King Ottokar's Sceptre
|King Ottokar's Sceptre
(Le sceptre d'Ottokar)
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Published in||Le Petit Vingtième|
|Date(s) of publication||4 August 1938 – 10 August 1939|
|Preceded by||The Black Island (1938)|
|Followed by||The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941)|
King Ottokar's Sceptre (French: Le Sceptre d'Ottokar) is the eighth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Tintin uncovers a plot aimed at dethroning King Muskar XII, the crowned monarch of Syldavia, and comes face-to-face with the king.
Hergé's Franco-Belgian comic was first serialized in black and white in Le Petit Vingtième, children's supplement to the conservative newspaper Le XXe Siècle, from 4 August 1938 to 10 August 1939, then published into a volume later that year. Eight years later, in 1947, it was redrawn into a new colour version.
While taking a stroll in a park, Tintin finds a lost briefcase and returns it to the owner Professor Hector Alembick, who is a sigillographer, an expert on seals (as in the sort used to make state documents official). He shows him his collection of seals, including one which belonged to the Syldavian King Ottokar IV. Tintin then discovers that he and Alembick are under surveillance by some strange foreign men. That evening, a mysterious foreigner is attacked in front of Tintin's apartment, with the foreigner consequently losing his memory. The next day, his apartment is even bombed in an attempt to kill him. Suspecting a Syldavian connection, Tintin offers to accompany Alembick to Syldavia via Frankfurt and Prague as his assistant to investigate.
On the plane, Tintin begins to suspect his companion. The Alembick travelling with him does not smoke and doesn't seem to need the spectacles he wears – to the point that he can see sheep in a field that the plane passed over – while the Alembick he first met was a chain smoker and had poor eyesight. During the stopover at Prague, he fakes a fall and grabs Alembick's beard, thinking that the man he is travelling with is an impostor and is wearing a fake beard to disguise himself as Alembick. However, the beard proves to be real and he decides to let the matter drop, assuming that Alembick simply gave up smoking and is perhaps long-sighted. From Prague, he and Alembick travel in a special plane exclusively for them, arranged by the Syldavian Air Minister. While flying over Syldavia, the pilot of the plane opens a trap door and Tintin drops out, landing in a haywagon.
By now, Tintin has a hunch that a plot is afoot to steal the sceptre of King Ottokar IV. In Syldavia, the reigning king must possess the sceptre to rule or he will be forced to abdicate, a tradition established after King Ottokar IV used his sceptre to defeat a would-be assassin. Every year he rides in a parade during St. Vladimir's Day carrying it, while the people sing the national anthem. After unsuccessfully trying to warn every officer he meets about the plot; from a police inspector to the King's aide-de-camp Colonel Boris, all of whom are conspirators in the plot, he finally warns the reigning King Muskar XII himself, despite the efforts of the conspirators. The King believes him and both rush to the royal treasure room at Kropow Castle where the sceptre is kept guarded, only to find Alembick, the royal photographer and some guards unconscious and the sceptre missing.
Tintin's friends Thomson and Thompson are summoned to investigate but their theory on how the sceptre was stolen – the thief throwing the sceptre through the iron bars over the window – proves to be inaccurate. Later Tintin notices a spring cannon in a toy shop and this gives him the clue of how the sceptre was stolen. Professor Alembick had asked for some photographs to be taken of the sceptre, but the camera was a spring cannon in disguise, which allowed him to 'shoot' the sceptre out of the castle through the window bars into a nearby forest. Searching the forest, he spots the sceptre being found by agents of the neighbouring country Borduria, Syldavia's long-time political rival. Following them all the way to the border, he succeeds in wresting the sceptre from them. In the wallet of one of the agents, he discovers papers that show that the theft of the sceptre was just part of a major plan for a takeover of Syldavia by Borduria. He then enters Borduria and steals a Me-109 from an airfield (whose squadron is being kept ready to take part in the envisioned invasion of Syldavia) to fly the sceptre back to the King in time. But his plane is shot down by the Syldavians who have naturally opened fire on an enemy aircraft violating their airspace. He manages to make the rest of the journey by foot.
Meanwhile, the Syldavian Interior Minister informs the King that rumours have been spreading that the sceptre has been stolen and that there have been riots against local Bordurian businesses, acts which would justify a Bordurian takeover of the country. The King is about to abdicate when Snowy runs in with the sceptre (which had fallen out of Tintin's pocket). Tintin then gives King Muskar XII the papers he took from the man who stole the sceptre. They prove that the plot was masterminded by Müsstler, leader of the Zyldav Zentral Revolutzionär Komitzät (ZZRK), a rebel organisation which aimed at the deposition of King Muskar XII and the annexation of Syldavia by Borduria. The King immediately takes action by having Müsstler and his associates arrested and the army mobilised along the Bordurian frontier. In response, the Bordurian leader pulls his own troops back from the border.
On the occasion of St. Vladimir's Day, Tintin is made a Knight of the Order of the Golden Pelican, the first non-Syldavian to receive such an honour, for his efforts to save Syldavia from a Bordurian takeover. Further inquiries by the authorities reveal other revelations; Professor Alembick is one of a pair of identical twins: Hector Alembick was kidnapped and replaced with his brother Alfred who left for Syldavia in his place, while the mysterious foreigner attacked was a man named Kavarovitch, a Syldavian secret agent who wanted to warn Tintin about the plot.
