Tintin in Tibet
|Tintin in Tibet
(Tintin au Tibet)
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Published in||Tintin magazine|
Date(s) of publication
|17 September 1958 – 25 November 1959|
|Preceded by||The Red Sea Sharks, 1958|
|Followed by||The Castafiore Emerald, 1963|
Tintin in Tibet (French: Tintin au Tibet) is the twentieth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Originally serialised from September 1958 in Tintin magazine, it was then published in book form in 1960. An "intensely personal book" for Hergé, who would come to see it as his favourite of the Tintin adventures, it was written and drawn by him at a time when he was suffering from traumatic nightmares and a personal conflict over whether he should divorce his wife of three decades, Germaine Remi, for a younger woman with whom he had fallen in love, Fanny Vlaminck.
The comic tells of the young reporter Tintin, assisted by his friends, searching for Tintin's friend Chang Chong-Chen. The group treks across the Himalayan mountains to the plateau of Tibet, in order to look for Chang, whom the authorities claim died in a plane crash over the mountains. Convinced that Chang has somehow survived, Tintin continues to search for him despite the odds, along the way encountering the giant Himalayan ape-man, the Yeti.
Released after the publication of the previous Tintin adventure, The Red Sea Sharks (1958), Tintin in Tibet would differ from the other stories in the series because many of the core characters from the series, such as Thomson and Thompson and Cuthbert Calculus, were wholly or almost absent, whilst at the same time it was the only Tintin adventure to not pit Tintin against an antagonist. Tintin in Tibet is highly thought of by prominent Tintinologists (as well as by writers on the art of the comic-book), being called "exceptional in many respects" and "arguably the best book in the series". It has also been publicly praised by the Dalai Lama, who awarded his own Truth of Light award to the book and to Hergé. Adaptations of Tintin in Tibet have been made in various media, including an animated television series, a radio series and a video game in the 1990s, and then for the theatre in the 2000s.
While on holiday in a resort in the French Alps with Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, Tintin reads about a plane crash in the Gosain Than Massif in the Himalayas. Tintin believes that his friend Chang Chong-Chen (introduced in The Blue Lotus) is badly injured and calling for help from the wreckage of a crashed plane, and learns that Chang was on a plane that crashed in Tibet. Tintin flies to Katmandu with Snowy, and a skeptical Captain Haddock. They hire a sherpa named Tharkey, and accompanied by some porters, travel overland from Nepal to the crash site in Tibet.
The porters abandon the group in fear due to a supposed Yeti footprint, whilst Tintin, Haddock and Tharkey go on and eventually reach the crash site. Tintin sets off with Snowy to trace Chang's steps, and after glimpsing a silhouette in the snow finds a cave in which Chang carved his name on a rock. Tharkey believes that Tintin saw the Yeti and convinces him that the area is just too large to search. However, Tintin spots a scarf on a cliff face, and concludes Chang is near. While attempting to climb upwards, Haddock loses his grip and hangs down the cliff wall, imperiling Tintin, who is tied to him. He tells Tintin to cut the rope to save himself, but Tintin refuses. Haddock then tries to cut it himself, but drops his knife, alerting Tharkey, who saves them. That night, a storm blows away their tent, and Haddock rips their other tent, forcing them to trek onwards, unable to sleep lest they freeze. They eventually arrive within sight of the Buddhist monastery of Khor-Biyong before collapsing due to exhaustion. An avalanche occurs, and they are buried in the snow.
Blessed Lightning, a monk at the monastery, 'sees' Tintin, Snowy, Haddock and Tharkey in peril in a vision. Tintin regains consciousness and, unable to reach the monastery himself, gives Snowy a note calling for help. Snowy lets go of the message when he finds a bone, but then realises what he's done, and runs to the monastery to find help. The monks head after him as he is recognised as the white dog in Blessed Lightning's vision. Tintin, Haddock and Tharkey regain consciousness in the monastery and see the Grand Abbot. After Tintin tells the Abbot why they are there, the Abbot tells Tintin to abandon his quest and return to his country. However, Blessed Lightning has another vision, through which Tintin learns that Chang is still alive inside a mountain cave near the Horn of the Yak, but that the "migou", or Yeti, is also there. Haddock is sceptical of the vision, but Tintin travels to Charabang, a small village near the Horn of the Yak. Haddock initially refuses to follow Tintin, but once again changes his mind and pursues him to Charabang, and the pair head to the Horn of the Yak.
They wait outside the cave until they see the Yeti leave. Tintin ventures inside and finds Chang, who is feverish and shaking. The Yeti, finally revealed as a large anthropoid with an oval-shaped head, returns to the cave and reacts with anger upon seeing Tintin taking Chang away. As he reaches toward Tintin however, Tintin sets off the flash bulb of his camera, which scares the Yeti into fleeing. Tintin and Haddock carry Chang back to the village of Charabang, and he explains to them that the Yeti saved him after the crash. Along the way, they briefly encounter the Yeti again, and he is scared again by Haddock blowing his nose. Chang, Tintin, and Haddock are met ceremonially by the Grand Abbot and an emissary group of monks, who present Tintin with a silk scarf in honour of the bravery he has shown, and the strength of his friendship with Chang. The monks take them back to Khor-Biyong, and after a week, when Chang has recovered, they return to Nepal by caravan. As their party travels away from the monastery, Chang muses that the Yeti is not a wild animal, but instead has a human soul, while the Yeti sadly watches their departure from a distance.
