General Question

Introverted_Leo's avatar

How do you keep a giant secret for 2000+ years?

Asked by Introverted_Leo (1957points) February 21st, 2009

I know this question will seem very vague as I try to phrase what I mean, but I’ll do my best.

Has anyone ever read stories or watched movies where people who have deicated their lives to keeping some ancient secret manage to do so for hundreds, even thousands of years? Secret dragon protectors, secret orders who guard an artifact, government/political secrets, etc. I wish I knew of some good examples, but I can’t recall any at the moment…

But if you know what I’m talking about…do you know of any good stories that are based on a big secret(s) or conspiracy, particularly in the fantasy and science fiction genres? If so, what made keeping this big secret for so long believable for you? What made it work, in your eyes?

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48 Answers

skfinkel's avatar

Does santa claus fit this scenario?

steelmarket's avatar

People, and I’d say especially Americans, seem obsessed with conspiracies. Just look at the plot lines of most of the hit shows on TV now. Even the reality shows are rife with conspiracies.

And look at the plot lines of the top movies and novels. I am pretty sure that each Flutherer could list at least ten TV show, movies or books they have seen or read in the last five years that are based on conspiracies.

ark_a_dong's avatar

It only seems natural after the whole war in Iraq. I’d too find it hard to trust my government after that.

btw I’m Canadian

Sueanne_Tremendous's avatar

My favorite secret is that the when a new Pope comes in he immediately reads a letter or note that has been passed down from the ages and it always causes the Pope to weep. I don’t know if this is a true thing but it is something we were told about as young Catholics.

laureth's avatar

There’s always the Davinci Code. Quite a secret to be keeping!

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Lol, Santa Clause. I guess it would fit the bill, wouldn’t it?

Hm…I guess I’m looking to stress more about what makes conspiracies and keep big secrets work, in addition to examples.

I haven’t read the DaVinci Code yet, but I know that was a big hit. I should give it a read.

LouisianaGirl's avatar

well i guess it made it work i my eyes because it is ancient if it was held for that many years yea and DaVinci Code pretty much theres a move for it

steelmarket's avatar

@ark, you are right. But, I think that it really goes back farther, perhaps to the whole cold war mentality of the ‘50s and the assassinations of the ‘60s. Look at all the spy books, movies and TV shows that were born out of that era, everything from James Bond to I Spy to Graham Greene.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia.

steelmarket's avatar

Then there is the “secret” that every new President is briefed, on their first day in office, about the alien spacecraft and bodies stored in Area 51.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@steelmarket: heh.

@LouisianaGirl: sure, but what made it work for so long, is what I’d like to hear from you guys. Even if one person finds out the truth…I guess the thing is every secret has got to come out of hiding eventually. But how do people manage to keep those secrets, making sure that no one realizes the truth, until that day comes?

I suppose I’m looking for an actual list of methods for being successful at keeping a world-wide secret or getting away with a conspiracy. :P

LouisianaGirl's avatar

On Lifetime there was a show called The Memory Keepers Daughter and the man kept a secret for so long without anyone but one woman knowing it and he died of a stroke of some type then after he died they found all is work in their basement and uncovered his secret and went to the person the secret was about. It was really good I hope you consider watching it sometime maybe it will help you.

Jeruba's avatar

The Da Vinci Code has a theme like this, with the protectors being an ancient society called the Priory.

There’s also a guardian-of-the-secret conclusion to the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,

It’s actually a fairly popular theme in certain genres because it adds an element of deep mystery and a kind of parallel history. At the end there’s always some sort of reason for why the secret thing is destroyed forever, the guardians are all wiped out, or some similar explanation for why it never comes to light in “our” world.

Of course what makes it work is that there is really no such thing. It is an invention of the author, who can make up any kind of explanation for why the secret has remained safe for so long. In that fictional world, the author is God.

Blondesjon's avatar

Don’t tell a woman…

Jeruba's avatar

Fie, jon, fie.

steelmarket's avatar

You guys would love the story of the James Sarcophagus, a first century burial box from Jerusalem. It has all the elements of a great conspiracy thriller, and it is true. If you have read articles about this box in the newspapers, trust me they are mostly incorrect. You have to read the story as it unfolds in the pages of Biblical Archaeological Review magazine.

Shmirnoff's avatar

Hide it in plain sight and no one will question it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

simply put, kill everyone who knows anything about it. It’s like the old saying, the best way to keep a secret between three people is to kill two of them.

LouisianaGirl's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra hahahaha humor very funny I`m adding you to my fluther if you`re not already on it.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@Blondesjon: haha.

@Jeruba: yes, author = God. I just don’t like it when that “god” gives a crappy explanation for why the secret stayed safe. I think readers deserve a little more credit for their inherent intelligence.

