The Seven Crystal Balls
|The Seven Crystal Balls
(Les Sept Boules de Cristal)
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Date of publication||16 December 1943 – 2 September 1944|
|Preceded by||Red Rackham's Treasure (1944)|
|Followed by||Prisoners of the Sun (1949)|
The Seven Crystal Balls (French: Les Sept Boules de Cristal) is the thirteenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The strange Incan mummy Rascar Capac seems to be at the centre of a mysterious illness, and an intriguing clue is discovered near each victim: shards of crystal balls. Tintin and his friend Captain Haddock set off to rescue the kidnapped Professor Calculus.
The story was first serialized in Le Soir Jeunesse, children's supplement to Belgium's leading newspaper Le Soir, from 16 December 1943 to 3 Sept 1944 but was postponed three-quarters through its serialization. World War II had ended, Belgium had been liberated, and Hergé and other members of the Le Soir were being investigated for working for a collaborationist newspaper. Four years later, in 1948, it was published in book form. The Seven Crystal Balls is the first volume in a two-part adventure concluded in Prisoners of the Sun (1949).
On board a train, Tintin reads a newspaper article about the discovery of an Inca burial by seven explorers working in the Andes. A man sitting next to him says that the explorers would probably suffer the same fate as Egyptologists who discovered mummies.
Tintin's train arrives at Marlinspike Hall, the home of his friends Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. The Captain, now a member of the aristocracy, invites Tintin to an evening at the music hall. There they witness an unsettling performance of a clairvoyant (Madame Yamilah) who predicts the illness of one of the members of the expedition. They also view the act of Bianca Castafiore, as well as a knife thrower who Tintin recognizes as General Alcazar, former President of San Theodoros. They have a glass of aguardiente with the general who introduces them to his assistant Chiquito.
A mysterious illness begins afflicting the members of the expedition; one by one, they fall into a mysterious coma. The only clue is fragments of a shattered crystal ball found near each victim. Concerned, Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus go to stay with Calculus's old friend and only expedition member yet to be affected, the ebullient Professor Hercules Tarragon. Tarragon is keeping Rascar Capac's mummy in his house and is being tightly guarded against any attack. A lightning storm strikes the house and sends a ball of fire down the chimney and onto the mummy—which evaporates. Tarragon, clearly shaken, informs them a prophecy has come true: Rascar Capac has returned to his element and punishment will descend upon the desecrators.
After Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus are each visited in their nightmares by the mummy, the three awaken to find Professor Tarragon comatose with the telltale shards of crystal by his bed. The attacker bypassed the police watch by coming down the chimney. The police shoot the attacker as he flees, but fail to capture him. Tintin states the crystal balls have done their work and claimed the last of the seven.
Tarragon awakens and screams about mysterious figures attacking him, before slipping back into a coma. The plot thickens even further when Calculus takes a stroll around Professor Tarragon's house, discovers a striking gold bracelet, puts it on (remarking on how nicely it goes with his coat), and then mysteriously disappears. The bracelet had previously been worn by the now-vanished mummy.
While searching the grounds, Tintin and Haddock discover the attacker had eluded them by taking refuge in a tree and deduce that he then jumped Calculus and stole the mummy's jewels. Tintin and the Captain are then fired upon by an unseen gunman who escapes, having kidnapped Calculus, in a black car. The alarm is raised and the police set up road blocks, but the kidnappers switch cars and slip through the net.
Tintin visits a hospital where all seven of the stricken explorers go through the same horror—they awaken from their coma, scream about figures attacking them, and slip back into their coma—at a precise time of day.
Back at Marlinspike Hall, Captain Haddock is devastated by the loss of Professor Calculus. But after he receives a telephone call from the police, he disappears into his bedroom, then reappears—dressed as a sailor again and ready for travel. As he and Tintin drive to Westermouth, he explains the kidnapper's car was seen there; he believes the kidnappers boarded a ship with Calculus and he intends to follow. When they reach the docks, they find the kidnapper's car abandoned and they spot General Alcazar boarding a ship to South America. The General informs them his music hall career is over since the disappearance of his partner, Chiquito, one of the last descendants of the Incas. Tintin realizes Chiquito disappeared the same night Professor Tarragon was attacked and Calculus kidnapped and deduces he could be one of the kidnappers.
