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Sherlock Holmes vs the Da Vinci Code

Since his inception in 1887 (Detective Fiction), Sherlock Holmes could arguably be considered the archetype that influenced all subsequent fictional detectives. Today, his influence is apparent in many works of detective literature, television, and criminal investigation. The premise of shows such as CSI and House, all have methods either used by or were inspired by Sherlock Holmes (Berg 446-452). Novels, such as the Harry Potter series and The Bourne Conspiracy series, to a certain degree, contain detective characteristics comparable to Holmes. However, one novel/series provides an abundance of evidence that would suggest Sherlock Holmes had an influence in the formation of its central character. I will discuss the similarities and differences represented in the novel, The Da Vinci Code and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories within the book Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays.

The Da Vinci Code is a mystery-detective fiction novel in which its main character, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is attempting to uncover a conspiracy against the Catholic Church – which was prompted by the death of a French curator. The similarities and differences between Robert Langdon and Holmes are evident throughout the novel [that] one can conclude that Holmes was a major, if not the sole influence of Robert Langdon.

The most singular similarity between Robert Langdon and Sherlock Holmes is their superb deductive reasoning skills. In many of Doyle’s stories, he allows the readers (through the eyes of Dr. Watson) to witness Holmes’ ability to make inferences which ultimately lead to his conclusion. Conan Doyle made a habit of portraying Holmes’ ability when he is first introduced to either a potential client or Watson. One of many examples of this occurring can be found in A Study in Scarlett when Holmes and Watson are introduced to one another for the very first time. Having just come back from Afghanistan, Watson was “astonished” when Holmes was able to “perceive Watson was in Afghanistan.” Until Holmes later explained to Watson how he derived at the conclusion, Watson presumably was under the pretext that he (Holmes) was informed by someone (Doyle 29). This ability, these “train of thoughts,” as Holmes stated is not much different from Robert Langdon’s method of deduction. Langdon, throughout the novel, is constantly deriving a conclusion from either prior knowledge or his ability to link missing pieces of the puzzle together. This is evident when Langdon arrives at the crime scene and sees that the body of Jacques Sauniere has been “positioned” to mimic Da Vinci’s “The Vitruvian Man.” Similar to the way Holmes was able to derive that Watson recently came from Afghanistan by using “steps” (Doyle 29), Langdon uses “steps” in a more physical sense. He takes the following into consideration: One – Sauiere’s naked body, Two – the drawing of the Pentacle on his abdomen, Three – Sauniere positioning himself, and Four – the large circle that inscribed the body. With the revelation of the circle, which was kept from him till later, Langdon instantly comprehends that Sauniere wanted to create a life-size replica of “The Vitruvian Man” (Brown 44-45).

Another similarity between Holmes and Langdon, on a broader scale, is their intelligence. To specify, aside from their extensive knowledge regarding their respective fields, both Holmes and Langdon have authored text on the subjects of “secret writings,” (Doyle 265) “Symbology of Secret Sects and “The Lost Language of Ideograms” (Brown 8). In the “Adventures of the Dancing Men,” Holmes is introduced to a set of markings, which at first glance “appeared to be a childish prank” (Doyle 251). Robert Langdon having been introduced to the crime scene and the puzzle, which he will later realize is an anagram, appears to be stumped. Although Sophie, the granddaughter of murdered curator and Langdon’s counterpart, has made a breakthrough with the first line of the puzzle – Fibonacci sequence, Langdon is unable to establish a direct correlation between Fibonacci and the remaining two lines of the anagram (Brown 43-48). At this point, in both stories, the two detectives can only establish one absolute fact – the markings and the Fibonacci sequence play a vital role. Holmes is certain the markings has a “meaning” and is not gibberish, solely based off Mr. Cubitt stating his wife, Elsie, is “frightened to death at the sight of the markings” (Doyle 251-253). Likewise with Langdon, he discovers the importance of the Fibonacci sequence and its relationship with the remaining lines and “excitedly” states to a confused Sophie, “Fibonacci numbers only have meaning in their proper order. Otherwise they’re mathematical gibberish” (Brown 97). He further explains to Sophie that the Fibonacci sequence indicates how to decipher the remaining lines of the anagram (Brown 98).
Contradicting what was said in the previous paragraph, in The Dancing Men, Fowler find “Holmes’ deciphering method contains contradictions.” He continues to state that “these contradictions are seemingly accurate but uncertain and puzzling” (Fowler 353). Although Holmes ultimately solves the puzzle, it is a moot point because two people were shot, one of which passed away. In comparing Holmes and Langdon, purely as detectives, one is likely going to choose Holmes. In many ways Holmes is the better detective, however based on story of The Dancing Men, Langdon is more skilled in the art of puzzles.

