The Da Vinci Code: Chapter 40

Summary: Turning over the driving to Sophie, Langdon continues to consider Saunière’s key and its possible connection to the Holy Grail. He believes the Knights Templar last moved the Grail to a hiding place circa 1500, when Leonardo Da Vinci was Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Langdon believes the Grail has probably not moved since—it is supposed to rest somewhere in Britain. He does not believe, however, as Sophie has concluded, that the key will unlock the Grail’s hiding place: only four members of the Priory—the Grand Master and his three sénécahaux [stewards]—know that location, and Langdon does not believe Saunière could have ranked so high within the organization. Sophie, however, thinks he might have, based on what she witnessed a decade ago. Before she can tell Langdon about that incident, however, they arrive at their destination. No. 24 Rue Haxo is a Swiss bank depository, and Langdon realizes that the key is the key to a safe deposit box.

Analysis: “Everyone loves a conspiracy,” Langdon muses in this chapter (p. 184)—and this chapter makes it easy to see why. Conspiracy theories allow those who construct them to pull together seemingly disparate facts and pieces of information into a coherent whole. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, the endlessly fascinating art work of Da Vinci (in addition to his masterworks that we have already encountered, this chapter invokes the controversy regarding the underdrawing in the Adoration of the Magi—a real news item: Maurizio Seracini (p. 184)  is a real person, and has in fact used high-tech means to investigate what is beneath the painted surface of the work; see John Hooper, “Art detective exposes hidden images to fuel Da Vinci Code conspiracies,”, the storied history of the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion and the Holy Grail into an elaborate, seemingly logical whole. Conspiracy theories, in other words, seek to impose order upon chaos. In real life, conspiracy theories usually prove unverifiable (and unfalsifiable, for that matter) because of their reliance on speculation and logical fallcies. In Brown’s novel, however, the conspiracy theory that Langdon and Sophie are unravelling makes for exciting reading, and an entertaining introduction to a variety of subject matters. (Again, however, readers may be forgiven for being amused at Langdon’s condescending dismissal of all conspiracy theories but his own! “And the conspiracies kept coming…” p. 184).
Langdon’s idenitification of Britain as “the land of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” (p. 183) calls to mind the long association of the Holy Grail with “the Matter of Britain,” the many cycles of Arthurian legend. Although it enjoyed its own existence as a symbolic archetype prior to its connection to Camelot, the Grail “was introduced … to the Arthurian canon by Chrétien de Troyes in his unfinished Perceval, ou Le Conte del Graal (begun ?1182), where it appears as part of some unexplained ceremony performed to Perceval in the castle of the Fisher King” (John Clute & John Grant, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997; p. 427). The ceremony goes unexplained in that text, in fact, because Perceval fails to ask proper questions regarding the Grail and its function. It is altogether appropriate, then, that The Da Vinci Code—a novel that revolves around knowing and asking the correct questions—belongs to the genre of Grail quest stories.