Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just an Illusion? A Collaborative Effort? Or God Himself Taking a Personal Interest in How This Story Plays Out?

In Forrest Gump, Winston Groom foretells the sequence of the gemstone books in the form of football game. After the first half in the Orange Bowl, Snake, the quarterback tells the players, “We’re gonna’ run the Forrest Series now.” He throws the ball to Forrest; Nebraska puts two fellas—Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code and William Vance from The Last Templar—to chase after him, leaving Gwin—Gawain in The Story of the Grail—the end, with nobody to chase him around.

In the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown uses Silas to inform the audience, “All four concurred. Independently.” “Their agreement was too great for coincidence.”

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury begins with flashbacks to events that occurred more than seven hundred years ago. Four men, traveling in pairs, are given the task to deliver a letter that leads to the location of the sunken Falcon Temple and the manuscript hidden in its figurehead. In the end, only one of the four completes the journey.

As the modern day portion of Khoury’s novel gets underway, the fourth horseman— who organized the raid on the Treasures of the Vatican show at the Met—carefully works his way down a set of stairs into an underground chamber that is lit with dozens of flickering candles. We’re privy to the thoughts that come to his mind as he carries an unusual contraption across the room. Home. A distant memory. Another life.

After setting the ancient decoder upon a sagging wood table, he rummages through a pile of boxes and retrieves documents from a folder, then spreads them out next to the machine.

“He murmurs, ’At last.’ His voice was soft, but cracked from too little use.”

His movements down into the cellar of the burned out church are fitting for the layer of The Story of the Grail that the novel reveals; in the medieval tale, beneath the adventures of the knights and deeper than the threads borrowed from Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life, the story of Abelard and Heloise is intricately woven.

Khoury infuses Sean Reilly and Tess Chaykin with a mutual attraction that rises from within and seemingly lifts an ageless memory to a time and place where love can at last be nurtured. Reilly is the devout Catholic that Abelard claimed to be, while Tess is free to express Heloise’s doubts about faith and religion without fear of reprisal. And if truth can be extracted from the novel concerning who contributed what to the legend of the grail, it seems likely that Abelard's ideas laid the groundwork while Heloise dug deep and discovered something that she was personally unwilling to explode upon the medieval world.

Heloise was considered a prodigy, fluent in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

“But I seek not the crown which is the
reward of victory, I am content if I can
avoid danger. It is easier to keep out of
the way than to win a battle. There are
several degrees in glory, and I am not
ambitious of the highest; I leave them to
those of greater courage who have often
been victorious. I seek not to conquer
for fear I should be overcome; happiness
enough for me to escape shipwreck and
at last reach port. “ *

The love story, however, is of secondary importance. The character we need to give our attention to in The Last Templar is Professor William Vance. He is the counterpart to Coach Bryant in Forrest Gump; they are infused with a common spirit. But in this new role, Vance is taking an active part in the story and has finally begun to exercise his voice. In the cellar, he begins to decode the documents he found in France; we’re told this marks the beginning of the next crucial stage in his personal odyssey.

“An odyssey, the end result of which he knew would rock the world.”

For the record, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that the components of this gemstone are primarily works of fiction. But the fact is, Snake knew the lineup of books well in advance and Silas was correct . . . their details concur and there are far too many instances for it to be a coincidence. More importantly the larger story they form is taking on an increasingly serious nature.

If Winston Groom, Eric Roth, Dan Brown, Akiva Goldsman, Raymond Khoury, and Suzette Couture would come forward and tell us that they indeed collaborated, sharing information about the original tale that has gone undetected by Arthurian literature experts, as well as plotting what portion of the story each would focus on . . . it would clarify this situation. It's hard enough to write a book without the extra effort of weaving threads belonging to three to six other authors' work. It would be interesting to find out how they managed to perfectly time their contributions, 8 years between the first novel and its movie and then 15 years between the first movie and the last novel's screen adaptation, tasks that require agents, publishers, motion picture studios, and television networks, just to name of few of the participants.

But if the six writers didn’t collaborate in their creative endeavors, what’s the alternative to this scenario? A heavenly Overseer? God Himself taking a personal interest in bringing the story to its proper conclusion?

In The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon mentions that we have entered the period known as the End of Days and begun the transition into the Age of Aquarius. But as the storyline of The Last Templar progresses, Vance and Tess are caught between two raging storms at sea while trying to raise the Falcon Temple in order to retrieve the manuscript that has been submerged for more than seven hundred years. The captain of the dive ship frowns, “We can’t put a Zodiac down in this sea . . .”

A helicopter hovering overhead establishes radio contact and relays a message from Monsignor De Angelis who is in hot pursuit, “Tell them they’re about to be hit with a storm of biblical proportions.”

