Blues for Brown

Keeping with our literary theme, Publishing News reports that Dan Brown may be in trouble:

IT APPEARS THAT Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, authors of the 1982 bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, are considering suing Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, for breach of copyright of ideas and research…Lewis Purdue, author of Da Vinci Legacy, is another writer reportedly preparing to sue.

Charges of plagiarism and breach of copyright are notoriously hard to prove, but if Baigent and his co-authors – who have themselves now fallen out – do pursue a case through the courts, the action is likely to jeopardise Columbia’s planned film of The Da Vinci Code.

(Actually, that should be “Perdue” – thanks Lilith) Any legal action would take place in the UK, although

a spokesman for Random House, which publishes Holy Blood in Arrow, would say only that they do not believe there are any proper grounds for complaint.

Perdue’s complaint can be read on his website. Just over a week ago Random House began a counter-suit against Perdue, as reported in The New York Post:

In a stinging 15-page complaint, Dan Brown and publisher Random House say author Lewis Perdue was a nobody until he started making accusations that Brown copied material from Perdue’s two books, “The Da Vinci Legacy” and “Daughter of God.”

Baigent and co-authors will be harder to dismiss.

Meanwhile, CBA reports by email that:

Grizzly Adams Productions bought TV/DVD/VHS rights to Darrell Bock’s Breaking the Da Vinci Code(Nelson), Erwin Lutzer’s The Da Vinci Deception (Tyndale), and James Garlow & Peter Jones’ Cracking Da Vinci’s Code (Cook) for its Breaking the Da Vinci Code, scheduled to air on television in early 2005. The Christian DVD version will be titled The Da Vinci Code Deception.

Alas, CBA fails to tell us that (as I noted previously) the producer ar Grizzly Adams Productions is David Balsiger, who is most famous for producing a pseudo-documentary about the discovery of Noah’s Ark and for co-writing Mike Warnke‘s fake autobiography The Satan Seller, a far more harmful hoax than Brown’s fantasies.

It should, however, be remembered that the wider scholarly community has also been less than impressed. Back in November last year, the Ganett News Service provided a piece in which various secular historians laid into Brown:

Joseph Forte, an art historian at Sarah Lawrence College, says there has long been speculation about sexual messages in Leonardo’s art, about his reputation as a “court master” of riddles and games, about inconsistencies in various gospels, and other factors that Brown may have seized on in “marrying” Jesus and Magdalene.

“I know of no serious scholar who has proposed this notion,” Forte says.

J.V. Field, an art historian at the University of London and president of the Leonardo da Vinci Society, says the real history requires proof, and the “Code” offers none that scholars would recognize.

“As a historian, I can only say that, for me, everything I know about how pictures were used to communicate indicates that the theory is absurd,” Field wrote in an e-mail from London. “This means that I should require very strong evidence indeed to make me take it seriously — such as a document written by Leonardo himself giving an explanation of the procedure he followed; and the authority of the document would need to be established by unassailable provenance. In the present case, that is clearly an unattainable standard of proof.”

Meanwhile, guides at the site of Da Vinci’s Last Supper are also complaining, as reported by Reuters this month:

34-year-old [Lidia Sanvito] has heard of little else since U.S. author Dan Brown’s runaway bestseller was published in March 2003, first from American readers, then starting late last year, from Italians and others as foreign translations hit bookstores worldwide.

“They torture me,” she said of the curious visitors. “I wasn’t surprised about the Americans. But it really did shock me that Italians, with their strong Catholic traditions, would also ask these questions.”

While in Paris, report AP and Reuters:

At Saint-Sulpice, which is featured repeatedly in the novel, they come to snap photos of the church’s obelisk, the spot where the book’s murderous albino monk starts a quest for the Holy Grail.

For the church’s pastor, Rev. Paul Roumanet, this newfound fame has proved a headache. He’s fielded so many questions that he finally posted a sign to debunk the book’s claims. It starts, “Contrary to the fantastical allegations in a recent best seller [this is not a vestige of a pagan temple]“.

…The book claims there are 666 panes of glass in I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre. But an official Louvre document on the Web put the number at 673, while tour guide Jean-Manuel Traimond says he counted 674. Traimond said he is incensed by Brown’s artistic liberties with French geography and history.

Other Paris guides, though, have adapted to the book’s impact. According to The Christian Science Monitor (link from Christianity Today):

Ellen McBreen, a Paris-based art historian and tour guide agrees. Following a book, she says, “gives travel more depth, and everybody wants something that feels more real and more authentic, even if, ironically, it is based on fiction.”

Ms. McBreen runs lively but academically rigorous tours of the Louvre, where Mr. Brown’s book opens, examining the evidence for the book’s thesis that the Holy Grail was not a cup, but actually Mary Magdalene, the bride of Jesus, who bore his children and carried his bloodline, which ran to the early kings of France.

In the UK, the custodians of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland seem to be looking on the bright side (unsurprisingly – despite this being a real church, when I visited last year the bookshop was doing a brisk trade in Holy Blood and such). According to The Scotsman in June:

Stuart Beattie, project manager of the Rosslyn Trust, said: “I would describe the numbers so far this year as exceptional. I would like to say it was down to me but The Da Vinci Code has obviously had a significant effect…We might get another increase in numbers when the film comes out but we are not expecting it to continue for the long term. We’re just trying to make the best of it while it lasts.”

The Publishing News article also alleges that “Not surprisingly, the book was banned in many Catholic countries.” Given that most Catholic countries I can think of are democratic with freedom of speech, and that the Index has been discontinued, in fact I would be surprised. The only places I know of where it has been banned are Lebanon and Jordan.

(Publishing News and Perdue links via Publishers Lunch [sic for lack of apostrophe])

UPDATE (27 Dec): Da Vinci Code tours of Rome are now available.