Tintin returns home a couple of days later by flying boat with Thomson and Thompson, who suffer momentary panic when the aircraft appears to be falling into the sea at the end of the flight. The reader is treated to a rare "wink to the camera" from Tintin, who points out their error, and they laugh about it so much that they do indeed fall into the sea as they disembark.
Like earlier stories such as The Blue Lotus, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and The Broken Ear, King Ottokar's Sceptre had a political subtext. The theft of the sceptre is just part of a plot by Borduria to plunge Syldavia into a major political crisis and clear the way for a foreign invasion.
Written in 1938, the story could have been influenced by the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938. The unseen leader of the conspiracy is called Müsstler, a blend of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Müsstler is the head of the Iron Guard. The name implies that it is a pro-fascist paramilitary group, which were common in Europe between the wars. An actual fascist and anti-Semitic group called the Iron Guard was very active in Romania in the years leading up to the Second World War. The Romanian Iron Guard was often in violent conflict with the king of Romania, King Carol II, who they accused of corruption and being influenced by his Jewish mistress. In fact the year the repression of the Iron Guard commenced was 1938, the year King Ottokar's Sceptre was first serialised. The leader of the Iron Guard, Codreanu, was executed for treason by the Romanian government. The Iron Guard briefly formed the government in 1940 under Horia Sima after the king's abdication but Hitler ended up backing the more conservative General Antonescu in January 1941 and the Iron Guard was eliminated from government and purged.
The German censors did not obstruct the book during the occupation of Belgium during World War II. This could be because there were frequent schemes, plots, wars and coups in the history of the Balkans, many of which had native fascistic movements or governments during the 1930s, and it was not clear that Hergé was specifically targeting National Socialist Germany. Moreover, as discussed above, Germany supported the authoritarian regime in Romania under the aegis of a king, a regime that actually violently repressed the Romanian Iron Guard.
As a physical artifact that gave its possessor royal legitimacy, the sceptre's function bears some resemblance to the real-life Holy Crown of Hungary (which was considered a physical representation of both the Kingdom of Hungary and the divine authority of its patroness, the Virgin Mary). One major difference is that although the prospective King of Hungary was required to be crowned by the Holy Crown, he (or she) did not have to maintain possession of the crown to retain their throne.
This adventure was originally published under the name Tintin en Syldavie ("Tintin in Syldavia") and appeared in black-and-white in the newspaper supplement Le Petit Vingtième between 1938 and 1939.
The story was redrawn and colourised in 1947. For this edition, Hergé was assisted by Edgar Pierre Jacobs, a highly regarded artist in his own right. Jacobs is credited with much of the Balkan feel of the new edition.
In terms of the plot and appearance of the characters, the two editions are generally similar. The principal aesthetic difference, aside from the colour, is that the backgrounds in the 1938–39 edition were generally blank, whereas in 1947 the streets of the towns, the countryside and the interior of the flats and palaces are more detailed.
Other changes affected the appearance of the Syldavian court. In the 1938 version, the Royal Guards are dressed like British Beefeaters; the 1947 version has them dressed in a more Balkan-like uniform. In 1939, Tintin is knighted while dressed in his raincoat, and a tear comes to his eye when he receives his medal in a ceremony which, aside from the Queen, is attended only by men; in 1947, he wears a suit, shows embarrassment but no tears, there are ladies attending, and there are also caricatures of Hergé and Jacobs in uniform, along with a number of colleagues and relatives.
All the aircraft featured in the book are carefully drawn from real contemporary designs. In the 1939 version, the plane Tintin uses to escape from Borduria, seems to resemble a Heinkel He 118. However, in the 1947 version, the Heinkels are replaced by the more famous Messerschmitt Bf 109s.
Connections with other Tintin books
Although Thomson and Thompson had first appeared in Cigars of the Pharaoh in 1934 and had featured in the three adventures that followed, they were not given actual names until the 1938-9 King Ottokar's Sceptre when Tintin introduces them by name to Alembick at the airport.
Two recurring Tintin characters are introduced in King Ottokar's Sceptre: Bianca Castafiore and Colonel Boris, who was to re-appear under the name of Jorgen in Destination Moon and its sequel Explorers on the Moon.
Like many of the fictional languages in the Tintin books, the Syldavian language is based on the slang of the Marolliens, the people of the working class quarter of Brussels, with the addition of some s and z sounds to make it sound more Slavic. For example, the Syldavian motto, "Eih bennek, eih blavek", means "If you gather thistles, expect prickles" according to the book, but the 'Syldavian' words in fact resemble Marollien dialect for "Here I am, here I stay."
A semi-animated film based on the book was released in 1956, produced by the company Belvision, who would later produce the first Tintin television series, Herge's Adventures of Tintin. The film was produced by Karel Van Millegham and Anne-Marie Ullmann.
The 1990s Adventures of Tintin animated series changed the story. There is no 'Anchluss' aspect whatsoever, although it is clear that those scheming to steal the sceptre are based in a neighbouring state, as that is where they attempt to flee once they have it in their possession. Also, the Alembick twin who smokes becomes the bad one of the two.
The brochure on Syldavia read by Tintin states that Syldavia, along with the rest of the Balkans, was invaded by the Turks in the 10th century. As the Turks were not to invade the Balkans until the second half of the 14th century, this seems improbable.
- Tintin: The Complete Companion by Michael Farr, John Murray publishers, 2001
- le sceptre d'Ottokar
- Hergé's Syldavian
- King Ottokar's Sceptre Official Website
- Hergé's Syldavian: A grammar by Mark Rosenfelder
- King Ottokar's Sceptre at Tintinologist.org