Help! I Have to Write a Paper on The Da Vinci Code!

Question: Help! I Have to Write a Paper on The Da Vinci Code!


If I have this straight, many of you are being required to (1) read the popular novel The Da Vinci Code and (2) write a paper on your findings. According to your emails, the fundamental question "How much of the book is true?" has proved to be a major stumbling block in the writing process.

You have to write your own papers, but here are a few words about the accuracy of The Da Vinci Code to help you get underway.

Fair enough?

In my opinion, the troubling item that caught you, me and around twenty million other readers by surprise arose in the preface of The Da Vinci Code (which will go by the acronym "TDVC" from here on out). In the hardcover edition, the preface on (unnumbered) page 1 begins with the word "FACT".

Quoting the third and final paragraph:

  • "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."

The first time I read this sentence, I took it at face value, and possibly you have, too. While reading through the next 453 pages, I soon began noticing things that I didn't think were right - but skipped over them, not wanting to interrupt the "flow" of the novel.

During the second reading of TDVC, notes were taken in order that certain statements could be checked for accuracy. That fact-checking began to consume every free moment, and involve numerous trips to the library.

(This should be taken, by you, as a big hint about any "truth" factor in this book.)

By the third time through, a grudging respect for the author, Dan Brown, had to be acknowledged. Not so much for his writing, and certainly not for his claims of accuracy, but because he was very, very clever not to have inserted a percentage in that sentence above.

He never said,

  • "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are 100% accurate."

See what a big difference having a number in there (or not) makes? Clever!

Now, I hope you are the smart sort of person who questions things while keeping an open mind, and that you base your opinions on your own careful research. I would wish that deliberate mindset for anyone, anywhere, at any age, feeling that it is the mark of a thinking person. However, you do appear to be running on a deadline, and perhaps don't have the luxury of lengthy deliberation. In an attempt to help speed things along for you, here are a few examples of good and bad information from TDVC, as they apply to Art History.

Good Information:

  • Leonardo was an actual person.
  • Leonardo painted the Last Supper, the Mona Lisa and the Madonna (or "Virgin") of the Rocks, and sketched (but did not himself paint) The Adoration of the Magi.
  • The Louvre is a museum in Paris.

Bad Information:

  • TDVC refers to Leonardo as "Da Vinci", calls him a "flamboyant homosexual" and mentions his "hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions".
  • TDVC has taken Last Supper out of context, implied that Leonardo himself called La Gioconda the "Mona Lisa" and presented, as factual, inaccuracies to the size of the Louvre's version of The Virgin of the Rocks.
  • TDVC is guilty of misplacing various works and public restrooms within the Louvre, and perpetuating the urban myth that the Louvre's "pyramid" entrance contains precisely 666 Mark-of-the-Beast panes of glass.

Obviously, some of these are minor points, unless you are in the Louvre and have got to get to a restroom this instant. The point is, you really should take that "accurate" claim with continuous grains of salt the whole time you are reading TDVC. As you read and analyze, apply healthy doubt to any and all subjects that grab your attention; your doubt can hardly be misplaced between these covers, I assure you.

Best Parting Paper-writing Advice:

  • Be skeptical about the "facts" in TDVC, but don't shy away from the questions it raises.
  • If your instructor has left the choice of topic up to you, pick one theme from TDVC about which to write and research just that. You truly haven't got time to fact-check the whole book, unless your paper is due 18 months from now.
  • Choose your words carefully. Many people take TDVC extremely seriously, and these may end up being the very people who'll cheerfully present you with ad hominem arguments, ad nauseam.
  • When you've got more time, revisit and research other themes in the book. It offers many interesting avenues to explore.
  • Swear you will never, ever refer to Leonardo, the artist, as "Da Vinci". I cannot even begin to tell you how wrong that is.

Good luck with your paper!

Return to A Guide to Leonardo and Art in The Da Vinci Code.

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