Adventure Movies

The Adventures Continue: Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi by Rob MacGregor

June 13, 202314 Mins Read

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

With a new Indiana Jones movie just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to take another look at an excellent series of tie-in novels featuring our favorite archaeologist. The character was created as an homage to the pulp heroes of the past, but ended up eclipsing many of them and becoming one of the most famous adventure heroes of all time. While Indiana Jones is solidly rooted in the real world, there have always been elements of fantasy and science fiction in his adventures. Whether they involve mystical artifacts, or remains of ancient civilizations, or even ancient aliens, Indy’s adventures unfold at the intersection of the real world and the world of magic and mystery

I found Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi in 2008, when the Indiana Jones novels were re-released in conjunction with the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There was a sales receipt still in my copy, used as a bookmark, that reminded me I bought the book at Walmart (and also reminded me there was a time in the not-so-distant past when Walmart had a much more respectable selection of books and periodicals than it has today). I’m not surprised I that I’d immediate snapped the book up as I’m a sucker for great covers, and it features a lovely illustration by Drew Struzan, commercial illustrator without peer, who has produced many a memorable movie poster and book cover.

It is hard to believe that over four decades have passed since Indiana Jones made his first appearance, and in that time, he has become a cultural force. Adventure and exploration are always popular themes in fiction, and the settings of these stories evokes a nostalgia for a (seemingly) simpler time when there were still blank spots on world maps.

At the same time, there were a few elements in the Indiana Jones movies that some felt were problematic even upon their initial release, most notably instances of cultural insensitivity and a lack of female characters in roles other than love interests. Moreover, attitudes toward cultural treasures have changed in recent decades: Indy’s assertion that such items belong in museums, intended to demonstrate his virtue, now comes across as chauvinistic or misguided in a time when most feel that the best location for such valuable artifacts is in their countries of origin.


About the Creators

George Lucas (born 1944) is a noted American filmmaker, writer, producer, and director. He broke into the big time with the groundbreaking Star Wars films, which were wildly successful commercially and became a cultural phenomenon. Lucas then created the character Indiana Jones in collaboration with his friend Steven Spielberg, who went on to direct Raiders of the Lost Ark, another huge commercial success. Each of those movies launched their own media franchise. Lucas was an innovator in other areas, including the marketing of tie-in toys and merchandise (which helped fund later efforts), the advancement of special effects through his Industrial Light and Magic company, and the advancement of sound design through his Skywalker Sound company. The animation studio Pixar was also born out of the computer graphics division of Lucasfilm. Lucas has now largely retired from the industry, having sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012.

Steven Spielberg (born 1946) is a noted American filmmaker, whose primary work has been as a director. His first major success was Jaws, which he followed with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, his collaboration with George Lucas on Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial. His career solidly established, he went on to direct and produce many other films, gaining both commercial success and critical acclaim (including three Academy Awards). Career highlights include the Jurassic Park franchise, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and a host of other films. Spielberg also co-produced the groundbreaking drama series Band of Brothers and is a co-founder of the studios Amblin Entertainment and DreamWorks.

Rob MacGregor (born 1948) is an American author who has written mysteries, adventures, young adult books, non-fiction, and media tie-in novels, including the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and six other Indiana Jones tie-in novels. The Indiana Jones books landed him on the prestigious New York Times Best Seller List. MacGregor studied archaeology in college, has studied dream interpretation, astrology, and divination, and teaches yoga.


Indiana Jones on Screen

The movie theater is where audiences first met Indiana Jones, and the hugely successful movies remain the core of the character’s appeal. There are five in total, all starring Harrison Ford, whose portrayal of the gruff and world-weary archaeologist fueled a large part of their success. The films also benefitted from brilliant musical scores from John Williams, in a style that evoked the famous work Erich Korngold did for Errol Flynn’s adventure movies; his memorable Indiana Jones theme is a rousing and memorable military-style march. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) presented Indy as an heir to the pulp heroes of the past, recapturing all the action and adventure of those old serials, though with a more cynical tone, with Indy racing Nazis in Egypt to find the fabled Ark of the Covenant.

