Posted on June 1, 2011 | Back to Literature
REVIEWED: The Indiana Jones Handbook: The Complete Adventurer's Guide by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese
Here be spoilers.
I think you will agree that there is a difference between a competent writing and creative writing. Competent writing is when all the paragraphs are properly formed, proper punctuation is used and the grammar is flawless. Creative writing is when you take all that and make it interesting to read. Both have their place, but in the case of the Indiana Jones Handbook: The Complete Adventurer's Guide, the creative part is meager.
I purchased this book as a lark from a local curio shop that specializes in exotic arts and foreign goods. I hoped I would get something closer to the quite excellent The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, but unfortunately while the book has some important and valuable information, was also relatively dry reading . So what's the big difference? After all, both books do basically the same thing – they take fictional situations and present survival information on them as though could actually happen to you. The difference is in how you approach this kind of book.
You could write it completely tongue-in-cheek, letting your audience in on the joke from the very first page. Or you could be completely serious about the text and write it as though the fictional situation is not only possible – it's probable. The Zombie Survival Guide took this latter approach and did it brilliantly. I was hoping for the same with the Indiana Jones Handbook, but unfortunately what I got were authors who were trying to be too clever in their various winks and nods to the film franchise. It was like watching a sitcom with a particularly obnoxious laugh track. (After all, if the jokes are funny, we don't need canned laughter to let us know it, right?) Throughout the Handbook, however, the authors would be writing about some particular survival technique and then provide an aside that references one of the first three Indiana Jones movies. After about the first twenty pages, I found this extremely annoying. Here's a good example:
Expedition Essentials: Know Who You're Working With.
Assembling a good team is hard work. And less you have time for background checks on everyone you deal with (and you won't), there is no way to completely trust your colleagues. All you can do is take precautions and do your best to ascertain everyone's motives as early as possible. Indiana Jones has learned the hard way that well-meaning collectors with deep pockets may have ulterior motives that conflict with your own, and that you could get tied up in a castle on the Austrian-German border. The smart sassy blonde with all the right credentials might be impossible to resist. But resist her, if you can.
Did you catch the references to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there? Huh? Did ya?
Now I'm aware that the Handbook was basically produced to promote the films, arriving on the market just before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull hit theaters, but how about a trace of subtlety here? That's not to say there aren't some good qualities to the book. There are some clever and amusing parts about safely handling your own voodoo doll, how to use your bullwhip to escape from quicksand, etc. And it does have the power to make one wax sentimental for the films. Plus, there's a lot of relevant material for those interested in world travel or historical mysteries... but I would imagine a book specifically written on those topics would be better still. In other words, the Indiana Jones Handbook would not be the first book I pack for that trip to Machu Pichu, okay?
Additionally, the artist in me is obligated to point out that the guide is a beautiful little book with a striking design and nice graphics. But, if I'm going to extend the comparison between the Indiana Jones and Zombie Survival guides, then the latter still has a more effective feel despite it being comparatively simple. The Zombie Survival Guide's uninvolved pen and ink drawings and spartan layout actually feels like a real survival guide... one you'd expect to find dogeared and lying under the front seat of the 1988 Bronco belonging to your neighborhood survivalist / gun freak.
In the end, if you're a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, the book's worth a read and a place in your collection. If you're not, read The Zombie Survival Guide a second time instead.