The Red Sea Sharks

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The Red Sea Sharks
(Coke en stock)
Tintin, Snowy, Haddock, and Skut are on a raft in the Red Sea, waving at us. We are viewing the scene through a telescope.
Cover of the English edition
Date 1958
Series The Adventures of Tintin
Publisher Casterman
Creative team
Creator Hergé
Original publication
Published in Tintin magazine
Date of publication 31 October 1956 – 1 January 1958
Language French
Publisher Methuen
Date 1960
  • Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper
  • Michael Turner
Preceded by The Calculus Affair (1956)
Followed by Tintin in Tibet (1960)

The Red Sea Sharks (French: Coke en stock) is the nineteenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The "Coke" referred to in the original French title is a code name used by the villainous antagonists of the story for African slaves.

The Red Sea Sharks is notable for bringing together a large number of characters from previous Tintin adventures, going all the way back to Cigars of the Pharaoh: General Alcazar (The Broken Ear and The Seven Crystal Balls); Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab and Abdullah (Land of Black Gold); Rastapopoulos (Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus); Oliveira da Figueira (Cigars of the Pharaoh and Land of Black Gold); Dr. Müller (The Black Island and Land of Black Gold); J.M. Dawson (The Blue Lotus); Allan (Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Crab with the Golden Claws); Bianca Castafiore (King Ottokar's Sceptre, The Seven Crystal Balls and The Calculus Affair); Jolyon Wagg (The Calculus Affair). Additionally, Patrash Pasha (Cigars of the Pharaoh), Bab El Ehr (Land of Black Gold), and General Tapioca (The Broken Ear) are all referred to but don't appear.


The Red Sea Sharks is an adventure in which Tintin investigates the supporters of Sheikh Bab El Ehr's overthrow of Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab, the Emir of Khemed.

After watching a movie, Tintin and Captain Haddock round a corner and bump into General Alcazar, who drops his wallet. Tintin attempts to return it, but the hotel he claimed to be staying at has never heard of him, and when Tintin calls a phone number found in his wallet, the man refuses to talk to him. When Tintin and Haddock return home, they discover that the Emir's bratty, incorrigibly spoiled son Abdullah has been sent there for protection, along with a colorful entourage of servants and dignitaries who have established a bedouin-bivouac in the great hall of Marlinspike Hall. Abdullah proceeds to cause chaos at Marlinspike with his practical jokes.

Thomson and Thompson inform Tintin that they know of his meeting with Alcazar due to their investigation of the arms dealer J.M. Dawson. They then tell him the name of the real hotel where the General is staying. At the hotel, Tintin and Haddock see Alcazar talking with Dawson, whom Tintin recognises as the corrupt police chief of the international settlement in The Blue Lotus who he exposed and sent to prison guilty of mingling with opium dealers.

Haddock returns the wallet to Alcazar, while Tintin follows Dawson and overhears him discussing how successful his sale of de Havilland Mosquito fighter aircraft were in starting a coup d'état in Khemed. Tintin decides to go to Khemed and rescue the emir, who has been overthrown by Sheikh Bab El Ehr. Reluctantly, as usual, the Captain agrees to go along, partly because he knows it is his only chance of getting rid of Abdullah, whose practical jokes are getting too much for him. Meanwhile, Dawson, realizing that Tintin is once again meddling in his affairs, resolves to take drastic measures.

At Wadesdah Airport in Khemed, Tintin and Haddock are turned back by customs, while someone (presumably an agent of Dawson) plants a bomb on the plane to "take care of them". The bombing is foiled by an engine fire, which forces the plane to crash-land minutes before the bomb goes off. Realizing that they best take a lower profile, Tintin and Haddock walk away from the crash site and slip in unobserved at night into Wadesdah. There they meet another old friend, the overly talkative Portuguese merchant Oliveira da Figueira. He helps them escape the city by dressing up as veil-wearing women. Once outside they meet a guide with horses and ride to the Emir's hideout (modelled on the ancient Jordanian city of Petra).