Out of leads, Tintin and Haddock decide to go to a different dock, Bridgeport, to visit Haddock's friend, Captain Chester. Snowy retrieves an old hat found there, and Tintin recognizes it as belonging to Professor Calculus. Checking with the harbour master, they discover that Calculus must be on board the Pachacamac, which is bound for Peru. They board a flight and resolve to meet his ship there.
The story is continued in Prisoners of the Sun.
The Seven Crystal Balls was written during World War II. With Belgium under German occupation, Hergé decided to avoid the overt political content that he had included in previous Tintin stories, such as The Blue Lotus, The Broken Ear and King Ottokar's Sceptre.
As the opening sequence of the book indicates, The Seven Crystal Balls and its theme of an ancient curse, was inspired by the "curse of the pharaohs", the speculation that members of the Howard Carter expedition, discoverers of the tomb of Tutankhamun, died in tragic and mysterious ways due to a curse.
For Professor Tarragon's residence, Hergé's collaborator Edgar P. Jacobs suggested a house he knew in Boitsfort. The two artists went there and made sketches of the house which appeared to be empty. It was only when they were leaving that they realised that the place was actually being used by the local SS and was full of soldiers. However, they were able to slip away without any trouble.
The original serial version began regular publication in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir on 16 December 1943. It was suspended on 3 September 1944, following the liberation of Brussels, when Hergé and many of his colleagues had to answer for working for the collaborationist newspaper.
The strip ended with Tintin walking through the street reading a newspaper when he collides with General Alcazar. Alcazar tells him that he is now unemployed since the disappearance of his assistant Chiquito and how Chiquito is in fact a descendant of the Incas. Tintin then describes to him the man who was driving the car in which Calculus is believed to have been transferred to during the kidnapping. Alcazar identifies him as Fernando Ramirez, a major exporter of guano whom Chiquito knew well. Tintin then rushes him to the police station in order to make a statement.
Publication resumed in the newly launched Tintin magazine in 1946, under the title Le Temple du Soleil (French for "Temple of the Sun" but renamed Prisoners of the Sun in English). It begins with Tintin on his way to Marlinspike Hall where Haddock is in a state of depression over Calculus' disappearance. This and his sudden leap into action is said to be reflecting Hergé's mood at the time: his uncertain future due to the accusations of collaboration and the subsequent offer to help launch Tintin magazine. (The scene with Alcazar would be re-located to a city port with the General about to set off to South America himself in order to lead an uprising and denying all knowledge of the driver in the car).
Connections with other books
Tintin telephones Professor Paul Cantonneau to warn him about the danger of falling victim to one of the crystal balls. He and Tintin had known each other in the expedition of The Shooting Star: Cantonneau had been on the receiving end of Tintin's suitcase, thrown down from the crow's nest by Philippulus the prophet.
The nightmare of a South American native stalking a Westerner in his bedroom had been used before by Hergé in the original black-and-white publication of The Broken Ear (though it is not included in the present edition most commonly available today).
General Alcazar of The Broken Ear and Bianca Castafiore of King Ottokar's Sceptre also appear in the music-hall scenes. For Castafiore, this seems sharply at odds with all her other appearances in the Tintin series, where she is depicted as one of the world's leading operatic divas; not a music hall variety act. In a significant continuity error by the translators (which does not occur in the original version), Tintin observes that Castafiore "turns up" in unlikely locations, including "Syldavia, Borduria, and the Red Sea". At this point in the chronology of the series, Tintin has only met Castafiore once before, in Syldavia during the adventure King Ottokar's Sceptre. The adventures featuring Castafiore in Borduria (The Calculus Affair) and the Red Sea (The Red Sea Sharks) are in Tintin's future. Plus, Haddock appears to know Castafiore, yet he has never encountered her previously in the published series (however, he might have seen her at a previous evening at the Music Hall). Alcazar and Castafiore were to guest-star in other adventures, including Tintin and the Picaros.
The two boys, one blonde, the other dark-haired, who hide a brick in a hat as a prank on Captain Haddock, were quite likely inspired by Hergé's own Quick & Flupke, another pair of young troublemakers.
A video game has been released based on this book and Prisoners of the Sun.