Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Holy Blood, Holy Hell

The suit by Michael Bagient and Richard Leigh isn’t going well. Public and critical opinion seems solidly behind Dan Brown. For the most part, everyone, including this writer, agrees that Bagient and Leigh don’t have much of a case. Even their own research shows that the legends surrounding Christ and Mary Magdalene’s progeny have turned up all over India and Western Europe, especially in the Arthurian legends, years before they began their research.

At the same time, however, Brown was at best disingenuous when testifying under oath that Bagient and Leigh’s book The Holy Blood, And the Holy Grail was neither critical nor necessary in the writing of The Da Vinci Code. Although it is true that Brown could have written a novel about Christ’s twenty-first century descendants and the Catholic suppression of neo-Merovingian mythology without Bagient and Leigh, one aspect of The Da Vinci Code almost certainly came directly, or indirectly from Holy Blood, Holy Grail: the connection between the Grail mystery and the secret society known as The Priory of Sion.

Through author Geard de Sede and then-Nautonnier (Navigator, or Grand Master) Pierre Plantard du St. Clair, the Priory coaxed BBC journalist Henry Lincoln into publicizing their existence over the course of two documentaries, both airing in the 1970s. With Bagient and Leigh, Lincoln wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail in 1982. Prior to the Lincoln’s research, only one known (to this writer) mention of the Priory ever surfaced in print, in Le Journal Officiel, an index of all organizations operating in post-World War II France. It’s entire 1956 listing gave little hint that the Priory was anything close to a secret society:

"25 juin 1956. Declaration a la sous-prefecture de Saint-Julien en-Genevois. Prieure de Sion. But: etudes et entr’ aide des membres. Siege social: Sous-Cassan, Annemasse (Haute Savoie) [June 25, 1956. Declaration to the Sub-Prefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois. Priory of Sion. Objective: studies and mutual aid to members. Head Office: Sous-Cassan, Annemasse, (Haute Savoie.)]."

(The above quoted in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. I'm citing the passage because I don't want to get sued either)

Although he admitted to sometimes feeling kinda suckered into the whole Priory affair, Lincoln was the primary mover behind the Grail research. Yet, he is the only author of Holy Blood, Holy Grail not suing Dan Brown at the moment. Lincoln, reported to be in declining health at the time of this post, has declined any comment on the case, and on the upcoming movie due out next month. When questioned by reporters why Lincoln refused to join the lawsuit, Bagient and Leigh’s attorneys have repeatedly declined to offer any explanation.

Most likely, Lincoln had already made his piece with the book and was happy to see his work having influence on a wider audience. When The Da Vinci Code first hit the bestsellers charts, Lincoln videotaped commentary on it, and his observations on Brown’s novel are currently available at your local Blockbuster.

One has to wonder why Bagient and Leigh have persisted in their efforts to sue Brown. After all, The Da Vinci Code is pure fluff, a beach-read at best, whereas Holy Blood, Holy Grail is a kick-ass, page-turning, exhaustively researched, refreshingly bold synthesis of historic fact, and a competent interpretation of legend. Why would these two authors want a stake in a book so clearly inferior to their own efforts? Could it only be the money alone?

My best guess at this time is that Bagient and Leigh knew they didn’t have a leg to stand on when they filed. And though it’s tempting to think that they might have sued Brown to drive up sales of their own book (which I hope happens), that might not be the entire reason either. Perhaps their actions, and those of Lincoln too, were designed to promote the Priory of Sion, through The Da Vinci Code and Tom Hanks, to its largest audience to date. That, after all, was what de Sede had in mind when he enticed Lincoln in the first place: a last hurrah for Le Prieure di Sion, the grand daddy of all secret societies, an old, toothless man bidding for attention against the Rosicrucians, the Skull and Bonesmen, the Knights of Malta, the Mafia and other young upstarts.


Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

Now you just had to go and get me started on another subject of interest. (g)

I've been following this situation with mixed feelings. As a fiction writer myself, I use "nonfiction" books for research.

I bought a wonderful book called A Year in The Maine Woods about one man's experiences living alone for a year and I've used his descriptions of the flora and fauna in several stories. Not word for word, of course, but I live in Oklahoma so I have no idea what it's like to walk outside in the morning and feel the mist shrouded Maine air, hear the Canada Geese flying overhead. I can tell you about the wild turkeys that ran through my yard this morning. I can talk exhautively about sticky heat and red dirt.

Granted, this is a bigger deal, but I remember reading HBHG and loving it. I also remember finding more information about their ideas in a couple of other places as well. When the DaVinci code came out, I snapped it up.

Sometimes fluff can be a good thing. I did enjoy the book despite the odd time inconsistencies. But I enjoyed it as a fictional story and found the references to something I already wondered about pretty cool.

This is about money and publicity and human interest. Look at the rising sales of HBHG. More people are reading their work-- that's what they want.

But as a fiction writer, it pisses me off a bit. Have to admit.

12:28 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

Ah, good to see you again, R.

