Monday, January 25, 2010

The Da Vinci Code Summary

Continuing our series of literature is a summary of The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

This book describes the attempts of Robert Langdon, Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard University, to solve the murder of renowned curator Jacques Saunière of the Louvre Museum in Paris. A baffling cipher is found near his body. Saunière's granddaughter, Sophie Neveu and Langdon attempt to sort out the bizarre riddles and are stunned to discover a trail of clues hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.

The unraveling of the mystery requires solutions to a series of brain-teasers, including anagrams and number puzzles. The ultimate solution is found to be intimately connected with the possible location of the Holy Grail and to a mysterious society called the Priory of Sion, as well as to the Knights Templar. The story also involves the Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei.


The story starts off with the murder of Jacques Saunière (the Grand Master Of Priory of Sion, although virtually no one knows that at the time) by Silas (acting on behalf of someone known only as The Teacher) to extract the location of the "keystone", an item which leads to the Holy Grail. The police summon Robert Langdon, who is delivering a lecture in Paris, to the murder scene and ask for his help in deciphering the code Sauniere left on and near his body. Bezu Fache, the Captain of the Central Directorate Judicial Police, believes Langdon is the prime suspect in the murder.

Sophie Neveu shows up at the murder scene as a police cryptographer and quickly gains Langdon's trust. Jacques Saunière was Neveu's grandfather and they were very close to each other until she discovered him participating in a pagan sex ritual (Hieros Gamos) at his home in Normandy, when she made a surprise visit there during a break from boarding school. (That she had observed something is mentioned and hinted at several times throughout the story, but what it is that she saw is revealed to no one, including the reader, until near the end when she tells Robert).

Langdon and Neveu find a baffling cipher near Saunière's body. These clues were meant to lead to a second set of clues. By deciphering her grandfather's clues, Neveu finds the painting which had a key hidden behind it and an address and symbols of the Priory of Sion were written on the key. Working together, Langdon and Neveu trick the police, flee the scene and figure out the secret of the key.

The key opens a safe deposit box at the Paris branch of the Depository Bank of Zurich. Saunière's account number at the bank is a 10-digit number listing the digits of the first eight Fibonacci numbers: 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21.

Inside the safe deposit box they find the keystone which is actually a large cryptex, a cylindrical device supposedly invented by Leonardo Da Vinci for transporting secure messages. In order to open it the combination of rotating components must be arranged in the correct order. If the cryptex is forced open an enclosed vial of vinegar ruptures and dissolves the message, which was written on papyrus. The rosewood box containing the large cryptex contains clues to the combination of the cryptex, written in backwards script in the same manner as Leonardo's journals.

The instructions that Saunière revealed to Silas at gunpoint are actually a well-rehearsed lie, namely that the keystone is buried in the Church of Saint-Sulpice beneath an obelisk that lies exactly along the ancient "Rose Line" (the former Prime Meridian which passed through Paris before it was redesignated to pass through Greenwich). The message beneath the obelisk simply contains a reference to a passage in the Book of Job (38:11a) which reads in part "Hitherto shalt thou go and no further."(KJV) When Silas reads this, he realizes he has been tricked.

Still being chased by the police, Langdon and Neveu take the keystone to Sir Leigh Teabing (an expert in the Holy Grail and Langdon's friend). They flee the country in Teabing's private plane, and on the plane figure out how to open the cryptex, but the large cryptex actually contains a second smaller cryptex with a second riddle that reveals its combination. The riddle, which says to seek the orb that should be on the tomb of "a knight a pope interred," refers not to a medieval knight, but rather to the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, and was eulogized by Alexander Pope (A. Pope).

It turns out that Teabing is the Teacher who assigned Silas to kill Jacques Saunière and he also had information on the identities of the leaders of the Priory of Sion who then bugged their offices and had Silas assassinate them. Rémy is his collaborator. It is Teabing who contacted Bishop Aringarosa, hiding his identity, and tricked him into financing the plan to find the Grail. He never intended to hand the Grail over to Aringarosa but is taking advantage of Opus Dei's resolve to find it. Teabing believes that the Priory of Sion has broken its vow to reveal the secret of the Grail to the world at the appointed time. He plans to steal the Grail documents and reveal them to the world himself. It was he who informed Silas that Langdon and Sophie Neveu were at his chateau. He did not seize the keystone from them himself because he did not want to reveal his identity. He summoned Silas to seize the keystone in his house, but himself thwarted Silas, in order to gain Langdon and Sophie's further help with decoding the cryptex. Subsequently, the police raid the house, having followed the tracking device in the truck Langdon had stolen while escaping from the bank. Teabing led Neveu and Langdon to the Temple Church in London, knowing full well that it was a dead end, in order to stage the hostage scene with Rémy and thereby obtain the keystone without revealing his real plot to Langdon and Neveu.

In order to erase all knowledge of his work, Teabing kills Rémy by giving him cognac laced with peanut powder, knowing Rémy has a deadly allergy to peanuts. Thus, Rémy dies of an anaphylactic shock. Teabing also anonymously tells the police that Silas is hiding in the London headquarters of Opus Dei.

In a showdown with Teabing in Westminster Abbey, Langdon secretly opens the second cryptex and removes its contents before destroying it in front of Teabing. Teabing is arrested and led away while fruitlessly begging Langdon to tell him the contents of the second cryptex and the secret location of the Grail.

Bezu Fache finds out that Neveu and Langdon are innocent after Bishop Aringarosa contacts him privately to confess. Fache then cancels the warrants for the arrest of Neveu and Langdon.

Silas accidentally shoots Aringarosa outside the London headquarters of Opus Dei while fleeing from the police. Realizing his terrible error and that he has been duped, Aringarosa tells Bezu Fache to give the bearer bonds in his briefcase to the families of the murdered leaders of the Priory of Sion. Silas dies from his fatal wounds.

The final message inside the second keystone actually does not refer to Rosslyn Chapel, although the Grail was indeed once buried there, below the Star of David on the floor (the two interlocking triangles are the "blade" and "chalice," i.e., male and female symbols).

The docent in Rosslyn Chapel is Sophie's long-lost brother. Sophie had been told as a child that he was killed with her parents and grandmother in a car accident.

The guardian of Rosslyn Chapel, Marie Chauvel, is Sophie's long-lost grandmother, and the wife of Jacques Saunière. She is the woman who participated in the sex ritual with Jacques Saunière. It is revealed that Sophie is a descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. The Priory of Sion hid her identity in order to protect her from possible threats to her life.

Even though all four of the leaders of the Priory of Sion are killed, the secret is not lost, since there is still a contingency plan (never revealed) which will keep the organization and its secret alive.

The real meaning of the last message is that the Grail is buried beneath the small pyramid (i.e., the "blade," a male symbol) directly below the inverted glass pyramid of the Louvre (i.e., the "chalice," a female symbol, which Langdon and Sophie ironically almost crashed into while making their original escape from Bezu Fache). It also lies beneath the "Rose Line," which is similar to "Rosslyn." Langdon figures out this final piece to the puzzle in the last pages of the book, but he does not appear inclined to tell anyone about this. See La Pyramide Inversée for further discussion.

From Wikipedia

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