The Red Sea Sharks
|The Red Sea Sharks
(Coke en stock)
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Published in||Tintin magazine|
|Date of publication||31 October 1956 – 1 January 1958|
|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.
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).
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. 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.
Hergé had read Balzac et son monde ("Balzac and His World"), a 1955 book written by his friend Félicien Marceau. 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 Shark.
The Red Sea Sharks has been criticised for stereotypical portrayal of Africans; although obviously good-hearted, the black characters are shown as being somewhat simple. However, it should also be noted that foreign Europeans, throughout the Tintin series, also display a similarly ungrammatical accent (e.g. Skut). Others have criticised Haddock's calling them "addle-pated lumps of anthracite", but Hergé did not intend to be racist—Captain Haddock is well known for his frequently colourful language, which comprises almost 200 insults in total. Hergé obviously had a strong contempt for slavery, as evidenced by strongly negative emphasis placed on the villainy of slave traders (supplemented by the scene in which Captain Haddock hurls his peculiar brand of expletives at a slaver leaving their ship).
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."