Tuesday, July 8, 2003

A few weeks ago, after I bitch-slapped The Da Vinci Code in the pages of OSV, I got a couple of letters scolding me and reminding me that it's "only a novel" and not get so nerved up about it. Which I wouldn't, being a let-art-be-art kind of chick, except for the fact that many, many of the Amazon reader reviews indicated to me that there's a sizeable number of folks who are taking Brown's tendentious reworking of esoteric theories as Real History.

Well, I got my answer to those critics today, in the form of a little piece of Publishers' Weekly Religion emailing:

In the last issue of BookLine, we wrote about how books on gnosticism were seeing increased interest, in part because the subject is dealt with in Dan Brown's red-hot novel "The DaVinci Code" (Doubleday). Now the book seems also to have ignited sales for new and old titles on Mary Magdalene. That includes nonfiction books actually mentioned in "DaVinci Code," among them "The Woman with the Alabaster Jar" (1993) and "The Goddess in the Gospels" (1998), both by Margaret Starbird and published by Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.

Rob Meadows, v-p of sales and marketing at Inner Traditions, couldn't be more delighted. "I don't really know how many page-turner thrillers--fiction--generate that much interest in the story behind it all," he said. He noted that "Alabaster Jar" typically sold up to 3,000 copies a year but has sold 9,100 copies since Brown’s book came out. "Goddess in the Gospels" has gone from 70 copies a month to almost 1,700 a month, and Starbird's nonfiction "Magdalene's Lost Legacy," which Inner Traditions/Bear released May 5, sold out its 5,000-copy first printing and has gone back to press for a second. The house's "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" (2002), edited by Jean-Yves Leloup and translated by Joseph Rowe, went from sales of 300 a month to about 1,700 a month.

Meadows said he thinks the real story will be people taking seriously the possibility that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a relationship and a family: "It's a shattering idea that Jesus was no celibate, that Mary Magdalene was no whore." Likewise, he thinks it could prove revolutionary for Christianity to consider that there is a "sacred feminine" aspect that has been suppressed and labeled a heresy. "It's not just that, hey, we have a cool idea that's going to upset some people," Meadows said. "The idea is arriving."

Other publishers also are getting a lift from "DaVinci Code." John Fagan, marketing director for Penguin Books, said he's heard reports of increasing interest in the fictional "Mary, Called Magdalene"(Viking cloth, 2002; Penguin paper, May 2003) by Margaret George. At Harper San Francisco, sales director Jeff Hobbs reported that sales of the 1991 paperback "The Moon Under Her Feet" by Clysta Kinstler increased more than 300% since March. Hobbs said HSF is seeing "significant interest and renewed sales levels" for "Nag Hammadi Library" (paperback, 1990), edited by James M. Robinson. Hobbs said HSF will explore ways to connect "Nag Hammadi," which contains "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene," with "DaVinci Code" readers.

In promoting "The DaVinci Code," Barnes & Noble assembled a table of books on related subjects in April and will do so again in August, said spokeswoman Carolyn Brown. "People love this book, and they're so excited by the different topics discussed in it that they're just hungry for more information."