Saturday, June 12, 2021

Embrace the Differences: The Raiders of the Lost Ark Novelization

by Scott D. Parker

Raiders of the Lost Ark turns forty today. Hard to believe, sometimes. I still remember watching Siskel and Ebert gush over the movie. Youthful though I was--twelve--Harrison Ford had already become my favorite actor because he was Han Solo. Who knew Indiana Jones was just around the corner.

To commemorate the movie's anniversary, I decided to do something I had never done before: read the novelization by Campbell Black. Yeah, I had the book back in the day. Yeah, I remember cracking it open. But I also know I never finished it. Heck, I don't even remember getting that far into the book before stopping it. I have no memory why. Unlike Star Wars--where I devoured every morsel of news, read every book, and bought every comic--I don't remember doing the same thing with Raiders. It is possible I didn't continue with the novelization because of the differences. Now, forty years later, those differences are fantastic.

Raiders is one of my Top 5 all-time movies. I have no idea how many times I've seen it, but those clips in the Siskel and Ebert segment are all familiar. It's probably one of your favorite movies, too. I can "see" the movie in my head when I listen to John Williams's brilliant score. But the novel was a nice breath of fresh air. 

Early Days of the Canon

Campbell Black is the pen name of Campbell Armstrong, a Scottish writer, who wrote over twenty-five novels. Few pieces of information exist on the internet about him, but his bibliography notes Raiders was this third, and final, movie novelization. 

In the one interview he did for, Black comments that he "wrote Jones as I saw him. An adventurer, yes, but I always felt there was a slight melancholy side to him. I don't think Lucasfilm really approved of this, but from my point of view I couldn't write the novel if I had to base it on the character in the script - I found him shallow and shadowy, all action and no thought, and I wanted to add some kind of internal process to him, which I think I did. Up to a point."

As much as I enjoy the extensive universe other writers created with Indiana Jones (and Star Wars, too), there's something special about a single writer, very early on, looking at stills and the script and crafting a story as he sees it. No canon, no interlaced movies, no franchise, no established backstory, just a script and one writer's ideas on how scenes of a movie can be stitched together into a coherent novel.

Like Alan Dean Foster, who ghostwrote the Star Wars novelization, Black must have had access to an earlier script because the differences between the movie we know so well and the events in the novel are sometimes striking, but that's what makes the experience so rewarding. 

The Movie is Not the Novelization

I'm not sure what happened to my original copy of the novel. I had the version with black on the cover. The paperback I read this week was published in 1989, after Last Crusade, so it has a white cover. Soon after I started reading the South America prelude, I took a pencil and began annotating the differences.

In a movie, editors can make cuts and swipes and change scenes. You can do the same in a novel, but Black provides a lot of connective tissue between scenes. Just how did Indy get to Nepal? Well, Black describes in detail all the travel and driving Indy did, even throwing in a new character, Lin-Su. Granted, he doesn't do the same for the journey from Nepal to Cairo, but who cares.

I enjoyed the languid pace of the novelization. As much as I enjoy the movie and all that it delivers, there's something to be said for the same story delivered via text over a number of days. What Black does is what novels do well: get into the heads of the characters. We hear the inner thoughts of Indy, Marion, and Belloq. They all prove quite compelling in Black's hands, adding layers and nuances to each character. 

Belloq, for example, proves himself more competitive and mercenary than Paul Freeman portrays him in the film. With Freeman, you could almost side with Belloq in his quest for the Ark and the secrets it holds. In the novel, he's depicted very much as borderline insane with his single-minded devotion to getting the Ark and using it before Hitler gets his hands on it. 

Speaking of Belloq, something occurred to me that I never considered in forty years. It's regarding the headpiece to the staff of Ra. Belloq gets his version of the headpiece because the words are burned into Toht's hand. With that, Belloq makes his calculations. Indy, however, needs the Imam to read and interpret the words on the headpiece. Did Indy not know that language?

Key Differences

This is what you want to know, right? Well, let me get to it.

South America 

- The pit over which Indy and Sapito swing is actually obscured. Sapito nearly falls into the pit because he steps into the cobwebs covering the pit.

-Indy takes a swig from a flask as he reaches the idol. [Love this]


There are a few scenes not at all in the movie. They are from the point of view of Dietrich, the main German officer as played by Wolf Kahler. Dietrich never trusts Belloq and we get many internal thoughts from the German. It also explains how Belloq came to be employed by Hitler. Later, during the Cairo scenes, we get a few more scenes from Dietrich's POV, irritated at Belloq's pomposity.