There is a degree of truth to the fictional warning.

Khoury's presentation of The Last Templar is filled with words and images that hint of possible impending turmoil. The modern day event at the beginning of the novel is compared to the time the Met hosted the Mayan show. Tess tells Reilly that it’s difficult to think of Vance "in such contradictory terms. He's this charming, erudite professor on one hand and then the polar opposite, capable of such violence . . . " Later she insists the manuscript would polarize people. In the novel, the astrolabe is hidden beneath a gravestone in a church submerged under 100 feet of water. In the movie, the church is buried beneath the ash of volcanic eruptions. In both instances, the church begins to collapse as soon as the pouch is located. Tess reflects on the time she first met Vance; her father was working on a dig not far from the Ararat Anomaly—what some believe may be Noah’s Ark; we're provided the image of a ship on top of a mountain, embedded in ice at 15,300 feet.

It must have been quite a flood back in the old days.

In the midst of the raging storm which is identical to the one that sunk the Falcon Temple, Tess looks at the captain of the dive ship as he studies the “bruised, angry skies bearing down on them.”

Vance tells him to just bring up the falcon and his business here will be done. When asked why he is only concerned about the falcon, Vance shrugs as an expression rooted far away crosses his face. “It’s personal. Call it a matter of . . . closure.”

The Last Templar turns the audience back to The Story of the Grail. And the reality of the situation is that this simple tale was written to imaginatively bring biblical prophecy to life. Specifically, events that were destined to happen once and have come and gone but weren’t recognized for their intended purpose are reenacted by the cast of Arthurian knights. Chrétien borrowed the boy that Isaiah prophesied who was required to learn to choose between right and wrong before two kingdoms would no longer be laid waste. (Isaiah 7:13-16) And he endowed the boy with stubbornness and desire for the armor colored red, just like the apparel worn in the day of vengeance when God's greatness and strength was promised to redeem Israel. (Isaiah 63:1-6) And the first thing the newly created knight does is return the golden cup that had been stolen from the king.

But getting the house in order, is just the beginning.

Of the four fictional works, The Last Templar is paired with Forrest Gump and The Story of the Grail picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off. Robert Langdon was last seen leaving his hotel room, following the Arago markers through the city of Paris in search of the relics of a woman capable of reviving the sacred feminine.

Contrary to popular opinion, the story that introduced the grail to the Western world never included a quest to find it. The only thing Perceval went in search of as he moved from one scene to the next was Mother. After five long years of wandering, Perceval asked how one might find their way.

And the storyteller responded:

Whoever wants to go there, sir,
should take that path on which we were,
go straight on through this forest thick,
and watch for every branch and stick,
which we have knotted, which we bent
with our own hands, because we meant
each knotted branch to show the way,
so nobody would go astray.

We still have to bring The Story of the Grail to its proper conclusion, but the final chapter that brings closure isn't something that's written on paper. It's comprised of the stories of our lives; the story about the grail is a legend about the journey of Western civilization. To borrow an expression that De Angelis uses in The Last Templar . . . when The Story of the Grail is finished, we will have "killed two birds with one stone."

Within the gemstone of books, Forrest won the championship chess match when he landed on square eight; Robert Langdon and Sophie work through the night in a quest to find the truth about the grail; the final presentation of The Last Templar tells us that the treasured manuscript the Templars claimed to have, wasn't real, it was just an illusion they created. We're told multiple times that the document found on the Falcon Temple is written in Aramaic. In the movie, the truth that William of Beaujeau, Grand Master of the Templars, shares with Aimard is that if there were such a document written by Jesus of Nazareth, "This is what it would have looked like." The cameras focuses on a piece of parchment with hand written words.

If it wasn't written in Aramaic, what language would the boy that Isaiah prophesied have used if he left a manuscript for his people?

Biblically speaking, the number eight is symbolically linked to a new day. Most every scene in The Story of the Grail begins in the early morning, in the light of a new dawn. According to the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. But here's the clincher . . . if the seventh day is drawing to a close, the intention of the original story has to be completed. We are obligated by destiny to bring our sacred story to its proper conclusion and we're living beneath a deadline that isn't readily negotiable.

So what would it take to rock this world? Something so powerful it would bring about an unprecedented change in the way we perceive ourselves and all of humanity.

Is the connection between these books merely an illusion, something to entertain us, or do they represent something far more profound? Through the eyes of William Vance, we haven't changed in two thousand years . . . the story of our civilization hasn't progressed.

We don't even know what our sacred story is.

*Letter IV Heloise to Abelard,
Photo by permission: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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