt h wntd... th bk vsl md n mpct n y... s sk y, f t s s crp... nd y m thnk t s... bt t gt y tlkn bt t nyw, ddnt t? y hv jst dn th thr fvr, hvnt y? y hv prmtd hs bk t ll wh wll lstn t yr rntng nd rvng.. ppl s th bk s csn str,, s t ndrstd yr blbbrng th mst s fr thmslvs, wnt th?

s t y nrrw-mndd flk wh hv jst fll nt dnz mnd trp... wz tlkng bt t rll nsssr?

wll bd th fnd frwll

xxxx
mn =)

[posted from 123.255.62.117]

#293 ::: Jon Meltzer sees the same spammer again ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 04:01 PM:

[ plink ]

#294 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 11:41 AM:

If they’d made the obvious assumption that a dying man whose primary language was French would make up French anagrams for his French-speaking granddaughter

I'm reminded that there's a Modesty Blaise story where Modesty is on hand when a critically-injured secret agent mutters a cryptic phrase before passing into a coma, and the cryptic phrase resists all attempts at interpretation until she realises that although she was listening in English, the secret agent was speaking in French.

In fact there's two stories like that, because it's one of the plot hooks O'Donnell liked enough that after he used it in the comic strip he used it again in one of the novels, with a different cryptic phrase and a completely different plot hanging off it. In the comic strip the phrase is "girl due", which turns out to be an uncompleted attempt to say "gueule du loup". I don't remember what it is in the novel, which is one of the few I don't have on hand.

#295 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 12:26 PM:

Paul A @ 299... Back in the 19th Century, San Francisco had a well-know establishment called the Poodle Dog, which was mangled from the French 'Poulet d'Or' ('Golden Pullet'). Need I also mention the town called Gnawbone which originally was Narbonnes?

#296 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 12:42 PM:

Or Elephant and Castle, which was a mishearing of Enfanta de Castille.

#297 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Paul A @#229: There's an Elizabeth Peters book with the same gimmick, only Arabic instead of French.

#298 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2011, 02:55 PM:

And let's not get started on name changes at Ellis Island, okay? We'll leave Sean Ferguson to the Irish (end of the article at the link, not the beginning).

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