Dan Brown has been lionized, anatomized, criticized, vilified, berated, translated and sued and that's just today. Few authors have experienced the kind of brain-rattling roller-coaster ride that Brown's been on since The Da Vinci Code made its modest debut on March 18, 2003. And that ride isn't over yet not by a long shot.

On May 19, Columbia Pictures will release the movie version of Brown's bestseller to a worldwide audience. Directed by Ron Howard, the film stars Tom Hanks as puzzle-solving Robert Langdon and French actress Audrey Tautou as his fellow cryptologist and sidekick, Sophie Neveu.

To capitalize on all the cinematic hoopla, the Doubleday, Anchor and Broadway divisions of Random House issued three new editions of The Da Vinci Code on March 28 and will release two more on the day the movie opens. These five volumes will join a legion of existing renditions of the text, including large print, illustrated, audio (abridged and unabridged) and at least 44 foreign-language incarnations.

Anchor's March releases are a mass market and a trade paperback edition, each with a movie tie-in. A total of five million copies of these two editions will be printed. Simultaneously, Broadway will roll out The Da Vinci Code Special Illustrated Edition as a trade paperback.

The premiere-day publications are Doubleday's hardcover and Broadway's trade paperback editions of The Da Vinci Code Illustrated Screenplay: Behind the Scenes of the Major Motion Picture. These books contain Akiva Goldsman's complete shooting script, 250 color photos and introductions by Brown and Howard. (Goldsman won an Academy Award for his screenplay of A Beautiful Mind.)

For a work that's clearly labeled as fiction, The Da Vinci Code has taken a lot of heat. Normally, a reader finds a novel either engaging or not and that's the end of it. But because Brown's breezy mixture of facts and conjectures about Christian institutions became so popular so quickly, it attracted microscopic scrutiny from the groups it spotlighted notably the Catholic church, its Opus Dei subdivision and religious historians of all sorts. This scrutiny has given rise to dozens of books that debunk Brown's story, generally on historical grounds. Others argued a few of them in court that Brown drew too heavily from copyrighted sources, some of which he mentioned in his book.

The reactions to The Da Vinci Code are so vigorous and widespread that they have spawned an entire publishing industry. Besides the volumes of criticism and analyses, there are at least two unauthorized biographies of Brown on the market, and another book is devoted to speculations of what Brown's next novel will be about. (The rumor is that the novel, tentatively titled The Solomon Key, would be about the Freemasons and set primarily in Washington, D.C. But Brown's publisher is resolutely mum on the matter.)

Even the books Brown cited in Da Vinci have enjoyed substantial surges in sales. One of these, Margaret Starbird's The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, sold more than 50,000 copies the year after Da Vinci was published as opposed to the couple of thousand it had moved in each of the years before.

The skill with which major movies are publicized pretty much guarantees that the controversy over The Da Vinci Code will spread from divinity schools to Sunday sermons and TV shout shows, just as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ did for a loud moment. Opus Dei, the conservative religious society Brown casts as a dark force in Da Vinci, has lobbied Columbia Pictures to remove any references from the movie that might be offensive to the organization or to Catholics in general. But it has promised not to ask for a boycott of the film. (Brown's website has taken down the photos of Opus Dei's New York headquarters, noting cryptically that "The images on this page have been removed until further notice.")

Celebrity and perhaps criticism have caused Brown to shy away from interviews the past year or so. But two weeks before The Da Vinci Code was released, he talked freely to this writer for an article in BookPage. Asked if he thought his novel might cause an uproar, he said, I worked very, very hard to make the book fair to all parties. . . . I think there will be people for whom this book will be "offensive" may be a strong word but it will probably raise some eyebrows. That it has and then some.

 

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