Excuse my brief holiday from this blog, but the last handful of chapters have been exceptionally painful (I’m looking at you, Teabag) and I needed a break to go off, write books and read things that don’t leave my brain feeling like cold rice pudding. Lately I have been reading The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore, a horrifying and yet strangely heroic story of hardcore industrial poisoning and the desperately sick women who fought their corner in court for workers’ rights. Also did you know that they made radium suppositories back in the day, back before people were aware that it had a half life of 1600 years and would cause your rectum to either fall out or develop into a sarcoma twice the size of your bum.
I also read the fantastic Blitzed, by German journalist Norman Ohler, an extensively researched account of how the top tier of the Third Reich was basically – for the entire duration of the war – ripped to its collective antisemitic tits on staggering quantities of pharmaceutical grade meth.
Except for Goring, that is. He was a morphine man. Oh, and Hitler. He liked coke. And Oxycodone.
Previously on The Da Vinci Code, we waded into a river of bullshit so deep that a single chapter took up a whole blog post. And all of it in the company of the awful, awful Sir Leigh Teabing, an English academic drawn in such cheap, cartoonish strokes that he could have been written by Julian Fellowes. The next chapter opens with Bish Bling, for which I am truly grateful, amen.
Bish Bling calls the Opus Dei headquarters in New York to ask if he has had any phone messages which might or might not be from very secret organisations, then the receptionist looks and says he has and that the caller didn’t leave a message, just a Paris phone number. As if this wasn’t all suspicious enough…
As the receptionist hung up the receiver, he wondered why Aringarosa’s phone connection sounded so crackly. The bishop’s daily schedule showed him in New York this weekend, and yet he sounded a world away. The receptionist shrugged it off. Bishop Aringarosa had been acting very strangely the last few months.
Well, he’s in a horribly written novel: strange behaviour is par for the course. Also what the fuck o’clock is it in New York at this point? About eleven at night?
The Teacher was trying to reach me. Despite Aringarosa’s concern at having missed the call, he felt encouraged that the Teacher felt confident enough to to call the Opus Dei headquarters directly.
I don’t see how that level of transparent badness at general track-covering inspires confidence, but carry on, Bishop.
Things must have not gone well in Paris tonight.
Dude, I said it before and I’ll say it again. You hired Silas.
Bish Bling is still not on a flight to Paris, by the way. Remember how he was supposed to be getting on a flight to Paris to join the merry charivari of village idiots currently capering through that blighted city? No, me neither. It was about forty years ago, I think. There is so much going on in the other chapters of this book, including infodumps so long and heavy that they cause time to dilate in much the same way as six months of the Trump administration has made 2017 feel like a decade already, and yet on the other hand when we catch up with the Bish he’s either wallowing in frustrating flashbacks or inching his way up the boot of Italy like the snail in the old World War II propaganda poster.
Anyway, the Bishop picks up the phone and makes another call, this time to the French police! Le gasp!
After a long wait, another man came on, his tone gruff and concerned. “Bishop, I am glad I finally reached you. You and I have much to discuss.”
Ooooh, who’s he talking to? (It’s Fache, isn’t it? Him with the Opus Dei pin) It’s so exciting, but we’ll have to have another cliffhanger before we find out who it is. It’s Fache. You know it’s Fache, I know it’s Fache, but we have to keep doing this because it’s what Dan wants us to do, like he’s a small child who has capered into the room and insisted you watch the ‘show’ they want to put on, and you’re forced to ooh and ahh and applaud as they jump up and down on the sofas and sing. It’s bothersome and boring, but there’s just no polite way of getting out of it.
Okay, that’s kind of a landmark number. I feel like I’ve broken the back of this turd with that, but breaking its back with the toilet brush is only half the work, because now there’s the nervejangling uncertainty of worrying if the severed halves are going to flush or you’re going to have to get into some nasty mashy business with the plunger.
Oh God, we’re back at the Chateau Villette. Help me.
“As you can see, my dear,” Teabing said, hobbling toward a bookshelf. “Leonardo is not the only one who has been trying to tell the world the truth about Holy Grail. The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ has been chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians.” He ran a finger down a row of several dozen books. [snip] “Here is perhaps the best-known tome,” Teabing said, pulling a tattered hardcover from the stack and handing it to her. The cover read HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL, The Acclaimed International Bestseller.
Holy fuck, Dan Brown has some big, clanking brass balls.
Sophie glanced up. “An international bestseller? I’ve never heard of it.”
“You were young. This caused quite a stir in the nineteen eighties…”
Yes, I remember reading it when I was about twelve or thirteen. And I remember thinking, ‘This is a good story. Maybe I should write a work of fiction based around everything in this book…oh, wait, no. Would that be just stealing their ideas?”
Seriously, Dan. I had this down when I was twelve.
“…To my taste the authors made some dubious leaps of faith in their analysis, but their fundamental premise is sound, and to their credit they finally brought the idea of Christ’s bloodline into the mainstream.”
Gosh, Dan. I wonder why these guys sued you. Could it be something to do with the fact that you ripped off their ideas and then used a character whose name was a bad anagram of the authors’ names to slag off the book you snagged all your ideas from?