The Treasury (Al Khazneh) in Petra depicted in the book

Their escape is reported however, and a leading figure in the new regime sends out a squad of armored cars and Mosquito fighter planes to intercept them. The officer, Mull Pasha, is in fact Dr. Müller, an enemy whom Tintin fought against in The Black Island and Land of Black Gold. Thanks to a military misinterpretation, the aircraft attack their own armored cars instead of Tintin and his friends.

The Emir tells them about the ongoing slave trade run by the Marquis di Gorgonzola, an international businessman with whom the Emir had a tiff several months ago. The Marquis uses the pilgrimage to Mecca to capture and enslave African Muslim travellers. Tintin and Haddock leave for the Red Sea coast and board a sambuk for Mecca to investigate. They are attacked by the Mosquitos again: Tintin manages to down one with an StG-44, but their sambuk receives critical damage and they end up shipwrecked aboard a raft, along with Piotr Skut, the pilot of the downed plane. They are then picked up by di Gorgonzola's yacht, the Scheherazade (named after the Persian princess and storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights), which happens to pass by, but di Gorgonzola isolates them from his guests and offloads them the next night to the SS Ramona, a tramp steamer. Unbeknownst to Tintin and Haddock, the Ramona is one of di Gorgonzola's own ships, used in the slave trade.

That night they are locked into their cabin by Haddock's first mate Allan, who commands the Ramona. A fire breaks out on the Ramona and the crew abandons ship. Tintin and Haddock force their cabin door open and manage to put out the fire, not realizing that the front of the ship was loaded with munitions. They then free a number of black African men, who speak Yoruba, from a rear hold and discover that they had paid for the voyage to Mecca, but were intended to be sold as slaves instead. Haddock attempts to explain the situation to them. Initially, many of them don't understand, or refuse to, stubbornly insisting on still going to Mecca. After some discussion, the men come around: an older member of the group recalls how some men from his village never returned from the Hajj. The Africans agree to help Haddock sail the ship to neutral territory in Djibouti, while Tintin and Skut attempt to fix the radio, which had been smashed.

Tintin finds a slip of paper in the radio room with an order to deliver "coke", and is puzzled. In shipping, "coke" would normally refer to a coal-derived fuel, but none is being carried.[1] They are then approached by a sambuk and take aboard an Arab who wishes to inspect the coke, puzzling Haddock, who claims they have none. The man then turns about and starts examining the physical strength of one of the Africans. With the nature of the term coke, a codename for slaves, clear to him now, Haddock furiously confronts the Arab. The inspected African manages to thwart the Arab's attempt to stab the Captain, and the slaver is ordered away from the ship, the outraged Haddock yelling insults to him until he is out of earshot, even from a megaphone.

Di Gorgonzola (who is actually Rastapopoulos, the leader of the international opium smugglers from Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus) finds out that Haddock has taken control of the ship, and sends a Type II U-Boat to attack them: Tintin spots the submarine by accident just prior to attack because of its periscope sticking out. Haddock manages to outmaneuver a number of torpedoes, but all appears lost when the engines of the ship get stuck in half reverse. At this point the Ramona is saved by the arrival of combat aircraft from a nearby US Navy cruiser, the USS Los Angeles, whose crew had been radioed by Tintin. The submarine makes one more attempt to destroy the Ramona by attaching a limpet mine to the front of the boat beside the explosives, but this is foiled when the diver is hit by the Ramona's anchor. A shark swallows the mine and swims away, exploding some time afterwards.

When the Los Angeles attempts to arrest di Gorgonzola afterwords, he fakes his own death by allowing a motorboat which he steers from his yacht to the cruiser to sink while he escapes in an inbuilt mini-submarine. Thinking him dead, Tintin, Haddock and Skut return to Europe to international renown for their efforts in exposing the slave traders. Soon afterwards, the Emir recaptures control of Khemed and recalls Abdullah home. Tintin and the Captain return home to find Nestor emaciated from Abdullah's stay and an exploding firework in the Captain's chair as a parting gift. And no sooner have they got rid of one pest when another arrives—Jolyon Wagg.


