In the early aughts, nobody, save maybe Jack Reacher and World War II, had dads in a vice-like grip like Robert Langdon. The fictional Harvard art history professor who was also an expert in the incredibly expansive and vague field of “symbols” dove head first into historical conspiracies and solved big-time global crimes doing so. It’s really the perfect combination for a dad-ready beach read. (And I, just an adolescent at the time, was very into dad crime fiction.) While Dan Brown wrote several Langdon novels, The Da Vinci Code, in particular, absolutely exploded. And 18 years later, John Oliver is still upset about it.
In a Last Week Tonight web exclusive, Oliver spends eight minutes lamenting the now-thrift store book section staple. His problem with the 2003 novel—and its film counterpart—is a simple one. The plot has everything: murder, a monk assassin (later played by a post-Wimbledon Paul Bettany), a historical conspiracy that goes all the way back to Jesus with some Holy Grail and Knights Templar nonsense tossed in for extra padding. What it does not have is tricky enough puzzles that justify Robert Langdon as the singular person who can solve the centuries-old mystery. It’s all summed up in a single (spoilery, for those who somehow escaped The Da Vinci Code frenzy) Wordle-friendly word: Apple.
That’s the word. The game-changing answer to the cryptex is apple. And as Oliver points out in the video above, it’s just so very obvious. Too obvious for it to be the game-changing clue. Isaac Newton is to apple what George Washington is to the cherry tree, after all. Oliver is rightfully baffled that this is somehow a pivotal, very difficult puzzle at the center of the story. (Not to show my allegiance too firmly, but National Treasure just did it better. With a much more focused and still-bonkers conspiracy at the center.) It’s, as a technical point, a bit underwhelming for a novel whose big reveal is that Jesus and Mary Magdalene got married and had a baby. Which obviously infuriated the Vatican.
Although interestingly, throughout the tirade, Oliver does not mention Tom Hanks’ unfortunate Langdon hair even once. Frankly, an unfortunate omission. However, Oliver’s rant reminds me why I appreciated The Da Vinci Code, even at a young age: I love mess. And from the post-release Vatican outrage–and the very divided opinions of the novel within my Catholic family—to sheer bonkers plot, this book was pure mess.
I haven’t thought of this book in a very long time, although Robert Langdon continues to haunt over on Peacock. But, and to quote Lady Bird‘s Marion McPherson, remembering all this nonsense makes me laugh. The perfect way to start the week.