Btw, I asked this question ‘cause the story I’m working on, I realized, is actually a bit of a conspiracy thriller. I knew at first it was based off a big secret, but I never really thought about it as an actual conspiracy. My focus went into miro-mode with characters. Until now, nearing the end of my first draft, and I’m zooming back out to macro-mode thinking to myself, “Oh crap, writing good stuff is more difficult than I thought.” What looks good on an outline may not be so when you start really working through it. I guess I’m taking a hiatus to keep from freakin’ out so I can get a better perspective on what I’m doing. Asking myself more questions about what’s going on like “why did so-n-so do this,” or “is that really feasible?” etc.

I just don’t want to be that god-author who thinks people will buy a crappy explanation for a conspiracy I came up with that only kindergarteners would believe in. It’s hard putting working, intelligent logic into it. o_O I mean, I’m a novice at this, but I don’t like doing things crappy if I can help it, if you know what I mean.

@steelmarket: sweet, I’ll have to look into that one, too.

kevbo's avatar

Make the lie different at every level.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra: hey, it works, right? :P At least, for a whiles.

@Shmirnoff: excuse my ignorance :/, but what do you mean by that?

@kevbo: hard to do and subjective, but people do like it when you’re work is “different.”

So far, we have:
-don’t tell a woman
-hide it in plain sight
-kill all witnesses
-and make the lie different at every level.

I like a pool of ideas to draw from. It keeps me thinking about things differently. Alright, can we come up with anything else?

Grisson's avatar

First you create a secret society.
Then then you kill everybody who knows about the secret.
Of course you don’t tell the secret society the secret.
And since you knew the secret, you’d have to kill yourself as well.
There now… The secret’s well guarded.
And if anyone ever comes sniffing around, they’ll be distracted by the secret society….
HAH! It’s perfect! It works every time.

augustlan's avatar

You should definitely read The Da Vinci Code. For someone like myself, without an education/background in what the author was talking about, it was very believable. All of the pieces fit perfectly. (I drove everybody crazy for a while after I read it, checking it all out.) I think what made the secret keeping feasible in that case, was the gravity of the secret they were keeping. The consequences of the secret coming out would have been horrible.

dylzaree's avatar

you keep a secret for a lot of years simlpy by not telling anyone about it. when i say anyone, i mean no one!

Jack79's avatar

well the most well-known example is the one explained in “the Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. The success of that book is precicely that the story is feasible, and could well be fact (many people actually believe it is).

Most “conspiracies” do not work that way though. It is simply that certain things are kept a secret because it suits people to keep them that way. It all has to do with a balance of profit: if you knew that your boss had stolen money, but that saying so would only cost you your job, it is possible you’d keep your mouth shut. So would the corrupt tax inspector who’d get a bribe, as well as the local police investigator, who simply has something better to do. But the moment a nosy journalist (with the interest of selling a story) enters the equation, this balance is disrupted.

So let us say someone knows that Jesus had a daughter. The group that know this secret use it to blackmail the Vatican, whereas the Vatican keep their mouths shut for their own, obvious reasons. People outside these two groups either do not know (as in your average religious peasant of the 10th c), do not care (if they belong to another religious group), or are afraid to get involved (eg religious scholars). And so the secret is kept for centuries, until the circumstances change (the Vatican no longer wants to pay, the average peasant turns into an educated middle-class atheist and the conspirators decide to make a few bucks out of selling their story to the press).

bristolbaby's avatar

the oldest organization I can think that keeps ancient secrets to this day is the Knights Templar.

just ONE of the secrets concern Sarah, the Egyptian. She is believed to be the daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The wedding at Canaan was his OWN wedding. That is why Mary & Joseph were trying to feed the crowd.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Yay, lots of good answers. ^_^

Thanks for all of your help so far. I can always come back to these ideas and examples now to see if I’m on-track as far as feasability goes. : )

steelmarket's avatar

Grisson – wish you had not shared those secrets. The black copters will be visiting you tonight.

steelmarket's avatar

Hey, they just found Atlantis on Google Earth

you didn’t hear it from me

tb1570's avatar

Am I the only one who thought The Davinci Code basically sucked and that Dan Brown couldn’t write his way out of a wet paper bag?

MacBean's avatar

@tb1570—No. You are not alone. At all. I was just about to reply to @Jack79‘s comment of “The success of that book is precicely that the story is feasible” by saying that that has to be it because it certainly wasn’t successful because it was well-written.

bristolbaby's avatar

there is another theory re: the christian religion as well. Some of you may remember Thomas the twin, one of the apostles. It’s not clear whether he was a brother of Jesus, or just looked identical.

The theory goes like this – Judas was not really the betrayer, but was merely following orders of Jesus. When the soldiers came to collect Jesus, they did not know who he was and he had to be pointed out. Judas then went and kissed the cheek of Thomas. Therefore, Thomas is the one who was crucified.

