Previously on The Da Vinci Code Langdon and Sophie went to Gringotts or some such shit, and a Swiss banker named Andre Vernet – who conveniently knew her grandfather – tells them that Sophie’s mysterious key is to a safe deposit box, but it’s useless without the account number. This leads to our brilliant heroes drooling on themselves for a number of pages while they attempt to remember where they might have seen a random number sequence written in blood and blacklight pen some two or three hours ago.
After some prolonged creaking of rusted mental gears, these rocket scientists finally figure it out, input the number and end up with a wooden box with a rose on it, most likely the work of the late, lamented and impressively batshit Jacques Sauniere. And they opened the box on a cliffhanger, because everything in this book ends on a cliffhanger.
…is basically how Vernet – for reasons best known to himself, but probably something to do with needing to move the plot along – smuggles Sophie and Langdon out of the bank in the back of a truck, so that they once again avoid capture by the pursing Collet and Fache. That’s it. Nothing else of interest happens and we have no more clues about what was in the box.
All in all a disappointment, really. You were phoning it in, Chapter Forty-Five.
But then along comes…
…where everyone’s favourite idiot assassin is currently lying face down in his room, airing out his wounds from his most recent flogging and smothering every available surface of this secret location in the kind of DNA evidence smorgasbord you’d expect to find at a bukkake party that took a wrong turn somewhere and ended in a brutal multiple axe murder.
Tonight’s second session with the Discipline had left him dizzy and weak.
Silas is so stupid he is the literal embodiment of ‘Stop hitting yourself’. If he’s self-flagellating twice a night on the regular then how does he even have any skin left on his back?
Silas thinks that he has failed the Church and – worse – has failed his dear friend Bish Bling.
Tonight was supposed to be Bishop Aringarosa’s salvation. Five months ago, the bishop had returned from a meeting at the Vatican Observatory, where he had learned something that left him deeply changed.
We know. We were there. We learned nothing and were deeply annoyed.
Depressed for weeks, Aringarosa had finally shared the news with Silas.
“But this is impossible!” Silas had cried out. “I cannot accept it!”
“It is true,” Aringarosa said. “Unthinkable, but true. In only six months.”
Oh hurrah. We’re doing this again, where we refer to some UNSPECIFIED BOMBSHELL over and over again. That’s not irritating in the slightest.
Anyway, whatever the UNSPECIFIED BOMBSHELL WE’RE GOING TO KEEP TEASING YOU WITH UNTIL YOUR NOSE BLEEDS actually was, Bish Bling found a way to prevent it and this involved Silas becoming a soldier of God, or something. In other words, a crap assassin.
Silas fell to his knees before Bishop Aringarosa – the man who had given him a new life – and he said, “I am a lamb of God. Shepherd me as your heart commands.”
Just a lamb with a Heckler and Koch USP 40 and a penchant for staving in nuns’ heads. So lamby.
Oh, for fuck’s sake – this is just rehashing shit at this point. Bish and Silas and some guy called The Teacher had this plan, which we know. It was to off everyone, snag the keystone and…do something, but it came to nothing because everyone involved in the plan was an absolute moron.
Silas now gazed at the bare floor and feared victory had eluded them. The Teacher had been tricked. The keystone was a devious dead end. And with the deception, all hope had vanished. Silas wished he could call Bishop Aringarosa and warn him, but the Teacher had removed all their lines of direct communication tonight.
Then Silas picks up his cell phone and calls the Teacher. See what I mean? Morons.
“Teacher,” he whispered, “all is lost.” Silas truthfully told the man how he had been tricked.
“You lose your faith too quickly,” the Teacher replied. “I have just received news. Most unexpected and welcome. The secret lives. Jacques Sauniere transferred information before he died. I will call you soon. Our work tonight is not yet done.”
I like how Silas seems to think if you whisper that nobody can trace your phone calls or something. I may as well face it – I just like Silas. He’s the dumbest character in the book and I enjoy the hilarious idiocy of his every terrible decision.