A similarity that stems from their intelligence and in this particular case, their mastery of symbols/anagrams, is they are both considered to be “consultants”. Holmes, in A Study in Scarlet, states to Watson that “he is the only one in the world. I’m a consulting detective” (Doyle 29). Whereas “consulting detective” is Holmes’s profession, it is much different for Langdon. Langdon, by title, is a professor at Harvard University teaching Religious Symbology (Brown 7). The similarities lie within the context of A Study in Scarlet where Holmes further explains to Watson the description of his trade: “When they (government detectives) are at fault, they come to me and I manage to put them on the right scent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by the help of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight.” This brief description to Watson encapsulates Langdon’s role in The Da Vinci Code, albeit he isn’t a detective by profession. The readers are made aware from the very first page that he, Robert Langdon, is in Paris to give a lecture – not solve a mystery. It only takes till the end of the chapter (merely 3-4 pages) for these “government officials” to request or in Langdon’s case “require his expertise in a private manner” (Brown 10). Similar to Holmes, not all of Langdon’s consulting advice in the novel is for the benefit of these “government officials.” For example, once Langdon is informed by Sophie Neveu that the French Judicial Police consider him to their prime suspect; his focus is to help or consult Sophie (Brown 64-67).

One central difference between these Holmes and Langdon is their trust of women. Unlike Holmes, who has a Victorian distrust of women (Belsey 381-388); Langdon rather embraces his female counterpart – Sophie. On multiple occasions throughout the novel, it’s Sophie that is helping Langdon and at one point is saving him from the police (Brown130-131). Not just pertaining to the two detectives, but the “empowerment of women” is much more apparent in The Da Vinci Code. On his website, Dan Brown gives a statement regarding the “empowerment of women” in his novel:
Two thousand years ago, we lived in a world of Gods and Goddesses. Today, we live in a world solely of Gods. Women in most cultures have been stripped of their spiritual power. The novel touches on questions of how and why this shift occurred…and on what lessons we might learn from it regarding our future.
Although the quote is pertaining to “Spiritual Women,” it still nonetheless puts women on a figurative pedestal; one that would not be well received during Sherlock Holmes’ time. Earlier in the paragraph I stated that Sophie had saved Langdon multiple times. To expand on the notion of “women empowerment,” Langdon not only gets saved by Sophie, but frequently requires her assistances when solving a puzzle (Brown 197,300). In the examples cited for the prior sentence, Sophia is able to figure out the puzzle that these highly intelligent men (Langdon and Teabing) could not. But in my opinion, I feel that the strongest indicator of “women empowerment” is portrayed when Sophia and Langdon are at the Swiss Bank. The previous examples all pertained to the men, Langdon and Teabing, simply not knowing the answer to the puzzle to which Sophia did. However, when Sophia and Langdon are at the bank, Langdon presumed he had solved the mystery of the 10-digit account number. Though she did not realize the numbers were in the wrong order, Dan Brown emphasizes that it was “Langdon who typed in the first set of numbers.” Going further, Langdon believing the “correct” numbers are inputted, tells Sophia to press the ‘ENTER’ button. Sophia, acting more like a detective than her counterpart, realizes that she cannot rely on “coincidence that the same 10-digit number randomly rearranged form the Fibonacci sequence” (Brown 188). When comparing this to Sherlock Holmes, you can see on many different levels how the two contrast. First and foremost, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t have a female counterpart, he has Watson. Secondly, based on the readings we’ve done thus far, Watson has not been able to figure out a puzzle before Holmes (Fowler 354). The third and final point also happens to be the greatest contrast – there is not even a slight chance that someone of Holmes’ caliber would be corrected by the likes of Watson (Fowler 354).

