Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi
1991, Rob MacGregor
“Indy, Henry, follow me! I know the way!”
And so, give or take a line, did the Indiana Jones trilogy ride off into the sunset. Or so we thought at the time. What started in 1981 with Raiders of the Lost Ark — which, if pressed, I may very well name as my favorite movie (it’s that or Casablanca) — and then continued with the imperfect but still enjoyable Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, wrapped in 1989 with the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It was a fitting conclusion to the series, balancing humor and adventure with heart and thrills. Yes, it left some questions unanswered — what the heck happened to Marion — but by and large, it was a fitting swan song for America’s favorite two-fisted, globe-trotting archaeologist, Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.
It did not remain Indy’s swan song for long.
In March of 1992, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles debuted on the ABC television network. As the name makes plain, the series told the story of Indiana Jones as a teen and young man (and occasionally a boy). Soldier, spy, world traveler — the show was meant to be an educational program for teens and young adults, and as is usually the case with such shows, young Indiana Jones manages to meet just about every famous person he could during the 1910s, which is sometimes a bit much. And speaking of a bit much, that’s how ABC felt about the show’s budget. It was a massively expensive undertaking, and the fact that it was aimed at kids when the core Indiana Jones audience that had grown up with the film was in college, meant that it garnered low ratings. It was canceled in 1993. Except for a few made-for-television movies based on the series, it would be a long time before audiences saw Indiana Jones in action again on any screen, big or small.
However, sandwiched between The Last Crusade and the first episode of the Chronicles, there was Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi.
After the movies wrapped, and while the series was in development, Indiana Jones co-creator George Lucas decided he wanted to commission a series of Indiana Jones novels. He turned to author Rob MacGregor, who had penned the novelization of The Last Crusade. MacGregor had expressed mild disappointment that much of what appeared in the novelization ultimately had to be cut from the film for time and to achieve the tighter focus desired by director Steve Spielberg. Thus, MacGregor was excited about the opportunity to dig deep into the world of Indiana Jones. Obviously, there were a lot of stories that could be told. But Lucas had a set of restrictions he placed on MacGregor. For starters, the books should be prequels, not sequels, to the movies. Second, they should be, like the soon-to-debut TV series, educational and aimed at a younger audience. None of the grit and gore of the movies (that stuff was always Spielberg’s thing). Third, MacGregor did not have permission to use any of the characters from the movies other than Indy and Marcus Brody. Others could be mentioned, but they could not appear.
Lucas had similarly hedged his bets years earlier when he hired Alan Dean Foster to write the first Star Wars continuation novel, Splinter in the MInd’s Eye. Foster was told to write a book that could serve as a potential sequel to Star Wars, but because Lucas did not expect the movie to be a huge hit, what Foster came up with had to be able to make for a cheap movie (no space stuff, for starters). And since it was assumed Harrison Ford would not return for a potential second movie, Foster was not allowed to include the character who would emerge as the most popular in the series (and, of course, be played by Harrison Ford, the same man who played Indiana Jones). Subsequent Star Wars novels would also operate under restrictions planned primarily to make sure nothing in the books would conflict with what might be on screen in a sequel. As Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford had not completely ruled out a fourth Indiana Jones film, it was simpler to keep MacGregor within certain boundaries. No worries, because the life of Indiana Jones, even before the movies, was full of thrills.
So MacGregor, who was himself a well-rounded globetrotter with a keen interest in history and archaeology, set about the task. In 1991, he delivered Indiana Jones and the Peril at Delphi, set in 1922 (with a prelude in 1920) and featuring an Indiana Jones fresh out of college and dutifully studying for his future career as…a linguist. Obviously, that career trajectory is not going to last, and by the end of the book, Indy has course-corrected toward archaeology, if of a somewhat unorthodox fashion. The book begins in 1920, on the eve of Indy’s graduation from the University of Chicago. He’s a dedicated student but not without a wild streak. He and his pal, Jack Shannon, are avid fans of barrelhouse piano this dangerous new music called jazz. He’s also not above a bit of mischief, as evidenced by a brief run-in with a sleazy bootlegger and a stunt he pulls for graduation that involves hanging effigies of the Founding Fathers to make a nuanced political point. Although his favorite history professor turns Jones in, the man also argues for clemency, allowing the young rascal to graduate and continue his studies in Paris.