Dan Brown is a stone cold cunt. I’m kind of impressed.
“I admit,” Teabing said. “The assertions are dire, but you must understand the Church’s powerful motivations to conduct such a cover-up. They could never have survived public knowledge of a bloodline.”
Uh, yes they could, Teabag. Before the Reformation the Church was so insanely powerful that it wasn’t even funny, especially if you happened to get busted trying to translate the scripture into the vernacular or have any kind of independent thought about religion. They tied you to a stake in the market place and set you the fuck on fire.
“The five petal rose,” Sophie said, pointing suddenly to the spine of one of Teabing’s books. The same exact design inlaid on the rosewood box.
Teabing glanced at Langdon and grinned. “She has a good eye.”
I’m so glad you approve, boys. Goddamn, is it me or does this book just keep getting more patronising?
“That is the Priory symbol for the Grail. Mary Magdalene. Because her name was forbidden by the church…”
…wait, wait, wait. Going to have to stop you there, Teabag. Mary Magdalene’s name was forbidden by the church? While it’s true that there is no gospel evidence that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute (she is often identified – some say incorrectly – as the ‘sinful woman’ who washes Jesus’s feet with her hair) and that Mary Magdalene was smeared by the medieval church, her name was far from forbidden. She is venerated as a saint and her relics were preserved by both the Orthodox and the Roman church, not to mention that she was a hugely popular subject for religious painters, who regularly portrayed her as a beautiful woman sometimes clothed in nothing but her own hair, like Lady Godiva. Probably she represented a nice change from painting the usual beardy male apostles.
God, I hate Teabag. Every third word out of his mouth is a massive lie.
Anyway, where were we?
“…Mary Magdalene became secretly known by many pseudonyms – the Chalice, the Holy Grail, and the Rose.” He paused. “The Rose has ties to the five pointed pentacle of Venus and the guiding Compass Rose. By the way, the word rose is identical in English, French, German and many other languages.”
Oh God, not this shit again.
“Rose,” Langdon added, “Is also an anagram of Eros, the Greek God of sexual love.”
Yes, and ‘Robert Langdon’ is an anagram of Barren Dong Lot. Your point?
Teabag goes on to say that the rose is also a symbol of female sexuality because it looks like a vulva. Yep, we’ll just leave that where we found it and pretend it didn’t happen, shall we?
There is just so much nonsense in this section of the book. Let me try and summarise some of this guff. Mary Magdalene was pregnant at the time of the crucifixion, after when she moved to France with Joseph of Arimathea and later gave birth to a daughter named Sarah. There were a bunch of documents, including a family tree and the mysterious source known as Q (actually a thing, the hypothetical but undiscovered source for the synoptic gospels) which was said to be written in Jesus’s own hand, and these were the reason for the Templar tunnelling antics we heard about way back in the book when we were green enough to judgment to imagine any of this might make any fucking sense whatsoever.
Sophie is also confused.
“But you said the Holy Grail was Mary Magdalene. If people are searching for documents, why would you call it a quest for the Holy Grail?”
Teabing eyed her, his expression softening. “Because the hiding place of the Holy Grail includes a sarcophagus.”
Outside, the wind howled in the trees.
Teabing spoke more quietly now. “The quest for the Holy Grail is literally the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene. A journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one, the lost sacred feminine.”
Oh. Well, that…no, there’s no way I can sugar coat it. That’s a rubbish quest. The nicest thing I can say about it is that it gets the disappointment out of the way early. You know, the inevitable disappointment when you realise the story is almost over and you’re about to discover that the real Holy Grail/Lost City of Atlantis/Mcguffin of Choice was actually inside their hearts all along. I hate that. Also I enjoy how the weather – which has hardly been mentioned until now – is suddenly on board with the big dramatic beats of this book.
So, there it is. We started on a silly quest for the Holy Grail and now we’re on a silly quest for some random skeleton that might or might not have once belonged to Mary Magdalene. I am also no longer sure why they’re looking for that. Surely their more immediately priority should be being cleared of murder charges?
But this is The Da Vinci Code, and we’ve committed to this thing now, so we’re going to stand around and listen to Teabag flap his lip some more, this time about the Merovignan kings of France who were said to be descendants of the Grail bloodline, and that the Grail bloodline survives to this day, protected by the also quite rubbish Priory of Sion, whose four senechaux are currently cooling in body bags in various locations in Paris. Oops.
…Sophie felt an odd vibration, as if her bones were reverberating with some new kind of truth. Descendants of Jesus who survived into modern times. Her grandfather’s voice again was whispering in her ear. Princess, I must tell you the truth about your family.
A chill raked her flesh.
She could not imagine.
Oh dear. Sophie suspects she’s a descendant of Jesus and here’s the butler come to interrupt by asking Teabag if they can have a word in private about the two criminals he’s just seen on the television.
Chapter Sixty One
Sophie thinks she might be a descendant of Jesus, which she almost definitely is because it’s just that kind of book.