Riding inside the dimly lit cargo hold of the armoured truck was like being transported in a cell for solitary confinement.
Solitary except for the dingbat cryptographer also inside the armoured truck. So not solitary at all. I suppose I should have expected this from a writer of Dan Brown’s extraordinary calibre; sooner or later they all fail to realise that words mean things.
Anyway, Bob is having a claustrophobia attack in the back of the truck, because that’s what he does in lieu of having an actual personality. Neither he or Sophie have any idea where they’re going or exactly why Vernet decided to help them escape, but they’re in excellent company because I have no fucking clue either.
So, obviously it’s time to open the box from the previous chapter and see what new and annoying mcguffin Sauniere decided to stash in there. Because it is a mcguffin; you know it, I know it. This is Jacques Sauniere we’re talking about, the man who decided that the best way to make a point was whip out a blacklight pen and hang dong on his deathbed. There’s no way he’s going to leave anything like a straightforward clue in his silly box.
In contrast to the warm colours of the rosewood box, the inlaid rose had been crafted of a pale wood, probably ash, which shone clearly in the dim light.
I’m sorry, but why does everyone in this book have such elite wood recognition skills? Are they all amateur carpenters or is there like a Monty Python learning annex where you can take your tree recognition skills and apply them to timber?
The Rose. Entire armies and religions had been built on this symbol, as had secret societies. The Rosicrucians. The Knights of The Rosy Cross.
I want to just go full Morbo and yell SYMBOLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! A symbol is just that, Bob – a symbol. You can’t build a religion on a symbol. Early Christians didn’t look at the cross and go “Hey, cool shape! Let’s build a religion around it!” It was always about what the shape represented.
Anyway, he looks inside the box and inside is another mysterious object that he’s probably going to infodump at great length about, because you saw how that went with the weird safe deposit key. Brace yourself. We’re going in.
Crafted of polished white marble, it was a stone cylinder approximately the dimensions of a tennis ball can. More complicated than a simple column of stone, however, the cylinder appeared to have been assembled in many pieces. Five doughnut-sized discs of marble had been stacked and affixed to one another within a delicate brass framework. It looked like some kind of tubular, multiwheeled kaleidoscope. Each end of the cylinder was affixed with an end cap, also marble, making it impossible to see inside. Having heard liquid within, Langdon assumed the cylinder was hollow.
See what I mean? Sauniere strikes again. Still, I suppose at least he didn’t hang dong this time.
Each wheel of the contraption is lettered with the entire alphabet, reminding ‘Langdon of one of his childhood toys – a rod thread with lettered tumblers that could be rotated to spell different words.’ In other words, Dan Brown had a toy like this as a child, because Langdon is an embarrassingly transparent self-insert. I wonder what words he used to spell with it? Most children would use it to spell things like WEE WEE, BOTTOMS and POO, but baby Danbert Brangdon probably cut his teeth on words like WELL and ACTUALLY.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Sophie whispered.
Langdon glanced up. “I don’t know. What the hell is it?”
Sophie explains that her grandfather used to craft things like this, because of course he did, and the design was cribbed from Leonardo’s notebooks, because Sauniere used to get his kicks making the model flying machine and diving suits and all the other contraptions Leonardo doodled. This fondness for crafting does go some way to explaining why Sophie knew her grandfather’s favourite wood, which is kind of a bizarre thing to know about someone, and also explains the statue of a knight in Sauniere’s office at the Louvre. Remember that guy? The one who was standing there looking at Collet and Fache in a “Hey, I’m almost definitely a plot point” kind of way?
The thing in the box is called a cryptex and is used for keeping secrets, because it’s just that kind of book. Interestingly the knight – Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘robot’ is a real thing and has been built according to the instructions in his notebooks – although there is no record of any such thing as the cryptex, but I don’t mind. You know why? Because Dan made up the cryptex all on his own. He didn’t run scurrying back to Holy Blood and Holy Grail for his next plot point. Instead he put on his big boy writer pants and invented something all by himself.
