January 18, 2005

The kaleidoscope of power

Done forever with my reading of The Da Vinci Code, I had to find a way of disposing of the offending object. (Even the title contains a linguistic error, Adam Gopnik claims in this week's issue of The New Yorker. Leonardo came from Vinci. Da Vinci is not a name. It's a prepositional phrase, like of Nazareth in Jesus of Nazareth. What would Of Nazareth do?)

But clogged recycling centers are now refusing to accept copies of Brown's book, and libraries are closing their after-hours book drops to avoid having people getting rid of them that way by night. So (I'm a cruel father, but fair) I hit upon the idea of sending the book on to my son Calvin, who I recently learned had not read it. Within a day or two after the package reached him I got an email:

The Da Vinci Code, page 30:

"Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow."

What the fuck does that even mean?

Perhaps he meant something like: "The kaleidoscope of power had been shaken and the orange-green pattern of courage had been consumed by the yellow-red jumble of fear"?

Calvin did explore the matter a bit further, looking up kaleidoscope on dictionary.com, and he found a possibly relevant though little-known third definition for the word — after (1) pattern-displaying optical toy with mirrors and lenses and colored glass pieces, and (2) multi-colored pattern such as is produced thereby:

3. A series of changing phases or events: a kaleidoscope of illusions.

But he comments:

Even so, that has got to be one of the worst mixed metaphors ever. It's like mixing oil and Lego. And I'm still reeling from the crunchy salad.

Quite so. After all, the shaking of a kaleidoscope generally has effects involving new randomly selected patterns of colors, but that is not a blow. So what was the blow? The kaleidoscope of power had been shaken according to Brown's metaphor, not hit with a heavy blunt instrument. And why would shaking the kaleidoscope mean Aringarosa had been hit? Perhaps someone hit Aringarosa over the head with the kaleidoscope of power... in order to avoid having to shake it?

One has to admit, Calvin is right, we don't have a clear picture here. But then it's always like that with Dan Brown. As I believe I may have said before, when Dan Brown is doing the describing, you really need pictures.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 18, 2005 04:09 PM