Novel sales still brisk in Lawrence

Walk through the front door of Borders, 700 N.H., and you’re immediately confronted by a sizable display trumpeting “The Da Vinci Code.”

Three years since the hardcover thriller debuted, interest in the 40-million seller doesn’t seem to be slowing.

If anything, the religious-themed novel is more popular than ever. The paperback was released April 1, and a May 19 movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks will further buoy its pop culture notoriety.

So it’s good news for millions of the book’s fans that a British judge ruled Friday in author Dan Brown’s favor that he did not pilfer ideas from Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, writers of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

Or do fans of “The Da Vinci Code” really care if the book is wholly original or even remotely historically accurate?

“It doesn’t matter either way. They’ll buy it because it was plagiarized,” Borders manager Julia Shultz said.

She said if there had been any fallout from the controversy, “It doesn’t seem to trickle down. Not on our level, at least.”

Shultz compared it with what happened with author James Frey, who confessed to fabricating passages of his memoir “A Million Little Pieces.”

“People were saying, ‘I’m coming to buy this just because he said he lied about it and my friends are all talking about that,'” she said.

Seeking the spotlight?

Mary Lou Wright, co-owner of The Raven Bookstore, 6 E. Seventh St., believes there was an additional motivation behind “The Da Vinci Code” lawsuit.

“I think it was a publicity stunt because (Baigent) has a book that came out this week called ‘The Jesus Papers,’ based on the premise that Christ didn’t die on the cross.”

Wright views the claims of plagiarism as silly, especially because the book wasn’t billed as nonfiction.

“Dan Brown’s ideas were not original,” Wright said. “I don’t think he ever said they were. He borrowed from a number of different sources. So for this one guy to say it was his – I think some people actually need to sue (Baigent), because he’s borrowed from sources from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”

Copies of The DaVinci Code sit for sale at Borders, 700 New Hampshire, in Lawrence. The book's author, Dan Brown, was found not guilty of plagiarism on Friday.

A London court threw out the copyright infringement case, despite the fact that Brown admitted he and his wife, Blythe, had both read “Holy Blood” before publishing his work. Yet Brown also cited 38 other books and a multitude of historical documents used in his research.

“I do think the prosecution made a huge mistake,” Beau Abernathy said. “When Brown said, ‘My wife does all my research,’ they didn’t even call her to the stand.”

Abernathy, pastor of Lawrence’s Crosspointe Church and an expert in original languages of the Bible, called “The Da Vinci Code” a “well-written” but “blatantly misleading” piece in terms of its theological foundation.

However, he thinks the lawsuit was frivolous when it comes to Brown’s attempt to lay ownership to the ideas presented.

“Ecclesiastes says, ‘There is nothing new under the sun,'” he said. “‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’ got their concepts from other people, too.”

Stretching the truth

Not everyone is so enamored with those concepts, though, especially with regard to how the book has been marketed.

“It is a work of fiction, but it’s not advertised simply as a work of fiction,” said Edward Sri, professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison.

“In fact, a week ago the paperback edition came out. On the back it said something like, ‘Read this book and become enlightened.’ The publishers, and Dan Brown himself, are deliberately trying to get you to think you’re going to learn a lot. When in reality, the average reader will come out much more confused about those matters.”

Sri, co-author of “The Da Vinci Deception,” said many of Brown’s historical points were inaccurate. But because the tale features a Harvard professor as its central character who speaks expertly about art and theology, readers tend to accept the information at face value.

“Either (Brown) is deliberately trying to deceive millions of people by taking advantage of the fact that the average person doesn’t have a lot of training in early Christian history, Judaism and the Bible,” Sri said, “or he didn’t even do the basic Google check of some of the most basic facts.”