It is certainly implied that Indy is a womanizer, all but taking an undergrad per semester. This is part of the apparent--but never explained--backstory with Indy and Marion. Based on the book, she might as been as young as sixteen when the mid-twenties Indy had a relationship with her. 


-There's a nighttime scene between Indy and Marion and whether or not they they'll hook up. It includes their actual first kiss and we get the skeevy take from Indy about how well the woman kisses versus the child from his past.

-The Imam who reads the markings on the headpiece is the one who puts into Indy's head the idea that no mortal should look at the contents of the Ark. It is the Imam's warning Indy remembers at the end.

Tanis Dig

-There is no scene between Belloq and Marion where she puts on the dress and tries to drink him under the table. In its place is Marion's seemingly being under Belloq's spell. They actually kiss and she all but succumbs to him. 

-Belloq actually sees all the lightening that floods the sky when Indy and his friends open the Well of the Souls. 

Truck Chase

-Toht is in the car that flies off the cliff. He dies here and doesn't get his face melted at the end.

-Black describes how the Germans discovered which pirate ship is carrying the Ark.

The Island

-We learn how Belloq arranged for him to open the Ark before delivery to Berlin.

-The scene where Belloq challenges Indy to blow up the Ark isn't here.


The novelization is a nice addition to the wonderful movie. There is a place for both. Campbell Black's novel is a good story and a worthy addition to the canon we now have, even if much of what he comes up with (how Indy got the bullwhip) is overriden with subsequent movies and books. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and actually might continue with the novelizations of the next three films. 

Side Note

I went and located my copy of the comic adaptation and many of the scenes mentioned here are in there. Perhaps the Marvel comics folks and Black read from the same script.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Don't Tell A Soul - Evolution of a book cover

 By Jay Stringer

So, it's official. I have a new book coming out. In July. On my birthday. You want to buy me a book for my birthday, right? 

There will be three editions. The ebook -currently available for preorder on kindle, awaiting upload to different vendors. The standard edition paperback. And a dyslexic reader edition - a paperback formatted in the OpenDyslexic typeface, making it easier for people like me to read. The option to convert work to OpenDyslexic on the Kindle has existed for quite a while (check out the font options) but it's important to me that we find ways to make paperbacks as accessible as possible. I'm putting this book out myself, through my new Swag Tales imprint, and that has given me more freedom than before to produce and market the book in a way that I'm happy with, and in formats I want to see on the shelves. 

But I will talk more about the dyslexic edition at a later date, along with throwing ISBN's and preorder links your way. 

Today, I want to talk about the cover. 

I like cool book covers. Quite a lot of what I like, visually, is niche in the modern market. But what's the point in putting a book like this out if I'm not going to try and at least meet the market part way? What would be the point in coming out with the dyslexic edition and preaching accessibility if I didn't do my best to make the book accessible? 

So for the first time, I took a look at the market, and tried to decide what the cover should look like. At the same time, the title is a clear homage to my favourite band (ironically, my least favourite of their albums) and so I was pulled in two different directions. Aim surely commercial, or aim niche and tip the hand to The Replacements?

Paul Westerberg's finger on lips, hushing pose, is an iconic image if you're my brand of music fan. And the album cover sells mystery and secrecy. Which would be perfect for a book cover. Except...well, look at it. Is it any wonder that album wasn't a hit? They're not exactly reaching out to you and saying 'come hang out in our world.' 

So I looked first at paying a homage to the album in a way that fans would recognise, but aiming broader with a New York cityscape - matching the book's setting. And I looked around at typeface's that seemed popular, and of the current contenders I liked Futara the most. 

You know...I mean...fine? But it didn't really scream professional to me, and the face looked too young. I didn't see anything here that would make it stand out, or make a reader want to pick it up. Okay, first thing first, what am I feeling? It's a mystery novel. Okay, why don't I put that on the cover? 

Hmmm. But now it looked both cheap and busy. Not exactly the message I wanted to send in my "come buy my commercial crime novel" bid. 

But that was a nice shot of the city. Maybe try without the face?

I liked this. I really did. But it just didn't quite feel like the cover matched the tone of the book. And I was attached to the idea of the shush. There's just something intriguing and mysterious to me about that image. So I played around. 

PERFECT. Done. Set Print. Thrilled with that. So I walked away from the project for a week, came back to it, took one look, and thought.....this is a romance thriller? 

Okay. Scratch that. Ditch the colours, ditch the NYC cityscape. But the shadowed face? Keep that. 

Iiiiiiinteresting. I liked this. The people I showed it to liked it. But my author name was small and dark, and too many books seem scared of their author's name. Commercial books? They don't hide from the author's name. A friend suggested I could do something interesting by making my name look like it was attached to the wire mesh. Play around again....

