The Shakespeare Code

Dan Gardner

Because of an abiding faith in the firmness of our foundation, the dissemination of truth has long been our chosen and most effective card. It is a card that I think we should continually play whether we find ourselves face to face with our own lamentable and sometimes scandalous failings or, as in the present case, with a form of calumny made insidious by cloaking itself under the guise of fiction.

I believe our approach to have found unique support in the enclosed “tongue-in-cheek” piece by Dan Gardner in The Ottawa Citizen. What do YOU think?
Fr. Peter Timmins

Like most journalists mucking about in reality, I'm thinking of breaking free and writing a novel. I've got the whole thing mapped out in my head. It's got everything. Murder. Conspiracy. And a secret so vast it could destroy a religion and change the course of history.

Hollywood will eat it up. I'm thinking Tom Hanks for the lead. It goes like this… Islam teaches that on one miraculous night, the Prophet Muhammad rode a horse from Mecca to Jerusalem, ascended to Heaven, then returned to Mecca with new directives from Allah.

Except he didn't. In reality, Muhammad was in love with a prostitute. The night he disappeared, he was with her.

His closest followers discovered the truth and were enraged. The woman was seized and sent into exile, and Muhammad's lieutenants threatened him with death if he didn't do as they demanded. They invented the story of the miraculous ride and Allah's new directives. Muhammad died longing for his lost love.

Shocking stuff. But there's more: The exiled prostitute fled to London, where she bore Muhammad's child. The descendants of that child became the early kings of England. William Shakespeare knew the whole, vast, incredible truth and encoded it in his writing.

The novel begins with the hero investigating a brutal murder. He discovers the code -and becomes the target of a fanatical Islamic sect that will do anything to keep the truth from being revealed.

I call it The Shakespeare Code.

I know. You're blown away. So was I. How did I come up with this? I really don't know. Genius is a mystery even to the genius.

Of course some cynic may say this is a rip-off of The Da Vinci Code. It's not. It's totally different. The Da Vinci Code is about Jesus, for one thing. Another difference is that the secret organization in The Shakespeare Code is a fictional Muslim group. In The Da Vinci Code, that role is taken by Opus Dei, a Catholic organization that is very real.

Of course, I would have liked to use a real Muslim fundamentalist group, but someone reminded me of what happened to Theo van Gogh and I'd rather not be stabbed to death, no matter how good that would be for pre-release publicity.

Dan Brown had it a lot easier. Sure, Opus Dei and the Vatican have a reputation for putting the smackdown on heresy, but look at how they responded to The Da Vinci Code. No fatwa. No promise of heavenly virgins for separating the author's head and body. Not even a decent riot. No, all Opus Dei and the Vatican did was explain the historical errors in the book and issue press releases asking for respect. I mean, really. Some people say Dan Brown is a hack, but only a great writer could make that lot sound scary. Anyway, I'm pretty excited about the prospects for my novel, although I have to admit that my first couple of attempts to sell this thing didn't go so well.

The other day I was on the phone with a publisher. My book is about a secret religious sect hiding a terrible secret, I said. She got very excited. "Do you know how many units Dan Brown has sold?" she shouted, a little hysterically.

But when I mentioned Muhammad, she stopped giggling. And when I told her that Muhammad sleeps with a prostitute, she screamed and hung up.

Another time, I had lunch with a New York big shot. I told him I'm writing a thriller about a fanatical religious cult and he loved that. Turns out he hates fundamentalist types. The Pope is a bastard for telling people not to wear condoms, he said.

But the secret society in my story isn't Catholic, I responded. It's Muslim. Its goal is to hide the fact that Muhammad knocked up a hooker and Islam is a fraud. His face went white and he excused himself to go to the washroom. He didn't come back. I think his salmon mousse was off.

Still, I'm confident this project is going to come together and it will be huge. Just look at The Da Vinci Code. The book is bigger than the Bible, and the movie will be a monster when it opens next week.

Already, the media are going crazy. The papers are filled with tabloid exegesis -- "Mary Magdalene: Wife or Whore?" -and morning television shows are hyping it as if it were the Second Coming, starring Tom Hanks as Jesus.

I couldn't be more delighted.

A few months ago, I thought this wouldn't happen. It was during the Danish cartoon controversy, when almost every newspaper and television station in North America refused to show the cartoons. We have to respect people's faith, they said. It would be wrong to cause "gratuitous offence."

I remember thinking at the time: poor Dan Brown. At least the cartoons touched on important public issues. The Da Vinci Code is just a crappy novel. Gratuitous offence doesn't come any more gratuitous. When the movie comes out, the media won't have anything to do with it.

Wow, was I wrong. All the media's pious talk went straight down the old memory hole and we're right back to the irreverent, sensational, buck-chasing, free-speech free-for-all that makes Western civilization great. I'm sure those Danish cartoons will be published any day now. Same for my novel.

It'll be big. Huge. If only I can find a publisher who won't run shrieking in terror when I get to the part about Muhammad.

You can contact Dan Gardner at the Ottawa Citizen.
May 10, 2006, ©The Ottawa Citizen.

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