The next film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), set in India, was darker still, and while it was successful, there were complaints about the violence portrayed, especially against children. The third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), deliberately took a lighter tone, featuring the bickering family dynamic and eventual reconciliation between Indy and his father, played by Sean Connery, as they raced the Nazis (once again), this time in search of the Holy Grail. And for a time, it looked like this would be the last Indiana Jones movie. George Lucas went on to produce a television show called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The series lasted for two years, from 1992 to 1993, with some made-for-TV movies following in 1994. The series focused on Indy meeting people and witnessing events from actual history in the early 20th century, and related historical documentaries were also produced as companion pieces to the series. Corey Carrier played Indy in episodes where the character was aged 8 to 10, while the charismatic Sean Patrick Flanery played Indy in his teen years.

After an almost two-decade gap, the movies continued with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), in which Indy clashed with Soviets searching for secrets in South America. And now, after another long gap, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) is being released in theaters soon. All the previous Indiana Jones movies and TV shows are now available for streaming on Disney+.


The Indiana Jones Tie-Ins

Indiana Jones is not only a movie and TV character, having appeared in many other types of media. Several comic books portrayed his adventures, including a continuing series from Marvel Comics, and a collection in mini-series format from Dark Horse Comics. There were also a plethora of Indiana Jones toys and games. Dozens of video games were developed, many of them very popular. There have been role-playing games, board games, Lego building sets, action figures and other toys, not to mention expensive replica wool felt hats and leather jackets for sale.

Indiana Jones-themed attractions are located at Disney Parks around the world. At Disney World in Florida you can find “The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!” and “Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar” (named after Indy’s pilot in the first movie). At Disneyland Paris there is a roller coaster called “Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril.” And there is a thrill ride called “The Indiana Jones Adventure” at Disneyland in California and at DisneySea in Japan. [And it is here I must disclose I am personally a part of the Indiana Jones franchise, having been chosen from the audience to play an extra in the Disney World stunt show a few years ago…]

In addition to the main Indiana Jones tie-in novels, which I will discuss below, there have been a number of books featuring the character. There were novelizations for each of the movies. There was a series of eight books by Wolfgang Hohlbein published in Germany, though they have not been translated into English. And younger fans of Indy could enjoy children’s books from Scholastic Books, dozens of Young Indiana Jones books, and a series from Ballantine Books called “Find Your Fate,” where the reader could choose different options during the narrative.


The Indiana Jones Novels

In the wake of the first trilogy of Indiana Jones movies, a series of tie-in novels was commissioned. It was published by Bantam Books, an imprint that, starting in the 1960s, had great success reprinting the adventures of action heroes from the pulp magazine era, most notably the hyper-capable scientist and do-gooder Doc Savage. The first six Indiana Jones novels were written by Rob MacGregor, who also wrote the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade novelization. The books pick up where the TV series left off, with Indiana graduating from college. The only character who appears from the movies (besides Indy) was Marcus Brody.

These first six books were Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi (featuring the secret of the Oracle of Delphi), Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants (Stonehenge and druids), Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils (secrets of the Amazon), Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge (the legend of Noah’s Ark), Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy (the secret power of the unicorn’s horn), and Indiana Jones and the Interior World (in which a lost race threatens invasion from a subterranean world). In 1991, noted techno-thriller author Martin Caidin picked up the series with Indiana Jones and the Sky Pirates (modern pirates in aircraft, and the only installment in the series I was never able to find), and Indiana Jones and the White Witch (druids versus the sword of Merlin). Caidin, however, fell ill and turned the series over to Max McCoy.