Three days later, Jesus emerged from the tomb, alive and well. Witnesses were astounded and voila, Christianity was born on a miracle that never really happened.

He then went on to live his normal life and promoted the new religion.

Grisson's avatar

@steelmarket I wonder when they’ll get Street View done there.

90s_kid's avatar

You don’t unfortunately. :S
If the secret is never told, the world will never know, ever. Whether a good thing or not.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@tb1570 & @MacBean: when you say it wasn’t well-written, do you mean by the plot or some other aspect? I’m just curious ‘cause I’ll probably analyze the book through-and-through if/when I buy it. :P

augustlan's avatar

@Introverted_Leo I enjoy books for many different reasons. Take To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite book of all time. The writing is superb, the characters so real you can almost touch them. The story is interesting, and has some memorable lessons in it, but it’s not riveting. Now look at The Bridges of Madison County. The writing sucked. Big time. The story, however, was incredibly moving – and so believable that many people thought it was true. The Da Vinci Code is more in the second category, with a story that was riveting but writing that was mediocre.

Grisson's avatar

I wonder what the purpose of keeping a secret for 2000 years would be. That seems odd to me.

fireside's avatar

I think that some key elements have been addressed, but I figured I’d reiterate since i am late.

Hide it in plain site – this was my thought before i even read the responses. It works for The DaVinci code and it works for The Secret. The object being sought isn’t necessarily in plain sight, but the theory or the knowledge of the secret is something that many people know and are able to reveal pieces of at the story unfolds. Whether it is a covert society that knows details about the secret or whether is is general public knowledge that just needs to be tied together is really up to the story and subject matter.

Make it obvious to the point of absurdity – Readers nowadays are pretty savvy about plot twists, so a good way to hide something is by putting it in such a central role that the reader suspects it and then dismisses it because they think it is too obvious. If you’re really good, you can write the story in such a way that you can do this to the point where a reader suspects, dismisses, begins to suspect again and then is surprised by the twist.

Use a “Guardian” – this method usually necessitates a more mythical or metaphysical story line because many times the secret can only be accessed or is only known to a certain individual and many times, that individual or object has a timelessness or immortality about them. Think of the Grail guarded by the last Knight Templar, or the Ark of the Covenant, or the Spear of Destiny, or the Philosopher’s Stone, or Yoda.

Have a reason for the cover-up – Just like Grisson questioned above, what is the reason this secret has been kept for years? What will happen if it becomes known? Who will benefit from the disconcealment or who has profited from the concealment? These questions should be answered to give the story a sense of closure that doesn’t leave the reader questioning the plot contrivance.

I’m sure there’s more but that should be a good start

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@augustlan: Makes sense. I suppose each book will have its own strengths and weaknesses, and people will (hopefully) remember it for the former moreso than the latter.

@Grisson: yeah, that would be the million doallar question to answer. (Good luck answering it, right?)

@fireside: your response could seriously go into an article on writing conspiracy fiction. It’s point-by-point and provides thorough, short explanations to each point. Thanks for taking the time to do that, fireside. Sometimes reiteration helps a lot. : )

<sighs> These are all very good things to remember and consider when writing. Now if I could just use them and solve the problems in my story…but that’s half the fun!

Jeruba's avatar

Read “The Purloined Letter” by E. A. Poe, father of detective fiction, for the prototypical literary instance of hiding something in plain view.

Jeruba's avatar

Actually I thought The Da Vinci Code was a hugely dissastifying piece of nonsense, a wild-goose chase that ended nowhere. The best ideas in it came from other work. It held my attention because I was expecting it to make sense by the end, but it didn’t.

I liked Angels and Demons much better, and I am looking forward to the movie because I want to see how they try to pull off that boggling fall from a helicopter, which the author barely got away with in print. It made me hoot out loud.

fireside's avatar

Wait, you didn’t find the handkerchief parachute satisfying?
I agree, it was too formulaic and written to be made into a movie.

But the point was, people bought into the whole thing because of the elements that made a good conspiracy. Even if those elements were tagged with florescent paint and orange flags.

tb1570's avatar

@Introverted_Leo Yeah, I meant the plot, the character developement, his use of “literary devices,” etc. etc.—the whole she-bang. Yeah, the guy obviously did some research and the historical aspects were interesting at times. And I’m all for anything that puts a thorn in the side of organized religion, especially catholicism, but in the end I thought his writing was just atrocious. It was the literary equivalent of a Britney Spears song. So, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised how popular it was with “the masses.” I mean, I thought it was so bad that I had absolutely no desire to see the movie, because, as we know, the book is usually better than the movie, so, in this case….

Introverted_Leo's avatar

“It was the literary equivalent of a Britney Spears song.”


steelmarket's avatar

“Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
to quote a pretty decent writer…

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