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Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I finally read The Da Vinci Code. I resisted for a long time because I'd heard folks say it was a poorly written, over-hyped exploitation of a religious theme. But, finally I decided that the book had to have something going for it to be so successful. I approached the book with the idea of finding out what was right about it.

What's right about it? Plenty.

Although I hate to admit it, plot sells books. Dan Brown knows how to plot.

The basics of plot are all there. First, I looked at the overall structure. A good story has three acts. In a Hollywood script these are the Set-up, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. In a 120-page script, there will be a spin point on or about page 30 that send the story from the Set-up to the Confrontation. Likewise at about page 90 there will be a spin point that sends the story into the Resolution. The Da Vinci Code has a similar structure.

A fourth of the way into the book takes you to about page 125 of this 490 page book or to the 26th of the 105 chapters. What's happened to then? Jacques Sauniere has been killed in the Louvre in a prologue that introduces the villain, the threat and the story objective. The balance of society has been disturbed.

Next we meet Robert Langdon and learn something of his ordinary world. He is an academician filled with arcane knowledge on a speaking tour. He is woken out of bed at an early hour by a French police detective who informs him of the murder. In mythical terms, the detective is the herald bringing the call to adventure. Langdon's first response is to refuse the call. He knows nothing of the murder, but goes with the police at their insistence.

At the same time we meet the villain who is also given a mission by an unknown mentor.

At the Louvre we meet Bezu Fache, a threshold guardian, who intends to arrest Langdon for Sauniere's murder. He takes Langdon to the crime scene. Shortly after, they are joined by a police cryptologist, Sophie Neveu. She and Langdon form a team of protagonists. She wants to get Langdon away, out of the reach of Fache, but before she can get him away, she remembers one of the cryptic messages that Sauniere left at the scene and realizes he was trying to tell her something about the Mona Lisa. This is the second call to adventure and she answers it, returning to the Louvre.

Meanwhile, Langdon is about to escape to the American Embassy, when he too recognizes something in the cryptic message--two letters, PS, for Priory of Scion, a secret sect withwhich he's familiar. This is his second call and he, too, returns to the Louvre.

Both Langdon and Neveu have now passed through the doorway from setup to the confrontation. Before they can complete the passage, however, they must get past another threshold guardian, a security officer at the Louvre. In many stories, getting past or overcoming such a threshold guardian marks the end of Act I.

Meanwhile, the villain, Silas, has come upon a dead end in his search. He, too, meets a threshold guardian, a nun who protects the priory and who tries to warn Sauniere, not knowing he's already dead. Silas kills her. That act is his passage through the doorway to Act II.

Next, the confrontation.