The Calculus Affair
|The Calculus Affair
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Published in||Tintin magazine|
|Date of publication||22 December 1954 – 22 February 1956|
|Preceded by||Explorers on the Moon (1954)|
|Followed by||The Red Sea Sharks (1958)|
The Calculus Affair (French: L'Affaire Tournesol) is the eighteenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Professor Calculus has invented a machine capable of destroying objects with sound waves, which gets the attention of the Bordurian secret services, and it is up to Tintin and Captain Haddock to help him.
Some, such as Benoit Peeters in his book Tintin and the World of Hergé, consider this as the greatest and most "detective-like" of the whole series. The story is set in the 1950s, several months after Tintin and his friends have returned from the Moon.
During a thunderstorm, strange things occur at Marlinspike Hall. For no apparent reason, several items of glass and china in the mansion break, much to the astonishment of Tintin and Captain Haddock. An insurance agent Jolyon Wagg barges into the mansion during the thunderstorm, seeking shelter. He claims that all the windows of his car have somehow blown to bits while he was driving past the mansion. Following the thunderstorm, gunshots are heard outside. Meanwhile, Professor Calculus returns from his laboratory, oblivious to what has happened, but there is a bullet hole in his hat. Investigating outside, Tintin and the Captain discover a wounded man speaking in a foreign accent. Before the police arrive however, the wounded man is gone.
The next morning, after more glass-breaking incidents, a preoccupied Calculus leaves for Geneva to attend a conference in nuclear physics. Following his departure, there are no more glass- or china-breaking incidents, leading Tintin to suspect that Calculus was responsible for them. He and the Captain investigate his laboratory where his suspicions are proved- there is a strange device with a box of broken glass next to it. Suddenly, a masked man in a grey trenchcoat barges in, attacks the Captain and Snowy and escapes. Tintin then notices an ignition key and a cigarette packet dropped by the intruder after Snowy attacked him. In the cigarette packet, it is written Geneva, Hotel Cornavin, the hotel where Calculus usually stays while in Geneva, prompting him to suspect that Calculus is in danger. He and the Captain immediately leave for Geneva.
In Geneva, Tintin and the Captain miss Calculus at the hotel by seconds, due to a confrontation between two men dressed in the same grey trenchcoat as the intruder. They then find out from the hotel manager that Calculus has gone to Nyon to meet Professor Topolino, an expert in the field of ultrasonics. While on the way, the same two men from the hotel force the taxi in which Tintin and the Captain are travelling into Lake Geneva, however they survive and soon reach Nyon. At Topolino's house, Calculus's umbrella is there, but he is not, while Topolino is found bound and gagged in his own cellar. Topolino believes Calculus attacked him and tells the duo his story of how Calculus arrived to talk with him and then attacked him, but when Tintin shows him a photograph of Calculus, he does not recognise him, proving that Calculus had been kidnapped by the two men, one of whom masqueraded as Calculus. At that moment, the two men blow up Topolino's house in an attempt to kill them all, but they all manage to survive with minor injuries.
When Tintin and the Captain get discharged from the hospital the following morning, they meet Thomson and Thompson, who reveal that the wounded man at Marlinspike was Syldavian. Following this revelation, Tintin comes to the conclusion that Calculus had invented an ultrasonic device capable of destroying not only glass and china, but whole buildings, tanks and ships, which made it a potential weapon of mass destruction. Alarmed at this, he decided to meet Professor Topolino and discuss the matter. But Topolino's manservant, a Bordurian named Boris, discovered Calculus's letter about the invention and informed his country's secret service, who took an interest in it. The Syldavian secret service too somehow found out about the invention, and also taking an interest in it, sent an agent to Marlinspike, who was shot by the intruder, a Bordurian secret agent. Then he and the Captain find out that Calculus is held at the Bordurian embassy at Rolle on the banks of Lake Geneva. They go there later that night to rescue him, only to find the Syldavians kidnapping Calculus. Tintin and the Captain pursue the Syldavians by a Bordurian helicopter across the lake to Haute-Savoie, France, but the Syldavians eventually shoot down the helicopter, leaving them stranded in the French countryside. The duo then hitchhike a ride in a car driven by a reckless Italian driver and soon intercept the car in which the Syldavians are travelling. However, the Syldavians soon escape in a plane with Calculus, leaving Tintin and the Captain with no other option but to go to Syldavia the following day.
But the next morning, Tintin and the Captain find out that Bordurian fighters had shot down the Syldavian plane while flying over their territory, meaning that Calculus is again in Bordurian hands. Cancelling their tickets to Klow, they decide to go to Szohôd, the capital of Borduria, to rescue Calculus.
