Thursday, April 28, 2005

The importance of footnotes

So I keep checking Entertainment Weekly's bestseller list every week. I keep hoping and praying that someday soon, a certain entry will have disappeared entirely. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened yet, although it is beginning to drop down the list. It's no longer number one (although it might hop up there again soon), but it has been on the list for over 100 weeks.

What book is it? The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown.

Why do I want to see it gone? I mean, that may sound a little weird, seeing as I'm an author (although unpublished) myself, and I should be happy with another author's huge success, right? And normally, I would, except for the fact that The DaVinci Code is an awful, horrible book.

I'm not just talking about the book's literary merits, although that's debatable. No, what torks me off about this book is the questionable theology that so many people seem so willing to swallow with little or no scholarly support.

I mean, let's face it, Dan Brown's "theories" (if they can even be called that, and I think I'm being generous by doing so) come from four books written by disreputable historians that very few people take seriously. Art historians disagree vehemently with his interpretation of DaVinci's symbolism, and don't even get me started on the numerous historical and theological errors that Brown makes throughout his book.

Why bring this up now? Well, I recently finished reading a book that, in some ways, is similar to Brown's wretched little opus. It too takes a controversial stand and flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The plot, such as it is, serves only as a vehicle to put forth new and radical theories and, I'll be honest, the writing isn't much to write home about.

What book is this? It's State of Fear by Michael Crichton.

If you're not familiar with this book, Crichton argues through this novel that global warming isn't happening. It's a non-issue, used by the government and other powers that be (he names Hollywood and the media as examples) to keep modern society in a "state of fear" similar to that America and Russia experienced during the Cold War.

Like I said, the plot itself was kind of a snoozer, and I actually found myself wanting to skip over the "action" sequences just so I could read what Crichton had to say about environmentalism, global warming, the history of Yellowstone National Park, among other things.

Now maybe Crichton and Brown would take exception to being compared to each other, but I think it's a valid observation. Both are on the outside of what mainstream scholars on their respective subjects would consider reasonable and orthodox. Both have taken heat for what they've written, and both seem absolutely convinced that what they think is right.

But out of the two, I have to say that, for all its controversy, State of Fear is a better book. Why?


That's right. You heard me. Crichton, unlike Brown, included footnotes throughout his novel and tacked on an extended bibliography at the end of it.

Why is this so important? Because now a reader who is so inclined, could go check Crichton's research. And there's a mountain of it to sift through. Crichton, in essence, says, "Here's my reasoning for why I believe what I believe. Go check it for yourself to see what you think."

Brown, on the other hand, lists only the four pseudo-scholars and has absolutely no evidence to back up what he has to say. We have to take his word for it that, for example, Emperor Constantine collated and edited the Bible (he didn't), that there are 666 panes of glass in the Louvre pyramid (there aren't), or that Hebrew men had sex with priestesses in Solomon's Temple to communicate with God (don't even get me started!).

Hopefully more and more people will realize that Dan Brown's specialty isn't writing, it's fertilizer spreading, and they'll consign his best-seller to the dung heap of history. Until then, I'll be watching Entertainment Weekly's list and pray that more people leave it alone.

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