Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Da Vinci case: literature on trial

From the Observer:
"Nothing less than the future of Western literature is at stake in the High Court tomorrow. Or so the publisher of The Da Vinci Code, the money-spinning blockbuster by Dan Brown, is expected to argue in a ground-breaking trial.

Brown, whose tale of clerical conspiracy and murder has become the bestselling hardback adult novel of all time, is accused of plundering his plot from a non-fiction work called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail

Historians Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who co-wrote the book with Henry Lincoln, claim that Brown plagiarised 'the whole jigsaw puzzle' of their decade's worth of research - that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child, founding a bloodline that was protected by the Knights Templar."
Which is not to say that The Da Vinci Code is great literature, only that if this action is successful, it would have much wider implications than those for Dan Brown and Random House. As the lawyers for Dan Brown are expected to point out, all of Shakespeare's plays - with the exception of A Midsummer's Night Dream - have been based on stories lifted from other stories and historically, literature has borrowed generously from history, myth and legend to form the backbone of a story.

I hope Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh lose. Their crappy conspiracy tale gained more attention than it deserved at the time Holy Blood, Holy Grail was published and now it has, with all the new publicity, experienced something of a renaissance - selling a further two million copies. The irony, as the article points out, is that by bringing the case at all, they are effectively admitting that their book is not history, since an authentic historical discovery can't be copyrighted. Rationally you might expect this understanding could damage the sales of their book - but it hasn't, so they should consider themselves fortunate and not be so bloody greedy.

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