Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Paperback Crusades

My last few posts have all been book related, so lets continue the trend with an article about Rob MacGregor's Indiana Jones series from issue 179 of Starlog.

Indiana Jones and the Paperback Crusades
by Rich Harvey

Harrison Ford has moved onto other projects (like this summer's Patriot Games), but Lucasfilm, Ltd. has been busy keeping Indiana Jones alive. While reminiscing about his heroic past on ABC's The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the swashbuckling archaeologist has also returned in new book adventures by Rob MacGregor.
The first installment of his new series, published by Bantam Books, quietly appeared in bookstores in February 1991, but there were a few pitfalls awaiting Indiana Jones in the leap from film to paperback adventure.
"Originally, Ballantine Books was going to do this project," says MacGregor. "They had published the novelizations of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so they had pretty much worked exclusively with Lucasfilm on different book-related projects. I prepared by proposals, they asked me to do some revisions, and I had done everything as they required. Then, Ballantine suddenly backed out and just didn't want it.
We started going out to other publishers, wondering who else might be interested. We got several rejections, and I was afraid that Lucy Autrey Wilson (of Lucasfilm) was going to give up. But she kept plugging away until Bantam said they were interested, so that saved the day."
MacGregor has a writer's credentials for adventure. He has written articles for the Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and Newsday. He's a regular contributor to Omni. He also penned The Crystal Skull, a novel of hard-boiled intrigue and high adventure, and co-authored The Rainbow Oracle with Tony Grasso ("It's non-fiction, a book of divination. I guess it fits into the New Age category"). But his best known (and best selling) work is the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
These new stories trace Indy's pre-Raiders adventures, set in the 1920's, beginning with his graduation from college (after nearly being expelled). The time period offers further opportunities to explore Indy's personality and his past, through readers won't see other characters from the films and TV series, except for Dr. Marcus Brody. Indy will occasionally catch up with his college friend Jack Shannon, created by MacGregor, a student who spends as much time playing saxophone in jazz joints as he spends ribbing his adventuring friend.
"I wanted to write a book where Indy meets Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen in Raiders) for the first time," says MacGregor. "When he meets her again in Raiders, it's obvious that they had something going on when they were younger. I proposed some of these things, and most of them got shot down."
Lucasfilm expressed concern over continuity problems arising between MacGregor's stories and the TV series. As such, readers also won't see Indy's first confrontation with rival archaeologist Rene Belloq (from Raiders). The bitter relationship between Indy and his father, Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery in Last Crusade), won't be expanded upon either.
"It would be perfect for that to be developed," MacGregor says. "But I had to be very cautious about bringing up characters from the movies because of the TV series, where he's younger than my version. Otherwise, there may have been few problems between the novels and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, because it's a separate time period. My stories pick up where the Chronicles leave off, when Indy's out of college and starting his career as an archaeologist. These novels are really meant to fill a gap in two different ways - the events in Indy's life between the Chronicles and the movies, and also the time gap between Last Crusade's release and the TV series."
With the first novel, Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi, Lucasfilm scrutinized his manuscript very closely, making sure it was faithful to the character. "There's still a basic format in which Indy has a confrontation with the unusual, as in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There has to be that mystical aspect of the book combined with the adventure. I played it low-key in my first draft of Peril at Delphi and Robert Simpson, my editor, emphasized that aspect. I rewrote the ending, and it came out much better."
This first adventure leads Indy to an archaeological dig in Greece, where the Oracle of Delphi's hidden tomb is located. A sultry professor seduces Indy, using him as her pawn to learn the secret of the Oracle's powers, which lie in an ancient relic know as the Omphalos.
In the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants, the Omphalos is put inside Marcus Brody's museum for safe keeping. It's promptly stolen by a British Parliament member who intends to gather the pagans of Britain for a bi-annual ritual at Stonehenge. A very nervous Indiana Jones, who knows all too well the relic's terrible powers, sets out to stop them.
