Indiana Jones never says why he hates snakes, but there’s a traumatic event from the hero’s childhood that explains the source of his acute fear.
“I hate snakes, Jock. I hate ‘em!”— Indiana Jones expresses his feeling on the matter right off the bat with this memorable line from his debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dr. Henry Jones Jr. (he prefers “Indiana” or “Indy”) is a professor of archeology with a pension for danger, just like his father. Indiana faces no shortage of near-death experiences throughout his travels, which involve run-ins with giant boulders, poisonous darts, machine gun fire, lions, and crocodiles. However, nothing frightens Indiana quite like snakes. While Indiana Jones never explicitly explains why, one film shows why he’s so afraid of snakes with a flashback scene from the archeologist’s youth.
The adventures of Indiana Jones span multiple films and take him from the jungles of Peru to the sands of Egypt and beyond; unfortunately for Indy, snakes inhabit nearly all of his destinations. One place he wouldn’t expect to find one is in Jock’s plane, but Indy’s frantic reaction to the surprising passenger comes just moments after boldly navigating a temple of death traps and giant spiders. Later in the film, Indy ventures into the Well of Souls, which happens to be filled with hundreds of snakes ready to devour their uninvited guest. The reptiles pop up again in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but this time, they’re on the menu, served up in a repulsive “snake surprise” at Pankot Palace.
The third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, reveals the possible origins of Indy’s snake fear: the movie opens in 1912 with a thirteen-year-old Indiana exploring Arches National Park in Utah with his Boy Scout troop. Even at a young age, Indy harbors a love for rare artifacts, going as far as to lift one off some unsavory characters to ensure it’s rightfully placed in a museum where it belongs. When he’s caught red-handed, Indy ditches his troop and leads the men on a merry chase through the Dunn & Duffy Circus train. Inside the reptile car, the ceiling-mounted crawlway Indy uses breaks, sending him tumbling down into the crates of snakes below. He comes face-to-face with an anaconda but eludes the one snake only to find himself in a crate of dozens, a harrowing experience for even the most courageous Boy Scout. Any chance young Indy had at escaping the experience unscathed is swiftly put to an end upon finding an unwelcome guest slithering inside his scout uniform shortly after.
Indiana’s romp through the circus train leaves the young adventurer with two parting gifts—a chin scar from an ill-advised whip crack and an intense fear of snakes—neither of which will be leaving him any time soon. Indy’s fear of snakes comes back to bite him at the most inopportune times, perhaps none more so than in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Sinking to his death in a dry sandpit, Indy is forced to grab hold of his one and only lifeline—an unusually large rat snake. Forty five years after his experience in the circus train, the seasoned archeologist is still deathly afraid of the reptiles, so much so that he refuses to grab the snake until his rescuers call it a rope.
There exists over 600 venomous snake species in the world, many inhabiting the locations Indiana Jones visits. What makes his fear so irrational is that nearly all of his run-ins are with nonvenomous snakes. The one glaring exception is the Well of Souls. Thousands of asps slither in its depths, very dangerous species. However, his traumatic experience on the circus train involved an anaconda and garter snake, neither of which are venomous. Jock’s pet boa constrictor isn’t deadly either, at least not its bite. The rat snake is believed to be nonvenomous, and the “snake surprise” was dead. So in regards to his acute fear of snakes, maybe it’s time for Indiana Jones to revisit his father’s words and “let it go.”
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