Referring back to Holmes in The Red-Headed League and Six Napoleons, he is able to carefully observe the “knees of his (Mr. Wilson’s assistant) trousers” and “Mr. Lestrade’s peculiar way of smoking his cigar” (Adventure of Six Napoleon). Although Holmes makes parallel observations throughout all his cases, it is important to note the second example in particular. Not only did Sherlock Holmes have an effect on detective literature, he also played a “vital role in the modern crime detection.” In his article, Sherlock Holmes: Father of Scientific Crime Detection, Stanton O. Berg cites criminologist Ashton-Wolfe stating “Sherlock Holmes made a hobby out of studying the tobacco ash and realizing its importance, the police adopted this new idea” (Berg 446). O’Berg’s article continues to state that the “gun-powder markings or lack thereof on Lady Elsie’s face in The Dancing Men, provide valuable information because the first documented literature on powder markings was written five years after the introduction of Holmes” (Berg 452). The reference to the gun-powder markings is rather important because it further examples Holmes and Langdon’s detective skills. In “The Dancing Men,” apart from recognizing there was a third bullet, Holmes remarks that the “sense the smell plays a vital role in solving the case” (Doyle 261-262). Confident in his skills (and the testimonies of the servants), Holmes is able to deduct that at the “time of the firing, the window and door of the room had been open” and arrives at two conclusions: a third shooter was present at the time of firing and knows the identity of the shooter (Doyle 262–263). The sense of smells is extremely important in the case of Robert Langdon as well. Although the discovery is not as elaborate and in depth as Holmes, it is an integral component of a much larger puzzle – without it, the case is unable to continue. Langdon, after learning Sophie has discovered a cruciform key left by her grandfather, is bewildered by the purpose of the key. With the key in hand, he begins to examine the key thoroughly – “bringing the key close to his eye.” The close proximity of the key to his nose enables him to faintly detect rubbing alcohol (Brown 153).
Along with their detective skills, extensive knowledge of their respective fields of study, and how they are “consultants,” Holmes and Langdon have but another similarity. Whereas the previous similarities ties into the eventual conclusion of the mystery, this similarity pertains to their roles in their respective story. In their critical essay “The Speckled Band”: The Construction of Woman in a Popular Text of Empire, Hennessey and Mohan describe Holmes’s role in The Speckled Band as the protector or woman, specifically Helen Stoner. In the story, Holmes is sought by Helen Stoner – a soon-to-be wife who fears for her life with the recent death of her sister, Julia (Doyle 152-174). The main premise of Hennessey and Mohan’s essay cannot directly translate to The Da Vinci Code (2003) because simply put, times have changed. Although the premise may not follow, Holmes’s role as the “protector” can be depicted in The Da Vinci Code. Stated previously, Holmes is protecting Helen Stoner from her step-father Dr. Grimsby Roylott, who is the complete opposite of what Holmes represents (Doyle 389-390). The only similarity between Holmes and Roylott is they are relatively equal in strength (Doyle 162). In The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon plays the role of protector to Sophie Neveu. Since Sophie, unknowingly, happens to be the “secret” in which they are trying to uncover, Langdon’s role as protector is prominent. However unlike Holmes’s (hero) subtle comparison to Roylott (villain), Langdon’s archenemy proves to be a worthy opponent, Sir Leigh Teabing. Where brute strength happened to be the only similarity between Holmes and Roylott, but that is hardly the case with Langdon and Teabing (suffered from polio as a child). Their strengths herein lie within what they study. In other words, both are exceptionally intelligent (Brown 220-222). It can almost be fair to call Langdon and Teabing perfect enemies. In their explanation of the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and Jesus (Brown 223-262), Langdon and Teabing portrays equal knowledge upon the subject at hand often referring back to one another and even finishing each other’s sentence. So, with Langdon and Teabing being relative equals, it should come to no surprise that ultimately, it’s Teabing, Langdon needs to protect Sophie from (Brown 406).

Sherlock Holmes could arguably be considered the archetype that influenced all subsequent fictional detectives. I have discussed similarities and differences from Robert Langdon, a detective fictional character that I have been inspired by Sherlock Holmes.

Adventure of the Six Napoleons. 2009. 12 May 2009.

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Criminology, & Police Science, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Sept., 1970). PP. 446-452
Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
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A Study in Scarlet. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994. P. 17-32
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Alastair Fowler. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994. P. 353-367
Doyle, Arthur Conan. Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays. Ed.
Catherine Belsey. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994. P. 381-388
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Rosemary Hennessey and Rajeswari Mohan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994. P. 389-401
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The Dancing Men. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1994. P. 249-272