"The third book, Indiana Jones and the Seven Veils, takes place in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and in the Amazon," says MacGregor. "It's a search for a missing adventurer named Colonel P.H. Fawcett, a real person who actually disappeared in the Amazon jungle in 1925."
MacGregor may have been destined to write the Indiana Jones adventure yarns. When he was assigned to novelize Last Crusade, the Ballantine editors found an author who not only share Indy's interests, but his background as well.
"I sort of fit in with the character somewhat," MacGregor adds hesitantly, "and I can relate to Indy. When I was in junior high school, we had to do these little reports of what we were going to be when we grew up. I was a freshman at the time, and I was the only one in the school who wanted to be an archaeologist."
More than just a childhood dream, MacGregor's archaeological desires were fueled by an interest in travel and exploring. He led the first group of UK journalists to the Lost City of Sierra Nevada in Columbia's Santa Marta Mountains in 1987, and has organized numerous adventure tours to South America for travel writers. He admits that they provide good background color for the globe-hopping Indiana Jones and private eye Nicholas Pierce, hero of MacGregor's Crystal Skull, but not much fodder for storylines.
"The tours are actually pretty tame," MacGregor admits. "The most unusual thing happened in the Lost City, where I was separated from the group and got left out in the jungle for a day. The helicopter couldn't get back to pick me up, and nobody knew what had happened to me. The tour group was out on the beach having lunch, and I was gone. I was out there with the Kogi Indians on this mountain that night and had a great time. It was an unusual experience. I enjoyed myself, and the next morning it was clear, so the helicopter landed and I gout out of there."
Being a man after Indy's heart, MacGregor's great interest in mythology, history and travel is quite evident throughout the series. Each novel is rich in detail of ancient myths and documented history, blending fact and fiction almost seamlessly. In the movie theaters, however, MacGregor felt he was watching a different story unfold with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Archaeological history was downplayed.
"When I saw the movie, I was disappointed," MacGregor confesses. "They had worked with the same script and condensed to get everything into two hours, and I was doing the opposite. I was expanding it, writing three pages for every one page of script, going into much more depth."
"The Holy Grail is handled quite superficially in the movie, almost mentioned in passing. In the novel, I was able to get into the background on the Holy Grail, and then build up the story."
MacGregor's greatest challenge was describing the rapid-paced action scenes in a manner that still made sense in cold print, which called fro him to trim away a few extra punches and motorcycle crashes. The scene with the tank posed a problem.
"With a novel, you're working in a different medium and you have to emphasize different things," MacGregor says. "You have to get those action scenes in there, of course, because it's an adventure novel. Likewise, there are things you can't show in the movie which can be brought out much better in the novel. But the special FX are what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are known for, and I could never describe these scenes and equal the feeling you get from watching them."
MacGregor hopes that fans will give the paperbacks a chance, though many fans don't know about them or the Indy comics series from Dark Horse.  "I did a signing recently in Orlando." he recalls, "and I had Last Crusade, Peril at Delphi, and my other novel, The Crystal Skull. And they sold in that exact order. People related to Indy, and they related to what they knew, which was the movie."
When he's not trying to create new problems for the two-fisted hero, MacGregor temporarily hangs up Indy's bullwhip and fedora, scouting for other projects. One idea took him to Utah during 1991, one of the locales for Indiana Jones and the Unicorn Legacy, with the possibility of collaborating on a John Wayne biography. That has been shelved, due to a spate of similar books, but MacGregor has another idea he may develop in The Three Golden Pools.
"Ed Smarts, my collaborator, is somewhat of an adventurer himself, and he and John Wayne formed this mining company. He found these three pools in Panama, in a remote jungle region, which are filled with gold and gold nuggets. Twice - once around the time of Christopher Columbus and again around the turn of the century - they were dredged and a lot of gold was removed. This is real stuff. It's not fiction."
