Wednesday, 25 August 2010

To plagiarise is OK.

You think it can't happen. Right? Let me tell you a story. There was a writer a two-bit writer who kinda got a good idea he could copy a story and with imagination shuffle it like a deck of cards so it looked different than its sister book.  It stood to reason he wanted his name and title of the book on the New York Times bestseller list. He sent it off to a publisher. The publisher kinda saw something in it and said OK we'll give it space on our list. To add spice to to his pot boiler the author tells a two-bit news hound he stole his idea and plagiarised several books so as it don't look too familiar. Whoa. The touch paper was lit. The fire spread. The book was hot property before it left the printers. Read on _

Dan Brown Plagiarized _ by Gary C. Burger, MDiv

Through other articles on this web site I have shown that Dan Brown's assertions about the Bible, Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene are complete fiction. He is not a good historian. In this article I will relate the accusation of others that Dan Brown is not even a very good novelist, or at least a very original one.

Another novelist, Lewis Perdue, claims that Dan Brown plagiarized much of The Da Vinci Code from his own books: The Da Vinci Legacy (1983), The Linz Testament (1985), and Daughter of God (2000).1 The Da Vinci Code's Copyright is 2003. John Olsson, Director of the Forensic Linguistics Institute, demonstrates substantial similarities between Brown's and his books in his web article.2 Because I have not done the analysis myself I will quote extensively from Olsson's article. These are his summary paragraphs that leave out graphs, charts and his detailed analysis. Still, I encourage you to read his whole article. It is quite an indictment against Dan Brown's claim to have done his own research.

Olsson's detailed analysis reveals "more than 50 events which occur in both Brown's and Perdue's works and that 65% of these appear in the same order and in nearly the very same position in the books." For example, Olsson cites that:

The documents, in each author's work, contain explosive secrets, and a quest to find them is launched when a member of a religious sect murders a renowned international expert. Co-incidentally (?) in each book the expert is the 4th person within his area of expertise to be killed in this way (not the 2nd, 3rd or 5th, but in each case, the 4th). As it happens the hero and the expert in each author's work are actually acquainted with each other. The murdered expert in each author's work writes a last message in his own blood, and - finally - the hero, in each author's work, is accused of the murder of the expert. More details are shown in the graph below, where each bar relates to the page number in the respective book where the relevant detail is mentioned. As the reader will observe, there are seven plot features - which I believe to be representative of the striking similarities across the books in general - mentioned in the description above, and shown in the graph below - six of these seven plot features are in sequence and on very similar page numbers within the overall books.

Olsson demonstrates the "incontestable similarities" between the authors' heroes. He notes that:

The heroes are of the same age group, and follow identical occupations in that they are both professors in religious subject areas at very prominent universities (comparative religion [DoG] vs. religious 'symbology' [DVC]), and whereas Perdue's DoG hero is an expert in the Roman Emperor Constantine and female divinity with Perdue's other book the Da Vinci Legacy's hero as a Leonardo scholar, Brown's hero is not only a Leonardo scholar but also an expert in the Roman Emperor Constantine and female divinity. Thus we have a 100% match between Brown and Perdue with respect to occupation and areas of expertise (which even in real life would be stretching co-incidence as frequently academics within the same discipline will have slightly different areas of specialty and not a perfect match, as in this instance).

In addition, both are showing signs of ageing as the novels open, read ancient Greek, are 'captivating' on the 'podium' (Brown) or have a smile which 'captivates' at the 'podium' (Perdue), are haunted by lost loves - in Perdue the hero has a "hollow void in his chest", whereas Brown has "an unexpected emptiness in his chest".

By the end of the book each hero gains (or regains) the love of the book's heroine. The hero of DVC shares a further interesting characteristic with that of DoG: both have claustrophobia, or to be precise 'mild claustrophobia'. As mentioned above, in each of the books the hero is falsely accused of murder, against the background of each needing to fulfill the quest of the narrative, which is to locate documents relating to a female deity, either through the Holy Grail documents, or the Da Vinci Codex, or the shroud of this female deity. In carrying out this quest the hero has a further motivation, which is to protect the heroine.

Olsson goes on to show authors' heroines are "breathtakingly alike."

In DoG (Daughter of God) Zoe's hair colour is not specified, but her predecessor in The Linz Testament had auburn hair: in DVC (Da Vinci Code) Sophie Neveu's hair is 'burgundy'. Sophie, like Zoe's predecessor has 'flashing green' eyes. Both women are either 'ample' of figure, or 'robust': they are not the typical slim heroines found in many books and films. All the heroines are in the same age group, late 20's to early 30's. Just as with the heroes we have in the heroines, characters of very closely matching characteristics.

In DoG we have Zoe Ridgeway who is an art broker whose expertise includes forgery detection and whose major interest is religion, whereas in DVC we have Sophie Neveu, a Paris police officer part of whose job is cryptography and she, like Zoe, has a major interest in religion and, also like Zoe, expertise in art. It should be noted that Perdue's earlier book DVL (Da Vinci Legacy) has the art journalist Suzanne Storm, who in fact is an undercover CIA agent. So, the main characteristics of Brown's heroine with regard to occupation and areas of specialized interest are identical to those of both of Perdue's heroines, with particularly suspect areas of co-incidence being their work for law enforcement agencies, an expertise in art and an interest in religion.