And two years later, we catch up with Indy in Paris, studying with a beautiful (as is always the case) professor named Dorian Belecamus who, despite Indy having no experience in archaeology, enlists his aid on an excavation in Greece. A recent earthquake has further damaged the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, once home to the legendary Oracle of Delphi. But the quake has also revealed a new artifact, an ancient tablet, stuck midway down a deep crevasse. Against the advice of Jack Shannon and his own better judgment — everyone gets the feeling that there’s more to the trip than Dorian is letting one — Jones agrees, if for no other reason than he was in a bit of a funk anyway, and he’s sort of hot for teacher.
It seems everyone was right to have misgivings about the excursion. Jones is promptly seduced by Dorian, but his happiness about that turn of events is offset by the number of mysterious people who keep popping up to stare, menace, and occasionally attempt to kill him. Before too long, young Indy is caught up in dual plots to resurrect the glory of ancient Delphi and assassinate the king of Greece. He also drinks a lot of retsina (a traditional Greek wine made from pine sap).
As a pulpy adventure, Peril at Delphi is pretty entertaining. As an Indiana Jones adventure, well, there’s not a whole lot of the Indiana Jones we know (and are led to expect by the cover art, which depicts Raiders-era Indy), and there’s not a whole lot of the action one would expect. It’s also very light on the mystical, but then, so was Raiders until the big ghost jamboree at the end. MacGregor errs on the side of educational, per George Lucas’ decree. However, while that means this book is a lot more talking than it is adventure, MacGregor delivers history lessons about ancient Greece (and hot jazz) in entertaining fashion, so it all goes down pretty easy.
It’s not all kid stuff, either. Jones does get lucky with his older teacher, after all, and he does a fair bit of drinking. And “light on action” doesn’t mean there’s no action. Indy does at least have his whip, after all, and he gets to dangle from a rope in a pit while holding a torch, which is one of his favorite things. As the book progresses toward the conclusion, it goes in for more a good many fistfights and car chases. After all, you can’t expect action-adventure Indy to spring out of college fully-formed. As a light adventure to help Indy kick off his archaeology career, it’s a breezy good time that fulfills George Lucas’ wishes and also manages to be a fun foray into the early days of Indiana Jones.
SET THE MOOD
I’ll try to include a few of these for every book, provided topics make themselves available. This is a slightly deeper dive into some of the scene-setting elements MacGregor mentions throughout the novel. Cocktails and Capers being what it is, the focus will primarily be on the movies, music, and booze that pops up in Indy’s life.
Jones, Dreamland, and Jazz
While running wild in Chicago with his college roommate and aspiring cornet player Jack Shannon, the two name-drop several jazz musicians, including Johnny Dunn, Jabbo Smith, King Oliver, Earl Hines, and Johnny Dodds — legends all of the early jazz scene. As the legend goes, jazz as a musical form started in New Orleans, but many of the best musicians quickly left to seek their fortunes in two cities that offered the best prospects for black artists: New York and Chicago. In the Roaring ’20s, the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing, but at first, established black musicians were unhappy about this wild new sound from down south, with its odd syncopated rhythms and lack of rules. Despite their misgivings, jazz soon came to define the era so much so that we simply know it as the Jazz Age today.
Jones later mentions Dreamland, the most famous and elegant jazz club in 1920s Chicago. But he also talks about barrelhouse piano, “called barrelhouse piano because the small bars where it was played served liquor directly out of kegs.” That and his willingness to go on a side adventure for a pint of rotgut booze sold by a seedy bootlegger means Jones, probably at the behest of his jazzhead pal Jack, has frequently more than his fair share of speakeasy and shady backroom joints.
The Perils of Pauline
Duringn his Paris derive, Jones considers dropping into a movie house to see The Perils of Pauline, at the time one of the most popular movie serials in the world. It starred adventurous young actress Pearl White, who made a name for herself in a series of stunt-filled adventure serials to which the Indiana Jones franchise (and all stunt-filled action films) owes a tremendous debt. Among other things, Perils and the serials of Pearl White gave birth to the term “cliffhanger,” because Pearl would literally hang from a cliff. If you want to know more about Pearl White and The Perils of Pauline, I happen to know a pretty good book titled Cocktails and Capers that discusses the series and the life of its star.
Drinking with Indy
The Indiana Jones series has never been a “drinking” series the way James Bond is (unless you count Belloq’s “family label”). But from his misadventure procuring a bottle of bootleg booze to his keeping up with compatriots in Paris and Greece, Jones and The Peril at Delphi manages to cover a few notable alcohols.
