Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi

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.

Part of the Delphi temple complex, where most of the book’s central action occurs.

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.

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