by Cheryl Rofer
As Kevin puts it, “Newsweek asked its cultural critics to pick the ‘one work in their field that they believe exemplifies what it was like to be alive in the age of George W. Bush.’" I’m going to do something that I tend to criticize in others, like the Union-Tribune: way overinterpret some literature that probably doesn’t deserve it. But what the heck.
I’ll put forward a genre that I believe exemplifies some aspects of life in the age of Bush: action novels about the Templars and other religion-related mysteries that originated in the high middle ages. Since that’s one of my favorite periods of history, I’ve particularly noticed this trend. I haven’t read all of them by a long shot, but I was in the middle of one of them when the challenge surfaced, The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry.
I’ve wondered why we were seeing so many novels of this sort. The obvious answer is the wild success of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. Success breeds emulation, no doubt about it. But for the first of the series to take off that way, it has to touch the zeitgeist. So let me list just a few characteristics of these novels that seem part of the age of Bush.
Torture. Nasty folks in those religious wars.The relevance of some of these points is obvious, but there are some flourishes I’d like to add.
A puzzle must be solved for which all the data is not available. The puzzle involves cryptography, numerology, physical locations, and dead languages. Gut feelings and dreams play an important role in solving the puzzle. Those wedded to logic may find the problem trivial and the solution unsatisfying.
The quest for the Holy Grail is central. However, we do not know what the object being sought is until it is found, which is consistent with the historical development of this theme. It usually relates to wealth and power in today’s books.
The Church has been hiding something from the world since the time of Christ. The seekers find that secret and then must decide what to do with it. They usually decide that the world is not ready for it.
A sense of betrayal as well as loss suffuses the books.
These are guy books. Monasticism plays a part and may lead to fanaticism or enlightenment. Females are included to reach out to today’s audience, but they are less believable than the males; however, character development is not necessary for books like this.
The religion thing doesn’t fit well with the age of Bush. I have gone through it several ways, overinterpreting taken to a high degree. The Protestant argument against the established Church? An explicit statement, like Dick Cheney’s recent admissions, that yes, we’re keeping secrets from you, and no, we don’t care? The frustration of those who would see a reality-based country? The ability to make a buck by hoodwinking the public? All seem to work.
The sense of betrayal and loss seems to be a constant in the Karl Rove universe of persuasion. It’s the theme of conservative talk radio, and certainly of the South’s defeat in the War Between the States, as they like to call it. It never goes away. The wrong side won. The unworthy rule. Again, this could be subversive of Bushian governance, encouraging questioning. But it is to be directed only at those who are on that wrong winning side.
As one who feels that the wrong side won in the 13th century, I rather enjoy a short wallow in self-pity. I don’t think that Jacques DeMolay’s burning was the worst example of what was destroyed, but it can stand in for the massacres in southern France that destroyed an intellectual and religious movement.
And that makes me think that maybe some readers get a frisson of identification with those who would conventionally be considered the bad guys in these novels.
Something for everyone.