Retsina is the star of the book. It’s a traditional Greek drink with a history spanning at least 2,000 years. It’s a white resinated wine, which means it picks up some of its flavor from exposure to pine sap. In the ancient days, this happened when jars containing wine were sealed with pine resin to keep them from going bad. The resin would infuse the wine with some of its characteristics. Modern retsina has the resin added directly to the wine must (the raw, crushed juice created early in the winemaking process). A tavern keeper in the village below Delphi also mentions “aretsinoto,” which is just Greek white wine without resin. Although any country could conceivably make a resinated wine, “retsina” is now a protected designation reserved for products from Greece (in the same way anyone can make brandy but only a particular region in France can produce “cognac”). You might not be able to find it anywhere and everywhere, but Greece does export a fair amount of retsina to the United States. My local recommends Ritinitis Nobilis.
Indy eventually acquires a taste for retsina, but he’s less forgiving of the brash licorice taste of Greece’s national spirit, ouzo. Ouzo falls into a class of spirit that gains its dominant flavor from anise. It’s similar to Sambuca (Italy), Pernod (France), raki (Turkey, and also mentioned in The Peril at Delphi) and absinthe. Indiana Jones may not care for it, but another globetrotting adventurer — James Bond — drinks a ton of the stuff during his own Greek adventure, Colonel Sun. Metaxa Ouzo and Ouzo No. 12 are two of the most common brands in the United States. Speaking of which, Indy also contends with more than a few pours of Pernod while in Paris. Absinthe having been outlawed in 1915, on account of its wormwood content and the wildly-exaggerated reports of “hallucinogenic thujone,” Pernod was the most popular replacement and is still widely available today.
On the train to Greece, Dorian introduces Indy to a cocktail called the French 75. A wildly popular drink that has enjoyed quite a renaissance recently, its exact origin is, like those of many famous cocktails, confusing and often contradictory, with different sources citing entirely different stories and timelines. It is named in honor of the French 75mm cannon, a staple of the French army during World War I. It was so named either to honor the field gun or because it hit you like a shell from said field gun. A more fanciful version of the story claims that the cocktail was invented on the battlefield, either by soldiers or by aviators, who finding themselves well-stocked with gin, Champagne, sugar, and lemon combined the ingredients in a spent 75mm artillery shell. That almost certainly didn’t happen, but it’s a pretty good tale, and one savvy bartenders were quick to embrace.
Origin aside (we’ll let Difford’s Guide deal with sorting out that mess), the cocktail that began life in 1915 as the soixante quinze (seventy-five) has undergone a number of changes over the years, depending on changing tastes, the practical availability of one spirit over another, and the occasional need of a journalist to guess at what he was drinking (or remember what the bartender told him). Most different from today’s version is the absence of Champagne. Instead, the early 75 uses apple brandy — applejack in the US, Calvados in France. The brandy was dropped and the Champagne introduced either in 1919 or in 1927, depending on who you read and what they are using as a source.
If Indy is enjoying one in 1922, he’s possibly drinking a version created by a bartender named Henry Tepe of Henry’s Bar (which was right around the corner from Harry’s Bar, run by Harry MacElhone, another bartender often attributed as the creator of the French 75). Tepe’s version appeared in print in the 1922 guide Cocktails, How to Mix Them, compiled by Robert Vermiere. However, that version still lacked Champagne and used Calvados, and Peril at Delphi describes the drink as containing “Champagne and vodka.” That’s called a French 76, and it debuted in the 1990s (the same time, incidentally, as Rob MacGregor was writing the book, so I can understand where he might have been led astray).
To be safe, I’m including several versions, with the last one being the most common today, though at the suggestion of cocktail historian Jeffrey Morgenthaler, I’m opting to skip the Champagne flute (a late addition to the game) and serve the drink in a Collins glass over ice. It was, after all, a variation on a Tom Collins, at least eventually. That’s cocktail history, folks! You try to piece together bits of disparate and often conflicting info until you assemble a reasonably believable hypothesis. And if you are wrong…well, at least you have a pretty good drink.
- 2/3 oz London dry gin
- 2/3 oz Laird’s applejack
- 1/3 oz grenadine
- 1/6 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 oz chilled water
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- 1 1/3 oz London dry gin
- 2/3 oz Calvados
- 1/6 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 oz grenadine
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- 1 1/3 oz Calvados
- 2/3 oz London dry gin
- 1/6 oz grenadine
- 2 dashes absinthe or Pernod
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- 2 oz London dry gin
- 1 oz fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 oz simple syrup
- 3 oz Champagne
Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top up with Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist. If you don’t want it over ice, then use a chilled coupe glass.