I’m back with another of my explorations of the “Indyverse,” where I look at the many lesser-known books, comics, games, etc. that are connected to one of my favorite fictional heroes, Indiana Jones. Today I’ll have a look at Book #5, Indiana Jones and the Unicorn’s Legacy.
So far these books have followed one another chronologically, covering Indy’s early adventures in the first years of his professional career in archaeology. The first several in this series were written by Rob MacGregor, who, as I finally realized, views Indiana Jones more through the lens of historical fiction, rather than as connected to the pulp action genre, which is where the character got its start (among the many inspirations for Lucas and Spielberg were the Republic serials of the 40s, comics and dime novels of their youth, and the 1954 Charlton Heston movie Secret of the Incas).
MacGregor’s Indy novels haven’t been very heavy on the action sequences, though each one become more action-packed than the previous—at least, until this one.
After a brief historical scene set in the 1700s, the novel opens with a flashback to one of Indy’s earlier grad school digs in 1924, this one at a French cave with Paleolithic drawings. The expedition is led by a lab instructor named Roland Wolcott, and like happened in a previous book, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils, Indy manages to find something significant but the expedition leader tries to take full credit.
With him is fellow grad student Mara Rogers, whose specialty is art history. During this scene, Indy first sees references to unicorns, but this all comes full circle later when, five years later, Mara comes dramatically back into his life while Indy is doing some field research on the Anasazi in the American Southwest. She’s on the run from Wolcott, who is working with some dangerous Italian villain, tasked with stealing a unicorn’s horn (called an “alicorn”) from her.
Indy’s best friend from college, Jack Shannon, comes to help, as do a couple of other new characters, including a mysterious Native American mystic named Aguila. This man’s name (“Eagle,” in Spanish) references a spirit animal motif that has subtly lurked in these books from the beginning, with the eagle being representative of Indy’s soul (every chapter in these books begins with a heraldic standard of an eagle carrying a sword and sheaf over an ocean sunrise).
Most of the book is comprised of these various characters moving about the desert of southwest Colorado, usually running from bad guys, looking for each other, or both. After a while the chapters start to blur and we crave for something to happen. Of MacGregor’s books so far, this one is the most dull. A shame, because an actual unicorn’s horn would make a great McGuffin, and the sun-baked desert and the mysterious silent edifices of the abandoned cliff dwellings would make a great Indiana Jones setting. But in the end, not much happens, outside of a few fist fights and some car pursuits. The ending relies on mind-altering effects, something MacGregor also used in The Seven Veils, a cliché that lets him write about some astonishing visions while keeping the reader (through Indy’s POV) unsure what is real.
Canon or Not?
This follows so close behind the others so far in this series, and doesn’t do anything to break that, outside of being a bit of a dull read, so I’ll go ahead and consider it canon.
Read It or Skip It?
If you’ve read the first four, this is the first one where I advise some caution. Read it only if you like MacGregor’s sense for historical details, don’t mind a dearth of page-turning action, and want to follow Indy closer to the end of the 1920s. But if you’re short on time or attention, skip it.
I started reading this series back in 2016, when our family took a trip to Disneyland. Getting to ride the Indiana Jones ride again (for the first time since 1995!), popped back into place a love I have for this character and his particular brand of pulp adventures. I vowed I’d read all the novels, starting with a couple I had back when I was younger but, for some reason, never touched.
Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge is the 4th book in the series, started by Rob MacGregor. Like the others, this one takes place before the events in the movies, detailing Indy’s early years as an archaeology professor and his first adventures.
It’s Spring of 1927. Indy returns to his university in London, after the perilous events of the previous book (Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils). His wife, Dierdre Campbell, died tragically in the jungle, and Indy is… not in a good place. He snaps at students and walks around in a daze. When told that an academic review board is having second thoughts about his qualifications to teach Celtic History (his expertise so far), he decides to quit his job and go reconnect with his friend from college, Jack Shannon. But Shannon’s family is involved in mafioso dealings, and business is booming during the Prohibition, leaving Shannon a bit jumpy and prone to drive-by shootings and getting arrested.
Thankfully, Indy’s approached by a Russian doctor who, during WWI, came into possession of some information pertaining to the site of Noah’s Ark. He needs someone between jobs and with some experience in archaeology digs — and Indy is perfect!
Along with the doctor’s gorgeous (of course!) daughter, Katrina, Indy sets out to Turkey to locate the site. He brings Jack Shannon along with him to keep his friend out of trouble. In the cave city of Cappadocia they get entangled with a mysterious group that seems bent on stopping them at all costs, not to mention troublesome agents from the Kremlin and even local bandits.
