Sunday, February 26, 2006

The daVinci suit

Via the Huffinton Post the Observer writes about the forthcoming da Vinci Code plagiarism trial.

The case is going to be important for many reasons, not least the fact that if the plaintiff win it will mark a huge change in copyright law. And what a pathetically ungrateful lot they are.

Most people who sold an extra two million copies of a book because of another author would be only too pleased. Baigent and Leigh want a cut of the da Vinci code royalties.

Holy Blood/Holy Grail is an Oliver Stone history of the early church. Drawing on a range of wacky conspiracy theories the result is an entertaining read but definitely not a work of scholarship. That is not to say that all the conspiracy theories in the book are complete rubbish, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

HB/HG was written at a time when the history of the early Christian church was being reexamined by serious scholars. The idea that Constantine's reasons for adopting Christianity might have been political rather than spiritual had considerable shock value as did the idea that St Paul's theology might have been radically different from that of Christ and his appostles. Today these are perfectly respectable scholarly positions, albeit ones that are not likely to be endorsed by the Vatican any time soon.

The rest of the HB/HG is considerably more specualtive, to put it mildly. But even here Baigent et. al. can hardly claim great originality, not least because when HB/HG went on sale they were claiming is as fact. The fact is that the core of the HB/HG conspiracy theory is lifted wholesale from Pierre Plantard, the French confidence trickster who started the Priory of Sion who later admited having fabricated much of the material. If Baigent et. al. are due royalties then what about Plantard's estate?

Dan Brown is not the only person to have borrowed from Plantard's imagination, one of the Lara Croft Tombraider games uses similar motifs.

The other feature of the da Vinci code that has received less comment than it should is the virulent anti-Catholicism. The Catholic church is certainly not above criticism: it covered up for pedophile priests allowing them to molest more children, it meddles in politics, it is reactionary and sexually repressed. There is however an important difference between factual and ficticious allegations. The attack on Opus Dei in particular has overtones of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

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