“No, Sophie,” he whispered, his eyes reassuring. “The same thought crossed my mind as soon as you told me your grandfather was in the Priory, and when I realised you said he waned to tell you a secret about your family.” Langdon paused. “Sauniere is not a Merovignan name.”
Thankfully neither is Chauvel – Sophie’s mother’s maiden name – so that settles that, then. Apparently the only living descendants of Christ are either named Plantard or St. Clair, and Sophie doesn’t have anyone with that name in her family tree. Neither of them even considers the possibility that you can change a name with the stroke of a pen, and I remember why I kind of love this book. Everyone is so wonderfully stupid.
Sophie thinks sadly about her family and the woman with the red hair in the painting. Who is a man.
“I know Leigh said the Grail story is all around us, but tonight is the first time I’ve ever heard any of this.”
Langdon loked as if he wanted to put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but he refrained. “You’ve heard her story before, Sophie. Everyone has. We just don’t understand when we hear it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Grail story is everywhere, but it is hidden. When the Church outlawed speaking of the shunned Mary Magdalene, her story and importance had to be passed on through more discreet channels…”
Oh for God’s sake. Do we really have to do this again? Mary Magdalene was not ‘outlawed’ or shunned. She was, and remains, an extremely popular and widely venerated saint.
“…channels that supported metaphor and symbolism.”
“Of course. The arts.”
Langdon motioned to The Last Supper. “A perfect example. Some of today’s most enduring art, literature and music secretly tell the history of Mary Magdalene and Jesus.”
I love how The Last Supper tells one of the most vivid and resonant stories of all time, the explosive moment when Jesus tells his disciples that one of him will betray him and one will deny him. It shows the all too human reactions of the apostles – rage, disbelief, shock, guilt. It’s even thought that Leonardo studied acoustics in order to paint these reactions more accurately, so that the ones closest to Jesus – the ones who heard him most clearly – are the ones whose faces register the strongest reactions.
This is just one of the stories The Last Supper tells, and this is the story we’re going to ignore, because instead we’re going stuck with this bunch of silly bullshit.
Langdon quickly told her about works by Da Vinci, Botticelli, Poussin, Bernini, Mozart and Victor Hugo that all whispered of the quest to restore the banished sacred feminine.
Okay, let’s just pretend for a second that this celebrity sausagefest really were on a quest to restore the sacred feminine. How were they planning to do this? By praying at the feet of a sarcophagus? By putting hidden messages in their work?
“Once you open your eyes to the Holy Grail,” Langdon said. “You see her everywhere. Paintings. Music. Books. Even in cartoons, theme parks, and popular movies.”
Yeah, you also see her in about three point five billion people, Bob. You know – women. Those of us who have regularly have to fight for our rights to vote, to own property, to divorce, to hold public office, to become ordained ministers of our religions, to get from one end of the day without being patted, pinched, mauled, fondled or raped. Those of us ‘sacred feminine’ creatures who have had to fight sometimes for our own bodily autonomy and even our right to exist.
But yeah, you saw a thing in a thing once that reminded you of Mary Magdalene and that makes you one of the good ones. #notallmen
You’ll never guess where he’s going with this next, by the way.
Langdon held up his Mickey Mouse watch and told her that Walt Disney had made it his quiet life’s work to pass on the Grail story to future generations.
I know, right? Just when you thought you couldn’t get more insulted and belittled, Professor Mansplain just whips out his Mickey Mouse watch and turns that dial up to motherfucking eleven. He’s going to tell a woman about the sacred feminine via the magic of Disney.
For the trained symbologist, watching an early Disney movie was like being barraged by an avalanche of allusion and metaphor. Most of Disney’s hidden messages dealt with religion, pagan myth and stories of the subjugated goddess. It was no mistake that Disney retold tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White – all of which dealt with the incarceration of the sacred feminine.
Thanks, Angela Carter 2.0. Now we understand fairy tales through a feminist lens. This guy, people. This fucking guy.
Oh, and according to Bob if you pause The Lion King at the right moment the dust particles over Simba’s head spell out the word SEX. I don’t know or care and you can probably Snopes that one, but it’s good to have – at last – an insight into the kind of things Bob does for fun. He’s that guy who ruins your enjoyment of movies by pointing out all the references and easter eggs.
And he really loves The Little Mermaid. No, really, he does.
…the movie turned out to be a ninety-minute collage of blatant symbolic references to the lost sanctity of Isis, Eve, Pisces the fish goddess and, repeatedly, Mary Magdalene. The Little Mermaid’s name, Ariel, possessed powerful ties to the sacred feminine and, in the Book of Isaiah, was synonymous with ‘the Holy City besieged’. Of course, the Little Mermaid’s flowing red hair was certainly no coincidence either.
Wait, wait – what? How the fuck do we know Mary Magdalene was a redhead? Where did that assumption come from? The auburn St. John in The Last Supper? Are we just randomly pulling new coincidences out of our arses now?
What the fuck am I talking about? Now. We’ve been doing this from the start. This whole book is one long anal extraction, like that terrible story about the tapeworm.
So, yeah – the chapter ends with Teabag hobbling back in to confront Bob about the whole ‘you turned up on my doorstep without telling me you were wanted for murder’ thing. Awkward.