A gold mine of reference for the fourth Indy novel was unearthed. "Ed Smarts was a good source for Indiana Jones and the Genesis Deluge," says MacGregor. "I gave him an acknowledgement, because part of the story takes place in the 1927 Chicago ganglands. This guy lived in Chicago at that time, and has all kinds of journals and recollections. He sent me about 80 pages of notes pertaining to the period! It really helped.
"It sounds totally off-the-wall," MacGregor laughs, "but in The Genesis Deluge, Indy goes in search of Noah's Ark. He also gets punched in the face by Al Capone."
Given word by Bantam Books to continue the series, MacGregor has produced two more novels, which have actually fallen under more scrutiny from Lucasfilm than the original quartet. The TV producers are concerned that the paperbacks may be missing its core audience, but MacGregor kept writing, completing Indiana Jones and the Unicorn's Legacy and Indiana Jones and the Interior World.
"These started out to be very much adult novels," says MacGregor, "and I still consider them in that manner. But because the TV series is oriented to teens, they're figuring that my books will be purchased by that age group. They're concerned about things that I consider silly, like language and sex.
"Basically, it's not the kids we're worried about," he laughs, "but it's what their parents are gonna say. It's pretty mundane stuff compared to what the average kid knows and does. The last thing I was told was to remove all the 'hells' and 'damns.' It's silly, but they're protecting their asses, I guess."
Indiana Jones and the Unicorn's Legacy, due in September, takes place in the Southwest near the Anasazi ruins. This time, the main conflict involves the search for the mythical Alicorn, the unicorn's horn, and the folklore surrounding its healing and protective powers.
"In the Middle Ages, the Alicorn was thought to be a talisman of healing and protection, and there were actually historical records of one Alicorn being kept in Tower of London. There were a couple of other well-known ones in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. Of course, we don't know exactly what these things were - people in the Middle Ages accepted unicorns as creatures that existed.
"These spiral horns did exist, but what they actually were is another question. They may have been related to a type of Arctic whale called the narwahl, which has an ivory spiral tusk. These were considered mystical relics, talismans, and this story follows what happened to one, how it came into possession of a certain family and how it was handed down."
Of course, Indiana Jones sets out in pursuit of this archaeological find, leading him to another two-part adventure. "There's always a myth and a relic involved," MacGregor explains, "and that's the basic context of all these stories. The Omphalos was it in the first two stories - Peril at Delphi and Dance of the Giants - and now it's the Alicorn."
Indiana Jones and the Interior World, to be published in December, follows Indy's journey into the mythical interior world, continuing the storyline after an unsuccessful attempt to forever seal away the Alicorn.
"Indy sealed the Alicorn away at a point in an outside the ruins of Hovenweep, where - at the spring and summer solstice - the sun comes through this crack in the wall, and two daggers of sunlight come together and touch. This is the exact beginning of the solstice or the equinox.
"Where Indy left the unicorn's horn turns out to be the entrance to the underworld. This relic falls into the hands of someone in the underworld and Indy is the only one who can confront this individual because he has already handled the Alicorn. The person who has the Alicorn can't be harmed.
"This being is trying to form a pact with Adolf Hitler. This sounds very far-out, but, historically, Hitler had a very strong interest in the underworld, and he believed that there was a race of super-humans that lived within the Earth. So, once again the Nazis and Hitler come back into play with Indy."
MacGregor has fulfilled his second commitment to produce Indiana Jones adventures, leaving his schedule open for other writing assignments. He may contribute further to Indiana Jones' legacy, though the series' continuation depends on Bantam and Lucasfilm. No one at The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles plans adaptations of the paperbacks either.
"They're pretty much avoiding anything relating to my stories," he says. "I've heard nothing, such as plans to so anything with these adventures."
For the present, Rob MacGregor will again hang up Indy's bullwhip and fedora, and begin anew his quest for other projects. Judging by his recollections, he may end up somewhere even Indiana Jones never dreamed of.

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