I won’t give away too much of the ending, though I was a little disappointed. There was a lot of build-up toward the final reveal, and most of the book was spent first in Chicago with Jack Shannon’s family problems, then in travel, then in an extended sequence in a network of catacombs beneath Cappadocia, and then journeying up the snowy slopes of the mountain. The end felt rushed. I wanted to see more of the site!
After some more intense action sequences in the previous book, the action in this one slid back into something with a little less intensity. Not that there weren’t situations of peril, chases, fistfights or gunfights, but they didn’t seem to have the same gravity as in the previous book, or as in the movies. Nonetheless, there were some scrapes and dangerous situations. By this point, the reader can get a strong sense of MacGregor’s view on Indiana Jones — for him they’re more like historical fiction featuring some physical conflicts. I tend to see Indiana Jones adventures within the larger field of pulp, which turns up the dials on action, sometimes at the cost of some realism. It seems MacGregor is always concerned with making his stories feel possible, the action grounded in the real. Which is probably why I find the scenarios acceptable but the scenes sometimes lacking in urgency.
Canon or Not?
Anyway, I like to think of these books as a better “backstory” for Indy than the Young Indiana Jones series. They don’t mesh well, meaning only one of them could be true. I lean on these books as being canon.
Read it or Skip It?
So far, all of these books follow one another sequentially, even though it isn’t truly necessary to read them in order… In other words, this isn’t Part 4 of a single story, just a new book in the ongoing adventures of Indiana Jones. If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones, I’d say read it.
I just want to take a moment to mention a project by a long-time friend of mine, Greg Sommers, who owns and operates a video production company in Seattle, Washington. Divine Shadow was a labor of love for him, a 14-part web-exclusive martial arts miniseries available for free on YouTube.
Divine Shadow tells the story of a young woman and her little sister forced to flee from an abusive father, only to find herself entangled in a far-spanning plot that involves a secret society. She must fight for her life, and that of her sister, and channel a strange righteous force rising inside her. The series is a martial arts drama, shot right there on the streets of his native Seattle.
Check out the first episode, and then head on over to YouTube to see the rest of this action-packed series.
Today, as I continue to explore the “Indyverse,” I’ll take a closer look at the 3rd in the book series, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils. This book was also written by Rob McGregor, and published in late 1991 — making that quite a busy year for both Indy and Rob McGregor!
As with all of McGregor’s Indy books, this one picks up shortly after the previous one left off, and continues to explore the early years of Indy’s career, with his first adventures.
This one involves a famous real-life personage, the explorer Percy Fawcett. His dogged search up the Amazon for the “Lost City of Z” has been the subject of numerous books, and was recently made into a movie. It also forms the basis for this Indiana Jones adventure.
The book starts in Tikal, Guatemala, where Indiana Jones is acting as the foreman of a dig run by Victor Bernard, a fellow archaeologist. With Indy is his girlfriend Deirdre Campbell, whom we met in the previous book, Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants. They are falling in love, and end up getting married later in the book. After a harrowing situation inside the ruins involving Prof. Bernard, Indy and Deirdre meet Marcus Brody in New York, where he is presenting some archeological findings at a museum. Brody tells them of the esteemed Percy Fawcett’s disappearance, saying he was convinced there was a lost city in the Amazon settled by Celtic people!
Indy and Deirdre head to Brazil, getting married on their ship during the voyage. There are several scenes involving spies that let Indy know someone is well aware of his quest, including one on a high peak overlooking Rio de Janeiro.
At last, he and Deirdre make it deep into the jungle and eventually learn more about the lost city, and the titular “seven veils.” I won’t give anything away, but they have to do with the mysterious mental abilities of the denizens of that lost city.
Of these early books, this one is probably my favorite. It had the most Indiana Jones-like action, from the trapped ruins in Tikal, to the fight on the ship, to the perilous scene involving the cable car, to a plane crash in the jungle. It does get a little weirder than I’d have liked, though. I don’t mind some supernatural in Indiana Jones — it’s been in there since the beginning, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, after all — but in these stories it works best when it is subtle, isolated, and minimalized.
Canon or Not?
One thing to consider is that these books came out before the Young Indiana Jones TV series, which offers a very different view of Indiana Jones’ late teenage years. In the TV show, Indiana Jones went off to fight in WWI at 17, and didn’t get to college until a little later. Here, Indy went directly to college (presumably) after high school, and no mention is made of his service in the Belgian Army, or really any mention of WWI at all.
There also isn’t any mention of Deirdre in any of the movies, or anywhere else, which does make it hard to consider it “canon,” because it seems that Indy being a widower would have come up somewhere. I’m not sure how I feel about her inclusion in the canon, but I like her character.
