Who knew it could be so dangerous to become a bestselling author?
A couple of years ago, Dan Brown was just a struggling midlist novelist, and a "semi-successful LA songwriter," in the words of one recent news report.
Today, he's DAN BROWN, semi-reclusive, superrich author of one of the bestselling novels of all time, The Da Vinci Code, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. He is also at the center of a major U.K. lawsuit. Brown, or more accurately his publisher, Random House, stands accused of stealing "the architecture" and at least one story line from a previous book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, also, coincidentally, published by what is now a Random House imprint (Delacorte) in 1982. Dan Brown's arc is almost fittingly biblical: he had the hubris to publish a hugely popular book, and now, inevitably, he must be punished.
So am I the only person around here who thinks this court case is bogus? First of all, The Da Vinci Code is a novel, and novels routinely look to nonfiction (which is how HBHG is billed) for inspiration. Second, at greatest issue is the idea that Brown supposedly borrowed from HBHG the notion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child—but that's a (blasphemous) thought that has been floating around for years. (Never mind that there are those who argue that biblical characters cannot, by definition, be considered nonfictional in the first place.) Besides, as one British lawyer pointed out, copyright infringement cases turn on the idea that one book has earned money rightfully owing to the previous book—and yet the British press reports that pre-trial, HBHG was selling 300 or so copies a week; in recent weeks, it has been more like 3,000. If anything, Da Vincihas helped, not hurt, the earlier book's income.
Logistics and venue notwithstanding, something about all this is feeling mighty familiar. Consider the following: 1. Relatively unknown writer publishes book that, purposely or not, takes on established cultural icons and/or community. 2 Book strikes nerve with readers, thanks in part to coverage by TV shows and personalities, and becomes huge success. 3. Disgruntled and/or competitive and/or truth-seeking reporter or writer steps forward and accuses author of bad, if not criminal, behavior. 4. Author defends himself, either well or poorly, in court or court of public opinion. 5. Whether author is judged guilty or innocent, his book(s) continue to sell—sometimes, even better than ever.
It's probably the ultimate blasphemy to say so, but I see a lot of commonality between the lionized Brown and the disgraced Frey. In both cases, their stories—and their stories—are full of jealousy, self-righteousness, pride, envy and greed.
Talk about your biblical themes! Just spare us the flood.
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