The two men from the hotel (who are actually Bordurian secret agents) alert Colonel Sponsz, the chief of the ZEP, Borduria's secret police, about the duo's arrival at Szohôd. They are intercepted at the Szohôd airport and under the pretext of honouring the men who set foot on the moon (from Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon), they are put up in bugged rooms at Hotel Zsnôrr. They manage to escape the hotel later that evening and find refuge in the Szohôd Opera House, where Bianca Castafiore is performing. She later invites them into her dressing room, but Sponsz too arrives there to meet her. Tintin and the Captain hide in her closet, where they hear Sponsz telling her that Calculus is imprisoned in the fortress of Bakhine, and that he would be released only if he surrenders his detail drawings on the ultrasonic device to the ZEP. If he does give them up, he will be handed over to two officials from the International Red Cross, to whom he must swear that he came to Borduria on his own accord to give his plans. He also reveals that the papers for the officials and Calculus's release are in his overcoat, which is hanging in the closet. The duo steal the papers from Sponsz's overcoat, disguise themselves as Red Cross officials and rush to Bakhine the following morning.
At Bakhine, the commandant is convinced of the genuinity of the papers and the officials and releases Calculus. When Sponsz is told of this, he realises their bluff and quickly orders the officials at Bakhine to go after them. Tintin, the Captain and Calculus acquire a tank and after successfully overcoming the dangerous (but poor-quality) military equipment of the Bordurians, leave Borduria.
A few days later, the trio return to Marlinspike, where they face another shock; Jolyon Wagg and his huge family have moved into Marlinspike and have nearly wrecked the mansion. Calculus then discovers that he had not taken his plans and had left it in his bedside table absent-mindedly. He then destroys the plans- but using the matchstick the Captain is using to light his smoking pipe, causing his beard to burn. In his anger, the Captain calls Calculus a "Jack-in-the-box", which he interprets as "chicken pox" due to his deafness and tells Wagg that the Captain has chicken pox. This stuns Wagg, who immediately leaves the mansion with his family as he does not want to get infected.
The Calculus Affair is set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Hergé's inspiration for Borduria, in particular, were the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe. The Bordurian capital, Szohôd, is depicted with a Stalin-like statue in the town square. The uniforms of the Bordurian army and police closely resemble uniforms of Hungarian police of the mid-1950s, when the story was published.
- The Calculus Affair introduces the character of Jolyon Wagg, who reappears in several later adventures.
- This is also the first story to feature Cutts the butcher. All calls to him end up at Marlinspike Hall where Nestor and Haddock are plagued with endless orders for lamb chops and sausages. The irony is that when he tries to make a call, from whichever location, it is Haddock who gets put through to Cutts first. The driver of Cutts' van also plays an important part in the story: giving Calculus a lift to the village and unknowingly thwarting a kidnapping attempt.
- Colonel Sponsz also makes his first appearance. He would again be mentioned in The Castafiore Emerald and would return to take his comeuppance on Tintin, Haddock, Calculus and Castafiore in Tintin and the Picaros.
- In the crowd of day trippers camped outside the gates of Marlinspike, a caricature of Hergé himself can be spotted.
- The graphics include accurate renditions of Geneva, the Hotel Cornavin, the railway station and Geneva Cointrin International Airport. Many Tintin fans in later years, when at the Hotel Cornavin, would ask to stay in "Professor Calculus's room" (Room 122, fourth floor), which did not actually exist. To clarify the matter, Hergé sent the Hotel a cut-out of Tintin, explaining that it was not possible to stay in the Professor's room.
The book in Professor Topolino's house, German Research in World War II by Leslie E. Simon, really existed and was published in 1947. Simon was a retired Major General in the U.S. Army. This explains why the red-and-white rocket on the dust-jacket of the book is remarkably similar to the Moon Rocket from Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon; that design was based on the German V-2 Rocket.
The physical appearance of Colonel Sponsz is based on Hergé's brother, Paul Remi, a career soldier. Paul had been the original inspiration for Tintin himself back in 1929. Dubbed "Major Tintin", he took on a new appearance in an attempt to get away from the image. This new look was to serve as the model for Sponsz, who would reappear in Tintin and the Picaros.
The Calculus Case
The Calculus Case was a film adaptation of The Calculus Affair. It was produced in 1959 by the company Belvision. Originally, it was a television series made up of several short segments but presented by English television in a single full length film. In the 1980s it was released on VHS across the UK. In the early 2000s it was released on DVD. See The Calculus Case at the Internet Movie Database
- Quétel, Claude (2012). "Lampion, pire que Sponsz?". In Giezbert, Franz-Olivier. Les Personnages de Tintin dans l'Histoire 2. Sophia Publications. pp. 61–69.