Starting in 1995, another four novels appeared, including Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone (the secret of alchemy), Indiana Jones and the Dinosaur Eggs (dinosaurs are not quite extinct), Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth (the secret of Ultima Thule, a secret land beneath the Arctic), and Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Sphinx (ancient mysteries of the Sphinx). More characters from the movies showed up over time, including Sallah, Lao Che, and Belloq. As mentioned above, the novels were re-released in 2008, in conjunction with the movie Indiana Jones and Crystal Skull, and there was one final book issued in 2009, from author Steve Perry: Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead (voodoo and zombies).

The books were solidly written and researched, resulting in well-paced adventure stories that made for enjoyable reading. They remind me of the adventures of Don Sturdy, one of the better lines of adventure books created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in the 1920s and ’30s (and since Lucas gave a tip-of-the-hat in that direction by having Young Indy date Stratemeyer’s daughter in one of the Young Indiana Jones episodes, I suspect these books were indeed an influence). In a more general sense, the Indiana Jones novels also reminded me of adventures that filled pulp magazines like Argosy and Blue Book in the years between the World Wars.


Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi

The book opens with Indiana finishing his undergraduate work in ancient languages, one of the last times in his life he would follow the path his father had set out for him. He nearly derails his college graduation with a tasteless prank featuring effigies of the founding fathers hung from lampposts. He is saved by the intervention of one of his favorite teachers, Mr. Conrad. He says farewell to his roommate, Jack Shannon, a scion of a local crime family, who shares with Indy a passion for the new musical form, jazz. Then Indy heads off for graduate studies at the Sorbonne. There he becomes smitten with a lovely but enigmatic Greek teacher, Professor Dorian Belecamus. Her lectures introduce us to the MacGuffin of the book, the secret of the Oracle of Delphi. She convinces Indy to come to Greece with her as an archaeological assistant, despite his protestations that archaeology is not his field. Shannon shows up in Paris, pursuing good jazz music, and as does Conrad, having lost tenure when he stuck up for Indy in the founding father scandal.

Soon Dorian and Indy are off to Greece on a train, and she takes him as a lover. Indy doesn’t realize it, but she wants a dupe as much as she wants a language expert, and her motive in romance is control rather than affection. There are mysterious events on the train, and when the two reach Athens, it is clear they are being followed. Dorian is involved in political intrigue along with her long-time paramour, the cruel Colonel Mandraki. She is also a member of the Order of Pythia, a group that intends to revive the Temple of Delphi, with Dorian as the oracle. When the king is lured to Delphi by news of this new oracle, Dorian and Mandraki plan to assassinate him and overthrow the government.

Indy knows none of this. He only knows that there are locals who want him gone, and who are willing to resort to violence to make it happen. Dorian has him lowered into a chasm to read a tablet, where he falls, falling victim to the hallucinogenic mists that emerge at predictable intervals. Indy also finds a mysterious rock that might be an ancient meteor, the Omphalos. The mists only bring erratic behavior, but the Omphalos seems to invoke visions of the future. Soon the king arrives, along with Greek army troops loyal to Colonel Mandraki. So do Shannon and Conrad, having learned that Dorian has a murderous past, and wanting to help Indy. And of course, the Order of Pythia has its own agenda. Indy finds himself caught in a tangle of conspiracy and violence, and while the archaeological puzzle intrigues him, he will be lucky to get out of this turmoil alive.

MacGregor has done his homework and does a great job of evoking Parisian society and Greek political intrigue in the 1920s. There are just enough hints about ancient magic to keep the reader intrigued, and the action moves at a rapid clip, as Indy races from one predicament to the next. The book is a solid start to the series, and it ends by including the first chapter from the next book to whet the reader’s appetite for further adventures.


Final Thoughts

I’m not sure how many of you out there have read the Indiana Jones books, but if you have, I’d welcome your thoughts. If you haven’t, some are available in electronic versions, and copies can occasionally be found in used bookstores.

And certainly, since pretty much everyone has been exposed to Indy in at least one of his many media incarnations, comments on the other adventures of the character, and his place in the pop culture pantheon, are welcome as well.

Alan Brown has been a science fiction fan for over five decades, especially fiction that deals with science, military matters, exploration and adventure.

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