But his book is more than just the story of a quest for the Grail he wholly reinterprets the Grail legend. In doing so, Brown inverts the insight that a woman's body is symbolically a container and makes a container symbolically a woman's body. And that container has a name every Christian will recognize, for Brown claims that the Holy Grail was actually Mary Magdalene. She was the vessel that held the blood of Jesus Christ in her womb while bearing his children.
Over the centuries, the Grail-keepers have been guarding the true (and continuing) bloodline of Christ and the relics of the Magdalen, not a material vessel. Therefore Brown claims that "the quest for the Holy Grail is the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene," a conclusion that would surely have surprised Sir Galahad and the other Grail knights who thought they were searching for the Chalice of the Last Supper.
The Da Vinci Code opens with the grisly murder of the Louvre's curator inside the museum. The crime enmeshes hero Robert Langdon, a tweedy professor of symbolism from Harvard, and the victim's granddaughter, burgundy-haired cryptologist Sophie Nevue. Together with crippled millionaire historian Leigh Teabing, they flee Paris for London one step ahead of the police and a mad albino Opus Dei "monk" named Silas who will stop at nothing to prevent them from finding the "Grail."
But despite the frenetic pacing, at no point is action allowed to interfere with a good lecture. Before the story comes full circle back to the Louvre, readers face a barrage of codes, puzzles, mysteries, and conspiracies.
With his twice-stated principle, "Everybody loves a conspiracy," Brown is reminiscent of the famous author who crafted her product by studying the features of ten earlier best-sellers. It would be too easy to criticize him for characters thin as plastic wrap, undistinguished prose, and improbable action. But Brown isn't so much writing badly as writing in a particular way best calculated to attract a female audience. (Women, after all, buy most of the nation's books.) He has married a thriller plot to a romance-novel technique. Notice how each character is an extreme type effortlessly brilliant, smarmy, sinister, or psychotic as needed, moving against luxurious but curiously flat backdrops. Avoiding gore and bedroom gymnastics, he shows only one brief kiss and a sexual ritual performed by a married couple. The risqué allusions are fleeting although the text lingers over some bloody Opus Dei mortifications. In short, Brown has fabricated a novel perfect for a ladies' book club.
Brown's lack of seriousness shows in the games he plays with his character names Robert Langdon, "bright fame long don" (distinguished and virile); Sophie Nevue, "wisdom New Eve"; the irascible taurine detective Bezu Fache, "zebu anger."; The servant who leads the police to them is Legaludec, "legal duce." The murdered curator takes his surname, Saunière, from a real Catholic priest whose occult antics sparked interest in the Grail secret. As an inside joke, Brown...