for National Geographic News
Imagine this: Centuries ago an order of European knights amassed a huge treasure of priceless artifacts from around the world.
The loot was later brought to the United States by the Freemasons, a secret society. Determined to keep it out of the hands of the British during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin and other Masons hid the treasure in a secret location but left clues to its whereabouts in famous American landmarks.
Now, the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of a carriage boy who learned the secret vows to find the treasure. The clues lead him to an invisible map hidden on the back of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
But the plot of National Treasure, the adventure yarn starring Nicolas Cage that opens in U.S. movie theaters today, is also irresistible fun.
It's become a bona fide recipe for success: Invent an old-fashioned treasure hunt, fill it with conspiracies and secret codes, and set it against a backdrop of real history.
When Dan Brown cooked up a similarly far-out plot in his runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Codeabout a 2,000-year-old secret it claimed has been concealed by the Catholic Churchreaders flocked to religious and historical texts to learn more about what really happened.
Will National Treasure do the same for moviegoers?
"I hope it gets people interested in the past," said Jim Kouf, who co-wrote the screenplay. "After seeing the movie, my daughter grabbed a copy of the Declaration of Independence and brought it to school with her. That was very exciting."
For an indication of the public's fascination with secret societies and conspiracy theories, jump on to the Internet, where thousands of wild Web sites claim that shadowy alliances do everything from running international affairs to managing interplanetary treaties.
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