I’m weirdly proud of him.
As their armoured truck roared down the highway, Sophie explained to Langdon that the cryptex had been Da Vinci’s solution to the dilemma of sending secure messages over long distances. In an era without telephones and e-mail, anyone wanting to convey private information to someone far away had no option but to write it down and then trust a messenger to carry the letter.
Yeah, or they devised codes. Or wrote backwards, like our man from Vinci. But never mind. In this funny little world Leonardo decided that instead of just using ciphers like everyone else, he’d invent a kind of stone bicycle lock filled with vinegar and papyrus, because apparently he loved to make shit needlessly complicated. Sauniere used to build these things all the time and give them to Sophie.
“A couple of times for my birthday, he gave me a cryptex and told me a riddle. The answer to the riddle was the password to the cryptex, and once I figured it out I could open it up and find my birthday card.”
“A lot of work for a card.”
Bob, have you even met a member of this fucking family?
“No, the cards always contained another riddle or clue. My grandfather loved creating elaborate treasure hunts around the house, a string of clues that eventually led to my real gift.”
Yikes. I hope he never bought her a pony. The poor creature would have died of starvation in the time it took her to find it; these people take forever to get to the point.
In this case the point is that you can’t smash open a cryptex, because if you do it will break open a vial of vinegar inside and dissolve the message, which is written on papyrus.
“As you can see,” Sophie told him. “The only way to access the information inside is to know the proper five letter password. And with five dials, each with twenty six letters, that’s twenty six to the fifth power.” She quickly estimated the permutations. “Approximately twelve million possibilities.”
“If you say so,” Langdon said, looking like he had approximately twelve million questions running through his head. “What information do you think is inside?”
I don’t know, but if it’s the number of another safe deposit box then I’m going to be quite annoyed.
Sophie asks Langdon if the rose is also a sign of the Grail, because why not? Everything is the sign of the Grail now. It’s like a Python-tinged pareidolia that’s afflicting everyone who’s had so much of a sniff of Langdon’s tweeds. Sophie then goes onto infodump about the old Latin expression – sub rosa, literally ‘under the rose’ – and that her grandfather would always hang a rose on his office door when he wanted privacy. Presumably he failed to hang a rose on the day he got caught doing the Awful Unspecified Thing, although I suppose there’s a distinct possibility he may have been hanging something else. Like dong.
Apparently the five petaled rose is also a sign for Venus, because it has five petals and pentacles have five points and they’re a sign of Venus too and I’m just like “Yeah, my foot has five toes and is therefore a symbol of the sacred feminine or whatever,” because that’s how it seems to work in Bob’s strange little world. If there are five things on a thing then it means VENUS, HOLY GRAIL, PRIORY OF SION. I don’t know any more.
In addition, the Rose had close ties to the concept of ‘true direction’ and navigating one’s way. The Compass Rose helped travellers navigate, as did Rose Lines, the longitudinal lines of on maps. For this reason, the Rose was a symbol that spoke of the Grail on many levels – secrecy, womanhood and guidance – the feminine chalice and guiding star that led to secret truth.
You know a thing that also has five things? A starfish. And you know what’s often referred to as a starfish, often of the chocolate variety? Yep. Could this cryptic ‘chocolate starfish’ be the origin of these mysterious facts about the sacred feminine or whatever the fuck he’s jabbering about now?
Symbology – Dan Brown style. It’s really easy if you just pull the answer directly out of your anus.
As Langdon finished his explanation, his expression seemed to tighten suddenly.
“Robert? Are you okay?”
His eyes were riveted to the rosewood box. “Sub…rosa,” he choked, a fearful bewilderment sweeping across his face. “It can’t be.”
Langdon slowly raised his eyes. “Under the sign of the Rose,” he whispered. “This cryptex…I think I know what it is.”
Oh God. Hold onto your boredom thresholds, people. I have a nasty feeling that this is about to get infodumpy.