Oh boy. Loved this. Once again, print, set. Add a spine and a back, stick a fork in it, done. 

Left it like that for months. Until I came back, looked at it was a graphic novel? Actually, someone else had given me that feedback and I'd ignored it. But now I was seeing it. I'd lost sight of both remits. It was neither an interesting tribute to a cult album, nor a commercial package. Now it was it's own coolish looking thing. Which 100% appealed to me. But I'm not the target audience - I already have the book. 

Back to the drawing board. Refocus on the project. What am I aiming to sell? What message do I want to get across. Okay, go again...

Okay. Nice and clean. Simple. Title was clear on a thumbnail. But now it just looked like it was lacking....something. 

Smoke maybe? Smoke is interesting. People put smoke on things. 

Oh hey. I like that. But what does it look like if I tweak the colours a wee bit more, and finish out the rest of the cover? 


Don't Tell a Soul will be released in ebook and paperback on July 26th, and available wherever books are sold. Except for that van that comes round after dark and offers you cheap televisions. Don't touch his book section. 

Oh, and did I mention I can design a book cover for you? I can. Hit me up. 

Twofer Thursday from Beau


This week, Beau takes a re-look at ALC's Hell Chose Me and EAA's The Unrepentant.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Scientists and Kafka

What it is with scientists and the fiction of Franz Kafka?  It was difficult not to be amused the other day by The Richard Dawkins tweet on "The Metamorphosis". 

Dawkins: "Kafka’s Metamorphosis is called a major work of literature. Why? If it’s SF it’s bad SF. If, like Animal Farm, it’s an allegory, an allegory of what? Scholarly answers range from pretentious Freudian to far-fetched feminist. I don’t get it. Where are the Emperor’s clothes?"

You can't blame anyone for not liking a particular work. This isn't about that. To each his own, and if someone reads Kafka and doesn't like his work, well, neither I nor anyone else can help that poor soul.  

But these comments by Dawkins?  They provoked a lot of ridicule in response on Twitter, and one can see why.  Has anyone, ever, anywhere, devoted serious thought or discussion to "The Metamorphosis" as Sci-Fi. But beyond that, what does seem to disturb the scientist is indeed a particular quality of Kafka's, which is that his writing is what you might call teasingly allegoric.  Much of his fiction is like this, and "The Metamorphosis" in particular.  It's clearly a highly symbolic story; with its deadpan fantastical element, it seems to be about something other than itself, but what is that exactly?  The scientist reading this can't seem to deal with that, and so, dismisses the story, bringing up the old Emperor has no clothes comparison.

Ah, the beauty of certainty, or at least allegory, symbolism, that stands for something definite.  Well, you don't get that with the strange civil servant from Prague.

And speaking of Prague, around 1911, when Kafka was alive and there, in the city also was Albert Einstein.  He lived there for 16 months, until August 1912.  There's no definitive evidence that he ever met Kafka, but I remember reading years ago that at some point Einstein read Kafka's story "The Burrow".  This would have been many years after Einstein's stay in Prague because Kafka wrote "The Burrow" late in his life, in 1931.  The story itself is unfinished, but it's remarkable as it stands, and one of my Kafka favorites, about a vague, badger or mole-like animal describing and obsessing over the complicated network of underground tunnels it has built during its life.  It has constructed a maze for its home but expresses insecurity about its safety and is still trying to work on its burrow so that it can feel entirely secure within it.  The story is, once again, a kind of a parable, but a parable of what precisely.  Interpretations abound.

Einstein's reaction to the story, as I remember reading it, "The human mind cannot possibly be that complex."

The thing is, I've searched for and never been able to find where I read this quote by Einstein on Kafka's story.  So I'm wondering now whether I actually read what I recall, or am misremembering something.  Maybe Einstein was talking about another writer.  But I do remember this quote pretty clearly, and anyway, I prefer to think of the quote as real.   If so, first, it's surprising to think of Einstein of all people being somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity of a mind that created a particular fiction story, and second, it seems to reflect again a scientist coming up against the essential thing in Kafka: the inability for a reader to pin it down to a specific meaning.  But I like Einstein's reaction much more than Dawkins'.  Einstein seems kind of awed, and appreciative of a brilliant mind working in a field different than his own.  He doesn't traffic in the "there's no there there" thinking because he might not like or get it.

It'd be interesting to get a bunch of scientists to read Kafka and take a poll of what they think of him.  Who is searching for certainty through clearly reductible meaning?  Who is more comfortable with the suggestive and the indeterminate?  If nothing else, their reactions to Kafka and his stories would tell you a lot about each scientist.