The origin of Perdue's Zoe Ridgeway is given by Perdue in DoG as the goddess Sophia of the Gnostic Gospels. In fact, the actual daughter of the Sophia of the Gnostic Gospels was called Zoe. Therefore, Perdue's heroine is symbolically the daughter of Sophia.

Brown's heroine is called Sophie Neveu who is said to be a descendant of Mary Magdalene, the alleged wife of Jesus Christ. Mary Magdalene, in the Gnostic Gospels (also the source for much of Brown's research) is actually a stand-in for the Sophia of the Gnostic Gospels, according to well-known writer Margaret Starbird (whom Brown admits to having consulted): "In long-standing tradition, it was she [Mary the Magdalene], understood by early Gnostics as an incarnation of Sophia,...." (Magdalene's Lost Legacy, p. 125, Starbird) In other words, Brown's heroine is the lineal (rather than symbolic) daughter of Sophia.

In both Perdue's and Brown's books, the goddess Sophia has been wronged by the church authorities who have deprived the goddess of her rightful position as an official deity in the church. The quest is to obtain access to the 'explosive' (both authors) documents which prove the link between Christ and the female goddess in each case, and thus demonstrate the inviolable position of the female deity in the church, and re-assert the 'sacred feminine' as the core of religion.

The ways in which these documents are hidden, the people who protect them, and the ways in which they come to light, are remarkably similar across both books. These striking parallels will be explored in greater depth in subsequent analyses.

Olsson reveals an even bigger "smoking gun" to prove Brown plagiarized Perdue.

While the plot sequence is certainly a smoking gun there is, in this analyst's view, one even more powerful smoking gun, which is a document known as the Codex Leicester, an actual book written by the Renaissance scientist and artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. The codex Leicester is written on linen paper, but Perdue erroneously records this as 'parchment' in his book - an error that extensive researches (across the Internet, as well as other sources) do not uncover as occurring elsewhere. In his book Brown repeats this error. There is, to my knowledge, no other mention of the Codex Leicester being on 'parchment' anywhere else other than in these two authors' books. Therefore, it does not seem feasible that Brown could have got this particular misinformation anywhere else than from Perdue.

Finally, Olsson shows undeniably strong similarities between the authors' cryptological elements such as a key hidden behind a painting that gives access to a container in a bank vault that holds more information.

But wouldn't you expect similarities in this genre of literature? After all there are lots of books and Internet articles speculating Vatican conspiracies, non-traditional understandings of the history of Christianity, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and more. Adair Lara wrote a helpful article in the San Francisco Chronicle that addresses what kind of similarities count as plagiarism in a novel.3 Here is an excerpt:

Not all similarities are plagiarism, however. Two-thirds of those 50 similarities, according to Perdue, are scene a faire, a legal term meaning you can't copyright information that one would expect to find in such a book or that would naturally follow from the narrative, such as a gunfight in a cowboy movie.

"Most challenges lose on scene a faire," Perdue says, leaning forward in his cane chair. He uses furniture as an example. You would expect, he says, to find a couch, a coffee table, chairs in a living room such as the one we are in. So a writer who finds them in the work of another cannot expect protection.

Random House's general counsel agrees. "At most, the only commonalities are unprotected scenes a faire and historical facts," Trager said. "Aside from these general characteristics, the books are different in the most apparent and obvious ways."

But Perdue isn't done with his furniture analogy. "But a living room with an olive press," he says, pointing at his own, "that's expression." The law doesn't protect scene a faire elements or ideas, but it does protect the expression of those ideas.

"You would also expect to find a Swiss bank and a safe deposit box in a thriller," he says of details the works share. "But a curator of a fabulous art collection leaves a nontraditional gold key to a heroine by concealing it in a religious painting, and the name of the painting refers to a female spiritual figure that the heroine is related to? That's expression."

Expression is the difference between "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story."

Perdue emailed Adair Lara about clarifications to her article that he thought were important. You can read that email on his blog.4

In summary, there is very strong evidence that Dan Brown plagiarized, not just a few elements here and there, but the majority of his book from Lewis Perdue. But why would he take that kind of a risk? Why would Random House, his publisher take that kind of risk? Perdue speculates in Adair Lara's article that Brown was desperate, "He needed a breakthrough book," theorizes Perdue. "His first three had not sold well."

Perhaps his first three books did not do well because he is not a very skillful writer. When people are desperate they manufacture all kinds of rationalizations in their own minds that sound logical. We can only speculate how he rationalized his deed. Beyond that, I don't think he or Random House will be able to plead they didn't know what he did would be considered plagiarism.

Lewis Perdue website


  1. Brown was also sued by another famous author Michael Baigent (I'm his translator for Serbia) for stealing ideas from his work. Baigent was actually much more popular in that area of speculative writing for decades and decades before Brown suddenly appeared with his book.

  2. Yeah yeah, read somewhere Michael Baigent got assy over Brown. I'd be more than assy if some critter thieved off my scripts.


  3. Hi,

    Baigent had every right to get assy, as you so rightly point out.

    "The Holy Blood" and "Holy Grail" were by far more interesting than DB's fictional fantasy, which was utter sensationalist crap and of course, a Hollywood movie the result of overt publicity!