Anyway, I’ll count this as canon.
Read It or Skip It?
For its adventurous scenes and “Indyness,” I’d definitely recommend it to Indiana Jones fans. If the rest of the books had been like this one, I think I’d have appreciated the series a little more. I’d say read it.
I just began an advertisement campaign for the Kindle version of my mythical Polynesian fantasy series, Islands of Fire. This is the first time I’ve actually advertised or marketed a book, save for mentioning it here or there on relevant forums online. The ad campaign is pretty modest, as far as they go — I’m doing Kindle lock screen previews that have a picture of the first book, Escape from Toko-Mua, and a short blurb:
An island of evil. A desperate flight. A strange relic stolen from a sinister cult. For wily Kina, escaping her captors is only the beginning…
It’s weird and exciting. Though I’m keeping my expectations in check from one little ad campaign, I’m proud of this series, which is high in action, adventure, and mystery, and believe it would resonate with most fantasy readers. I’m looking for other places to advertise, and have set aside a small budget for it. Banner ads, etc.
It would be better if I had at least one more series to offer, but everyone has to start somewhere. In fact, just yesterday I had an idea for (what I believe would be) an amazing pulp action serial set in the 1930s, a sort of Indiana Jones-esque series but with its own identity. I’d love to start writing it immediately, but at the moment my focus is on setting up the college English courses which start Monday, and then I also have two formal writing projects (one long, one short) for other companies on tight deadlines.
At any rate, if you’re a fantasy reader on Kindle, let me know if Islands of Fire pops up on your lock screen! And spread the word…
The 2nd book in the series was also released in 1991, Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants. It also happens to be next chronologically — which is the case for all of Rob MacGregor’s books, which take place a decade or more before the events of the movies. For example, this one takes place in 1925, where the movies occur in the mid-30s.
In Dance of the Giants, we catch Indy not long after his previous adventure in Greece. Now he’s out of grad school and has his first temporary teaching gig at the archaeology department of London University (he switched majors after the events of the previous book, now specializing in the field for which he’d eventually become famous). Things aren’t going all that well for him — after all, it’s his first teaching job. To make things worse, he’s caught the eye of one of his best students, Deirdre Campbell, a spirited Scottish girl. Her mother, Joanna, also happens to be Indy’s boss!
Deirdre knows her stuff, but she also seems to know a bit more about Merlin than seems reasonable, and talks about a golden scroll that supposedly belonged to Merlin himself. Before long, Indy is invited by Joanna to a dig in southwestern Britain, and his hopes of a permanent job at the university hinge on how well he can impress her.
Problem is, Deirdre has a jealous ex-flame, Adrian Powell, who still stalks her, and Indy has a couple of run-ins with him. He’s more than just dangerous: he’s also a rising member of Parliament and a neo-Druid! He also has a sinister plan to revive the power of the Druids that involves Stonehenge and Deirdre’s golden scroll.
The Omphalos, the mystic Delphi stone Indy helped recover in the previous book, is also involved. It has been stolen, and is a key component of Powell’s planned Druidic ritual at Stonehenge.
This is only the 2nd of MacGregor’s books, but we can already see an emphasis on history and scholarship. It’s clear his interest in Indiana Jones is more on the academic, rather than action, side. When MacGregor watches Indiana Jones, he’s swept up in the way history echoes into the present than in the way Indiana Jones survives escalating action sequences by his wits, or in the implausible traps and perils, or the intact ruins, etc. Though this book has plenty of suspense and conflict, it doesn’t offer much by way of action. There’s a sequence where Indy and some allies are captured and locked in an abandoned castle, then have to find their way through secret passages while their captors search for them. There are a few brief fights or foot chases. And it all culminates in a dramatic scene at Stonehenge. But much like Peril at Delphi, this is a more sedate adventure than we’re accustomed to seeing from Indiana Jones.
As far as characterization and dialogue, MacGregor does seem to have a solid grasp of the character. Indy is complex and flawed, sometimes grumpy but good at heart. He says things that feel “in character.” And the dialogue, even in the highly-academic parts, doesn’t feel too stilted.
Canon or Not?
There’s a solid throughline from Delphi to this book, and though you don’t have to have read book 1, it does lend some context that would otherwise be missing. And since we’re exploring Indy’s early years when he was first getting into the more dangerous side of “pulp archeology,” this seems like a nice 2nd outing. I’ll go ahead and consider it canon.
Skip It or Read It?
If you read the first one and are on board with this alternative (and, in my opinion, more plausible) origin story for Indiana Jones, I’d say go ahead and read it. If you’re aching for some action, follow it up with a Clive Cussler novel.