Yeah, I've written a lot of fiction, but until this case I never thought about what research sources might say about what I would consider fair usage. Of course, my non-chalance had little to do with the fact that I always found a way to cite sources within the text of a novel, and more to do with the fact that I simply never expected to sell anything.

Be that as it may, I guess I shouldn't be so hard on Brown since I read the "Da Vinci Code" like everyone else, enjoyed it, and plan to see the movie. I don't know if I liked it as much as you seem to have, but I guess everybody's tastes are different.

HBHG launched me (for awhile) into a serious research effort about Sangreal mythos. Yet, other than the index item I cited, I didn't come across any other references specifically to the Priory of Sion that didn't originate directly or indirectly from BLL (and, as mentioned in the post, I was led to the journal entry through HBHG).

Seeing that the Priory is a major player in "The Da Vinci Code," I'd be curious to know if you've come across any mention of the Priory before 1964 (when de Sede started publishing his pulp novels) that doesn't have the faintest whiff of Bagient, Lincoln and Leigh?

You're probably right to think that this really is all about the money, for it's probably all about the money. Yet, my spider sense tingles because of Lincoln's decision not to join the lawsuit. I'd reckon he likes money too:)

12:57 PM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

Maybe Lincoln's spider sense told him it was a waste of "a lot" of his time.(g)

I always worry about using too much of one research book. I go so far as to make notations in my notes that something is copied direct or personally worded. But even then, I won't use one book but several. And it's hard. My current WIP is called Dweller on the Threshold. It's an entity in theosophical circles-- I've kicked it up a lot, tho --but it earned its name from a fiction book in the 1800s. I've wondered if I'll have to change it-- which will be a major bummer.

Unfortunately, I loaned out my HBHG book along with my copy of the DaVinci Code.

If I remember correctly, HBHG led me to the other sources. I can't remember if any were before 1964. Sorry. I don't think my effort was as serious as yours, but I do plan to continue. Some of it rang of truth-- something we don't get a lot of I think.

1:33 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

I can't say that I know much about theosophy other than Helena Blavatsky, the Moorish Orthodox, and a few old friends who were into it. But, then again, getting acquainted with the subject has been on my "to do" list for almost seven years. Maybe I could start with "Dweller on the Threshold."

One of these days, Rinda, one of these days. . . .

If you got your title from a 19th century work, then you might be working with something that's in public domain. At the very most you might have to choose your wording carefully, but I wouldn't predict a big problem with it.

HBHG did ring of truth, and I suspect that the runaway success of "The Da Vinci Code" has more to do with a public hunger for something that at least seems honest; a desire to make transparent what powerful institutions like church and state have kept cloaked all these years. After all, a lot of people suspect that power keeps stuff hidden from the rest of us. (Kinda difficult to believe, huh?)

One thing that makes me sort of curious, now that you've gotten me thinking away on some distant tangent, is that I've heard Catholic representatives unreservedly trashing the novel and the movie using a lot of the oratorical technique of such refined conversationalists as Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Seeing that the villains in the movie belong to Opus Dei, and that a lot of neocons belong to Opus Dei, I wonder if Brown (or Ron Howard)is making a conscious statement on current western regimes. I wonder if the western Right might have understood the message all too well and are now countering--especially since the right has laid a lot of its eggs in the fundamentalist basket.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Johnny said...

I can't look at "Dweller on the Threshold" without thinking of Lovecraft's "Dweller in Darkness" meeting August Derleth's "Lurker at the Threshold."

2:43 PM  
Blogger Suki said...

Well, the serious Catholics I know (and I can't say here how I know them) are all trashing the novel, because they are afraid people will believe it.
If good old J didn't live/die the way they say he did, it puts the good ol' RC out of business. I wrote something about this here

2:53 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

Sukes, Marcus Garvey made a somewhat similar observation, implying that somewhere along the lines the worship of God translated into the worship of those who claim to represent Him.

Sorry for the caps. Force of habit.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

Well, my Dweller is a bit er, more than the one talked about in theosophy. To them, when a person lives many lives and is about to live one in the light (last one I suppose), they must face the karmic gathering of all their past lives and vanquish it.

Since my book is fiction and horror fiction at that, my Dweller is made up of some pretty bad lives and has found a way to physically manifest.

Enough about that.(g)

I have Catholic friends who won't read the Davinci Code for those reasons. They wouldn't watch Stigmata because they were told it dissed Catholics. Both of these examples question the norm.

I for one think we all need to question more.

Hannity and O'Reilly. Eck. My husband gets a kick out of O'Reilly. He just makes me ill. I've even thought about joining the Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O'Reilly group -- but then I'd have to watch him and get all riled up. No thanks.

Don't know this Marcus Garvey, but I like what he said.

And I don't recognize "Lurker on the Threshold." Sounds good, but I'm afraid to look it up now. (g)

3:31 PM  
Blogger X. Dell said...

Marcus Garvey was a civil rights leader of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s who advocated for black economic autonomy. Late in his life, he spearheaded a back-to-Africa movement.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Rinda Elliott said...

OH, someone to read about. :)

7:54 PM  

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