A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dan Brown's mega-selling The Da Vinci Code is a complicated thriller written for adults and involves clues embedded in the artwork of Leonardo Da Vinci. The novel has ideas that may be intellectually confusing for kids, and even many adults. It weaves a controversial hypothesis about the life of Jesus that challenges the notion of his divinity, and it portrays the Catholic Church as suppressing this alternative narrative. There are mentions of ritualistic sex, and graphic violence includes several brutal murders; a splayed, naked dead body; and a religious zealot engaging in self-harm with a cilice (essentially a spiked chain) tightened around his thigh at all times. The book was adapted for a 2006 film starring Tom Hanks, which spawned a 2009 sequel, Angels & Demons. A young readers' edition of The Da Vinci Code, intended for teens, was released in the United States in 2016 and eliminated much of the sexual content.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Religious symbology professor Robert Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu seek to uncover a millennia-old conspiracy hidden, among other places, in the artwork of Leonardo Da Vinci. They are chased by prelates of the sinister Opus Dei society, by police, and by a mysterious mastermind known only as "The Teacher." The story interweaves history, fictional history, famous art, and the architecture of France and England, all while posing and solving various intricate puzzles as Langdon and Neveu solve a deathbed mystery left for them by murdered Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere, Sophie's grandfather. Most challenging is that the two must not only solve the mystery, but also beat Opus Dei to the information, conceal it, and then decide what to do with it.
Is it any good?
THE DA VINCI CODE, for all its success, is a poorly written thriller with a controversial hypothesis about the life of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. The characters are two-dimensional, and the plot is boilerplate suspense novel stuff. Dan Brown has villains, chase scenes, and some moments of genuine tension. None of it is earth-shattering, though its intricacy is impressive.
Despite all that, it's a fascinating read. The novel opens with a warning that implies that, although the plot is fictional, the research into the development of Christianity is genuine. Spoiler alert: Over the course of the book, Brown questions the divinity of Jesus and presents a supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene and a line of descent that survives through to contemporary times. Those who take it as a legitimate challenge to their faith will find it infuriating.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the religious themes and The Da Vinci Code's hypothesis. How does the book portray the church?
How does the author tell his audience -- besides labeling the book fiction -- that this is a story and not an alternative version of the truth? What would be different if this story was true?
Readers who have seen the movie can compare and contrast the two, and discuss how controversy sells.
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