Background and publication[edit]

Hergé was inspired to develop the plot for The Red Sea Sharks after reading a magazine article detailing the continued existence of the slave trade within the Arab world.[2] The story's original French title, Coke en Stock ("Coke on Board") referred to the slave smuggler's claims that their ship transported coke, or coal.[3]

Hergé had read Balzac et son monde ("Balzac and His World"), a 1955 book written by his friend Félicien Marceau.[4] Intrigued by the work of Honoré de Balzac, Hergé was inspired by Balzac's introduction of characters from his earlier work in The Human Comedy, adopting this trait for The Red Sea Sharks.[5]

To produce accurate illustrations for the Ramona, Hergé and Bob de Moor traveled aboard a Swedish cargo vessel, the MS Reine Astrid, from Antwerp to Gothenburg and back, during which they took photographs and drew sketches.[6] Rastapopolous' ship, the Sheherezade, was based on Aristotle Onassis' Christina, a motor yacht which Hergé had collected press clippings of.[7] The aircraft, cars, and machinery that appear in the story were drawn by Roger Leloup.[8] Hergé's illustration of a frogman in the story was based on a press clipping of Lionel Crabb which he had collected.[9] His depiction of the Emir's hideaway palace cut from the rock was based on the Al Khazneh in Petra, Jordan.[10] Hergé's growing interest in art was reflected in the story, as he included a copy of Alfred Sisley's Le Canal du Loing at Marlinspike Hall.[7] He also included paintings by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró aboard Rastapopolous' Scheherazade.[7]

Muller's pseudonym in the story, Mull Pasha, was based upon the British soldier Glubb Pasha.[11] Hergé also introduced a new character, the Estonian pilot Piotr Skut, who would later reappear in Flight 714.[12] In the final scene, Hergé included cameos of both himself and his friend and colleague Edgar P. Jacobs.[13]

The story began serialisation in Tintin magazine in October 1956.[14] It was then serialised in the French edition of the magazine from December 1956.[14] It was then published in book form by Casterman in 1958.[14]


Upon the story's British publication in 1960, it was renamed The Red Sea Sharks from Coke en Stock ("Coke on Board").[15]

Hergé had been accused of exhibiting a racist attitude toward Africans in his earlier story, Tintin in the Congo, and potentially hoped to exonerate himself from such criticism by depicting Tintin and Haddock freeing African slaves in The Red Sea Sharks.[15] However, in January 1962 an article in the magazine Jeune Afrique criticised Hergé for a racist depiction of Africans in the story,[16] an accusation that would be echoed in other publications.[17] These claims focused on the African characters' simplistic use of pidgin language, which was similar to the speech patterns used in Tintin in the Congo.[18]

African: "You speak well, Effendi. Wicked Arab, very wicked. Poor black men not want to be slaves. Poor black men want to go to Mecca."
Haddock: "Naturally, I realise that. But I repeat if you go there, you'll be sold as slaves. Is that what you want?"
African: "We not slaves, Effendi. We good Muslims. We want to go to Mecca".[18]

Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters expressed the view that "for the most part these attacks were extremely unfair".[18] Hergé was emotionally affected by the accusations, and made changes to the book for its 1967 reprint accordingly; here he changed the Africans' speech patterns, giving them improved grammar.[19] However, he left Haddock speaking pidgin in response to the Africans.[18]

For this version he also made changes to the Emir's letter to Tintin; the former version had been formal in its prose, stating "Most esteemed and well-beloved friend, I entrust to you my son Abdullah, to improve his English. Here the situation is serious. Should any misfortune befall me I count on you, my friend, to care for Abdullah". In Hergé's revised edition, he adopts a more florid prose style: "This is to tell you, oh highly esteemed friend, that I entrust to you Abdullah, my adored son. Because here the situation is serious. Should misfortune descend on me like the hawk on an innocent gazelle (for the world is made of life and death) I am sure that Abdullah will find you with warmth and affection, refuge and peace. And in doing this you will be performing a fragrant act before Allah."[20]

