some spoilers: language and THE DAVINCI CODE
|From:||Sally Caves <scaves@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, June 3, 2003, 21:33|
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark J. Reed" <markjreed@...>
> SC> To take an example from the literary world: what makes a good novel,or a
> SC> good narrative style, seems to differ vastly depending on readershipand
> SC> genre.
> No kidding. :)
> SC> I'm reading The DaVinci Code. I was told that this was an
> SC> intellectual novel, beautifully written, so of course I hadexpectations for
> SC> it that put it in a league with Eco's The Name of the Rose, a novelthat
> SC> conbines elegance of writing with elegance of story and pacing andsuspense.
> High expectations indeed . . .
> SC> Clearly, Brown has had to violate the nature of her character and her
> SC> upbringing in order to make her the "straight man," the person to whomthe
> SC> expert explains things for the benefit of the uneducated readership.
> So she becomes the reader's proxy for expository purposes.
> A cryptographer saying "like anagrams" . . . that just boggles my
> mind. Might as well have an aerospace engineer saying like "Flying.
> That's like what birds do, right?"
Ha ha ha!!
> Admittedly, exposition is darn tricky,
> especially if the entire setting
> of a story (be it historical, other-contemporary-cultural, science
> fiction, fantasy, whatever) is unfamiliar to the reader but is not
> the main point of the novel. One of the reasons Buck Rogers (here
> I'm thinking of the old comics, not Gil Gerard) worked so well was
> because we as readers were first exposed to this unfamiliar future
> world through the eyes of a 20th-century man who was also unfamiliar
> with it, and who was surrounded by people who knew he was unfamiliar
> with it. So when they took the time to explain something to him,
> it felt natural. So the reader's-proxy technique can work,
> but not when you have to violate a character and present her as
> woefully ignorant of her supposed speciality. (Imagine Dr. Huer
> taking the time to explain to Wilma Deering how environmental
> controls worked . . .)
> Another tack is to introduce a character who feels a psychotic
> necessity to explain things constantly to everyone around them
> even when such explanation is logically unnecessary; I call such
> characters "exposition fairies". As much as I enjoy Heinlein,
> for instance, it seems as though every one of his characters suffers
> from this illness. :)
You really should read The Turkey City Lexicon. It's on-line; you can
> SC> there is the abhominable, and unforgiveable lie/lay mistake committedin the
> SC> first eighth of the book. "He laid down on the bed." "It had lay inthe
> SC> street."
> Prescriptivity!! Shame on you! :)
Where the text is supposed to deal with intelligent, well-spoken people, I
expect the writer to follow certain prescriptive rules, and his editor to
know enough to help him out!! The lie/lay mistake really steams me, because
it sounds, IMHO, so sophomoric and "common." If you're going to be
employing educated articulate people as your protagonists, at least master
this old rule. In a few years, "lie" and "lay" will have collapsed into
one another, but we Knights Templar can try to stave off that inevitability
as long as we humanly can!!!
> But "it had lay" is not a case of "the lie/lay mistake" (using "to
> lay" for "to lie"), since "lay" is not the past particple of either
> verb. For "it had lain", I would not be surprised to see either "it
> had lied" or "it had laid", but I've never seen "it had lay" before.
I was shocked. I'll try to find the page number. I didn't mark the book.
> SC> My scientist friend can't tell the difference between the quality
> SC> in writing between this book and Eco's. I teach creative writing,
> SC> and yet I can't explain to him over dinner what feels like literary
> SC> writing and what feels like genre writing,
> What is "genre writing"? Can writing not be both literary and within
> a more specific genre simultaneously?
Well exactly. Actually I don't like using the term "genre" writing, because
it has a pejorative connotation. What critics and teachers of "literary"
fiction don't understand is that literary fiction can be divided up in to
"genres" as well. And yet they continually use the word "genre" to mean
"science fiction," "thrillers," "mysteries," "horror," or what have you.
The word "commercial fiction" has also been pejorated, and yet people teach
Dickens and Shakespeare as "high art." Margaret Atwood is a fine writer.
Is she vitiated because she's also a commercial writer? And then the word
"mainstream" is too often misused. People think that mainstream is without
genre, or that mainstream is not commercial, or that mainstream is the
opposite of horror/sf/fantasy/thriller/mystery... i.e., "reality" fiction.
Wrong. Every genre has its mainstream, including "literary". In a
nutshell, there are no terms that are effective.
> Genre admittedly tends to override quality, in many media. As you
> might have guessed, I'm something of a science fiction fan, and
> one of the things that annoys me is that even the best dramatic SF
> on television pales in comparision to the non-SF dramas, but SF
> fans can't seem to tell. I mean, the writing and acting and
> general believability on "Babylon 5" were so much worse than their
> contemporary analogues over on, say, "ER", but because B5 was nevertheless
> so much better than anything else within the genre at that time,
> everyone hailed it as a masterpiece. The blinders were locked
> firmly in place.
I'm an SF fiction and fantasy fan myself, and the written fiction for the
most part far exceeds television and film SF in quality. For one thing,
there's so much more of it--and its various genres can expand to include a
lot that's avant garde and experimental. Film seems more conservative.
> Similarly, to this day I don't understand all the fuss over "The
> Matrix". Great visual effects, impressive action sequences,
> laughably silly premise, passable acting and writing - enjoyable,
> but hardly "the thinking person's science fiction movie", as I
> heard it touted repeatedly.
Hmmm. I think this is going to raise some debate! There is a mystical
quality to the Matrix, with its clues, its codes, its allegories, its race
to find secrets, that remind me a bit of The DaVinci Code. But I was
disappointed with the second part of the Matrix trilogy. Cool orgy, though!
> SC> and what the cues are that make for "hack" writing.
> "It was a dark and stormy night" comes to mind . . . :)
"As you know, Bob, a cryptographer is sort of like one who can solve the
Jumble in the Newspaper."
Really, it's the sacrifice of character depiction that got me the most, but
also the "convenient" stupidity of people who shouldn't be stupid as the
plot turns. If say too much more, I'll destroy the suspense for other
people who may be reading this book or about to read it. So, some very
minor SPOILERS (gloss over):
Early on in the book, though, and this may be well known to some people,
it's stated that Leonard da Vinci commonly wrote things backwards. At a
crucial point in the plot, our Harvard expert in "symbology" and
code-breaking, and the one who divulged this well-known secret of Da Vinci's
to the "straightman," is completely flummoxed by something that is clearly
backwards writing in English. It looks "semitic," he says, incredibly. Has
he never seen Arabic or Hebrew writing before, such that he would confuse
that with these? A Harvard professor, presumably versed in language and
writing systems! This is where verisimilitude breaks down. The delay is
meant to create suspense in the reader, but at the EXpense of the
characters' believability. The characters are alternately and conveniently
intelligent and stupid in ways that don't convince.
Ultimately, I found The DaVinci Code to be a novelization of Holy Blood,
Holy Grail, a book I read with boisterous enthusiasm back in the early
eighties. DVC a fast-paced read, and it definitely gets better as it goes
along, but it banks on your not knowing anything about the gnostic gospels,
the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, and so forth, for its major impact.
And it has to make one of the characters who should know the MOST about
these things given her upbringing woefully ignorant, such that a dashing
American protagonist can explain it all to her. Well, maybe that's taken
care of by certain aspects of the plot. Read it and tell me what you
Eskkoat ol ai sendran, rohsan nuehra celyil takrem bomai nakuo.
"My shadow follows me, putting strange, new roses into the world."