Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fictional Fact

Edmund Morris is a well known, well educated, and celebrated historian and author. So well known in fact that he was commissioned in 1985 to write a memoir of President Ronald Reagan. The book this project produced was "Dutch", published in 1999.

I love a good biography. As such I spend a little bit of money on biographies from time to time. They are never cheap. However, I bought "Dutch" for $5.99 in a discount book bin. Why is that? Other Reagan biographies are much more expensive and rarely find themselves placed in with the bargain books. After all, Morris was given unparalleled access into the President's personal life as well as the White House. He attended meetings, summits, banquets, and private t.v. chats with Reagan in an attempt to capture the man from the inside out. Yet his biography was nothing more than hype for a few months and then faded into infamy.

The reason Morris' memoir was such a flop was that, in the telling, he incorporated himself into all of Reagan's life. He used a fictional character to walk into historical events and tell the story from the first person. This literary device was much eschewed by serious historians due to the confusing nature of such an account. Where did fact meet fiction? Or did they meet at all? Were factual events marred by the presence of a literary device and the storytelling it took to entwine that device into history?

I remember hearing one historian giving an interview for the book say that there was just no way to take the book seriously because the fictional character so deeply flawed the actual history that no good sense could be made of the story. There was simply no way to tell if what you were reading was fact or fiction.

Fast forward now to The DaVinci Code. This is a book that is confessed fiction by the author himself. Or is it? Dan Brown has repeatedly held that his book is a fictional tale based on solid historical fact. It's fictional history with the emphasis on history.

I find nothing inherently wrong with taking the framework of actual events and using them as the background of a personalized fictional account designed to entertain. However, there is something substantially wrong with an author weaving fiction into history in order to rewrite the story. The DaVinci Code and any other work like it are bad books because of what they purport to accomplish - namely the telling of historical events.

If Dan Brown wanted to unearth the hidden truth of Jesus' family life after the cross and the conspiracy to cover that life up, then he should have written an investigative report using actual facts. Instead, what we have is a novelist trying to be an historian. Serious scholars from both the secular and sacred world have pushed aside this novel like any other bad attempt at history. However, celebrity have heralded this book from the beginning and people across the world are buying into the lie.

The only thing historically accurate about The DaVinci Code is that this story has been told before. It is nothing new to Christ. Men have been suppressing the truth for years and such men never lack for willing hearers.


omlete du fromage said...

is this one of those we're supposed to comment on

Diet Coke Mania said...

Or is it Factual Fiction?

Jonathan Henson said...

How bout you update the ole blog?