He also expressed regret that he depicted the death of a shark in the story, later stating that "I still believed that sharks were big evil beasts" when writing The Red Sea Sharks.[13]

Critical analysis[edit]

Commenting on the inclusion of a wide range of characters from The Adventures of Tintin, Harry Thompson referred to the story as "a Tintin family reunion", commenting that it was "a story unusually full of the type of people Captain Haddock liked to avoid".[21] Michael Farr believed that in reviving so many older characters, Hergé had given The Red Sea Sharks "a marked retrospective quality".[12] Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier thought that the story was too crowded, leaving little room for Professor Calculus or Thomson and Thompson, and leaving the introduced figure of Skut as "a nice supporting character, but nothing more".[22] The Lofficiers stated that "Hergé was doing some house-cleaning of his past works and characters before embarking on something more serious and with more personal resonance", Tintin in Tibet.[23]

Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters described The Red Sea Sharks as a "complex, ambiguous, even labyrinthine" story which was "undoubtedly the book in which Hergé ventured furthest into the creation of his own universe."[4] He thought that "Hergé enters a new phase" with The Red Sea Sharks, as its author "seems to know his family of characters better and better, and he enjoys playing with them and his readers."[24] Peeters noted that the book was "in some respects a continuation" of Land of Black Gold,[25] an assessment shared by Thompson, the Lofficiers, and Michael Farr, all of whom described it as a partial sequel to the earlier book.[26] Thompson added that The Red Sea Sharks "atoned for the relative failure" of Land of Black Gold,[27] believing that although it had a "rather hasty finish", it was "a first-rate thriller".[28] The Lofficiers awarded it four out of five,[23] stating that it was "very effective as a modern political thriller and far more believable than The Calculus Affair".[22] They also opined that it provided an effective political commentary on the West's relationship with the Arab world. In their analysis, Tintin and Haddock seek to aid the Emir not because he is a good leader, but for their own selfish purposes (to get Abdullah out of Marlinspike), just as Western governments and corporations build alliances with Arab leaders guilty of human rights abuses in order to benefit their own interests.[23]

Thompson felt that the inclusion of slavery as a key theme led to this book being "one of Hergé's more adult-oriented adventures".[27] Nevertheless, Farr noted that the story contained "a good measure of humour" to balance out these darker elements.[7] Farr drew comparisons with Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, a series of novels that was contemporary to The Red Sea Sharks and which was similarly inspired by Balzac's The Human Comedy.[12]



  1. ^ The story predates the use of "coke" to mean "cocaine".
  2. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 71.
  3. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 152; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 70.
  4. ^ a b Peeters 2012, p. 256.
  5. ^ Farr 2001, p. 151; Peeters 2012, p. 256.
  6. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 155, 157.
  7. ^ a b c d Farr 2001, p. 158.
  8. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 157.
  9. ^ Farr 2001, pp. 157–158.
  10. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 166; Farr 2001, p. 152.
  11. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 152.
  12. ^ a b c Farr 2001, p. 151.
  13. ^ a b Farr 2001, p. 155.
  14. ^ a b c Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 70.
  15. ^ a b Farr 2001, p. 152.
  16. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 166; Thompson 1991; Farr 2001, p. 152.
  17. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 166; Thompson 1991.
  18. ^ a b c d Peeters 1989, p. 107.
  19. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 167; Thompson 1991; Farr 2001, p. 155.
  20. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 107; Farr 2001, p. 155.
  21. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 164.
  22. ^ a b Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 71.
  23. ^ a b c Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 72.
  24. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 106.
  25. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 105.
  26. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 151; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 71.
  27. ^ a b Thompson 1991, p. 165.
  28. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 166.


External links[edit]