For the first part of this series, I figured I’d start with the first book, 1991’s Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi. I originally bought this book back in the early 90s, but at that time I was probably about 20 or 21, and I only got about two chapters in.
What stopped me? Well, to be blunt, I went in expecting a standard Indiana Jones adventure. I wanted trapped temples, evil Nazis, epic stunts, dangerous animals — the lot. But that’s not what this book delivers.
Peril at Delphi opens on Indiana Jones as a young man. He’s still in college, all those temples and Nazis and adventures still way in his future. Instead, he’s pulling campus pranks and spending his nights at a jazz club with a good friend, Jack Shannon. Indy is majoring in Linguistics, under pressure by his domineering and highly-traditional father (played so well by Sean Connery in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
We then move forward to graduate school, where one of his teachers, Dorian Belacamus, asks him to accompany her for some field work in her native Greece. A recent earthquake has damaged the site of the Oracle at Delphi, and she needs an assistant to help her inspect the site. There, they discover a strange carved stone (the “Omphalos,” or Navel of the World). Things seem fine at first, but soon Indy is caught up in a plot to overthrow the Greek government and discovers that Belacamus believes herself the reincarnation of the Oracle itself.
I didn’t have any issues with the setup. In fact, I relish the idea of a series that shows Indiana Jones in his first adventures, dipping his toes into the world of “pulp archaeology” (a glorified version of treasure hunting that bears no similarity to real-world archaeology, which is slow and meticulous, cataloging and mapping everything, where Indy’s methodology is to smash his way through to the high-price relic inside). But I want a little more high-action out of an Indiana Jones story than this book delivered. There were a few fistfights, there was a scene where he dangled over a deep pit in an compromised position, and there was a car chase, but I’d have liked to have seen more intensity.
That lack of intensity seems to be MacGregor’s style, as I’ll see in the next books in the series.
Canon or Not?
So this is a tough one. As I’ll no doubt mention again, I have a hard time accepting the version of Indiana Jones’ early years that was given to us in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and in the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the TV series, he’s first a little kid traveling with his father around the world and meeting famous people as he learns important life lessons, and then later he impetuously joins the Belgian army at 17 so he can fight in WWI. In Last Crusade, he’s a Boy Scout who tries to stop some treasure thieves and ends up gaining all his notable characteristics in five minutes (which is just lazy writing, IMO). I have many problems with how he was depicted in these sources, but most of all, it just doesn’t feel like Indiana Jones. He’s a scholar and rogue, not a soldier. I fully believe he would have spent his teens and early 20s in academia, not in trench warfare.
Based on that, I’m much more willing to accept this book’s vision of Indy’s humble beginnings. I’ll count it as canon.
Skip It or Read It?
If you’re interested in exploring Indy’s (possible) other adventures but don’t want to waste your time with bad offerings, should you read this one? I’ll go ahead and say read it. You could do worse, for sure, and as plausible origin stories goes, it’s the best of the bunch.
Those who know me know I’m a huge Indiana Jones fan. Ever since seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen when I was 10 years old, it has remained my all-time favorite movie, never unseated despite serious contention from a host of other amazing movies. Indiana Jones embodies who I want to be in life: daring, clever, scholarly, resourceful, and bold — even if I don’t always live up to those ideals. And the Indiana Jones movies sparked a lifelong love for adventure, action, and fiction of that genre, where mysteries are ancient, peril is imminent, villains are villainous, ruins remain unexplored, and everything is bigger and more sensational than real life.
This love for Indiana Jones (and, by extension, pulp adventure in the vein of serials from the 1930s) was reignited after a somewhat more dormant period when, in 2017, I took my family to Disneyworld. I’d forgotten how much I loved Adventureland — the whole look, feel, and vibe of it, not to mention the Indiana Jones ride!
Following that trip, I decided to reconnect with my old hero by finally diving into the various stories about him that aren’t from the movies. The idea was first sparked by the backstory of the Disneyworld ride, which one gleans from information provided during the queue: Indiana Jones was heading up an archaeological dig in Southeast Asia, but has gone missing. Alas, by that point his fame has grown large enough that people flock from around the world to the site, and you — the riders — hop into a jeep and drive into the ruins to rescue him.
I know Indiana Jones appears in quite a number of other fictional media. There are comic books, television shows, novels, video games, even choose-your-own-adventure books. Since 2017, I’ve been slowly expanding my “Indyverse” collection, buying some of those items.
I’ll be reviewing them here, letting you know which ones are good and which ones are not so good, and deciding whether I’d consider them worthy additions to the canon.
If you have any suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.