Background and research
In 1958, Hergé saw the nineteenth of his Tintin adventures, The Red Sea Sharks, published in book form following its serialisation over the previous few years. Subsequently deciding to begin work on the next story in the series, he came up with numerous potential plot ideas. One of these was to send Tintin back to the United States, where the reporter would once again meet with the Native Americans, as he had done in the third adventure, Tintin in America (1931–32). However Hergé eventually came to the conclusion that returning to the same country he had formerly sent Tintin to was "backward-looking". Another idea that he had was to base a story around the idea of Tintin having to prove that Haddock's butler Nestor was framed for a crime that he didn't commit by his old employers, the Bird brothers. Again, this was something he also chose to dismiss. A third idea was that Tintin be sent with Professor Calculus to one of the snow-covered polar regions, where Calculus was needed to help save a stranded group of polar explorers who had gone down with food poisoning, and although the setting in a snowy environment was eventually kept, this plot was also abandoned. Meanwhile the Belgian comic creator Michel Regnier, best known under the pseudonym of Greg (1931–1999), (who was then busy working on Belvision's animated television adaptation of the series, Hergé's Adventures of Tintin), wrote two basic ideas for Tintin adventures that Hergé might potentially take up. This pair, Le Thermozéro (The Thermozero) and Les Pillules (The Pills), both revolved around Tintin rescuing a secret agent and then getting involved with a 'cold bomb' in the former, or 'radioactive pills' in the latter. Again, Hergé felt that this was not the story which he wanted to take up.
The idea of setting the story in Tibet had been influenced by Hergé's friend Jacques Van Melkebeke (1904–1983), who had suggested it back in 1954, possibly being influenced by the fact that he had set the 1940s Tintin play M. Boullock A Disparu (The Disappearance of Mr Boullock) in that country. Initial ideas for the title of the work were Le Museau de la Vache (The Cow's Snout), Le Museau de l'Ours (The Bear's Snout) or Le Museau du Yack (The Yack's Snout), all of which would have been named after a mountain that featured in the latter part of the story. Initially, it was claimed that the title of Tintin in Tibet was chosen because market research indicated that people were more likely to buy a book with Tintin's name in the title, but Tintinologist Harry Thompson instead believed that it was chosen because it was a "title [that] reflected the solo nature of [Tintin's] undertaking", this was the first time in the series that Tintin had not had an antagonist.
Hergé's psychological issues
Hergé had reached a particularly traumatic period in his life. He realised that he had fallen out of love with his wife Germaine Remi, whom he married in 1932, and had instead developed a deep mutual attraction with Fanny Vlaminck, a far younger assistant who worked at his Studios Hergé. He began to contemplate divorcing Germaine in order to marry Fanny, with whom he shared many mutual interests, something which he and Germaine did not possess. As he would later relate, "It meant turning upside down all my values – what a shock! This was a serious moral crisis: I was married, and I loved someone else; life seemed impossible with my wife, but on the other hand I had this scout-like idea of giving my word for ever. It was a real catastrophe. I was completely torn up." During this period, Hergé had begun suffering from repeating nightmares in which he was consistently faced by images of what he described as "the beauty and cruelty of white". As he would later relate to the interviewer Numa Sadoul:
- "At the time I was going through a time of real crisis and my dreams were nearly always white dreams. And they were extremely distressing. I took note of them and remember one where I was in a kind of tower made up of a series of ramps. Dead leaves were falling and covering everything. At a particular moment, in an immaculately white alcove, a white skeleton appeared that tried to catch me. And then instantly everything around me became white."
He decided to visit a psychoanalyst to try to decipher what his disturbing dreams meant and what could be done about them. He went to visit the Swiss psychoanalyst Franz Ricklin, a student of the prestigious psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who told him that he must destroy "the white demon of purity" within his mind as soon as he could. Ricklin further advised Hergé that "I don't want to discourage you, but you will never finish your life's work. In your place, I would just stop working now." Although Hergé was tempted to take up Ricklin's advice and abandon the continued writing of Tintin in Tibet, following which he could devote himself to his hobby of abstract art, he decided to instead follow his old scout motto of "A scout smiles and sings through all his difficulties." He would divorce his wife to marry Fanny, and would also continue the writing and illustrating of Tintin in Tibet. As Tintinologist Harry Thompson noted, "It was ironic, but not perhaps unpredictable, that faced with the moral dilemma posed by Ricklin, Hergé chose to keep his scout's word of honour to Tintin, but not to Germaine".
In writing and drawing Tintin in Tibet, Hergé drew upon a wide range of influences. The concept of setting the plot in the Himalayas, a snow-covered environment, was due to his repeating dreams of whiteness, and as Harry Thompson noted, "Hergé's fundamental need was to draw a white, snowy adventure" that had to "be a solo voyage of redemption for Hergé." Thompson believed that it was because of this idea of a personal voyage that most of the series' supporting cast were left out of the book, with Tintin only being accompanied by Snowy and Haddock on his journey. Hergé was also fascinated with "extra-sensory perception and the mysticism of Tibetan Buddhism", interests that he shared with his new wife Fanny, and these played important themes within Tintin in Tibet. He had learned about many aspects of the Tibetan esoteric from books such as those of Belgian explorer Alexandra David-Neel as well as the Englishman Lobsang Rampa's controversial work The Third Eye (1956, published in French in 1957), the accuracy of which has been heavily disputed.
To learn more about the Yeti, which he depicted as a particularly benevolent creature in his story, Hergé contacted the cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans (1916–2001), who had formerly aided him in his study of hypothetical moon exploration for Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. After reading the section on the Yeti in Heuvelmans' book Sur La Piste Des Bêtes Ignorées (On the Tracks of Unknown Animals), Hergé also went on to perform as much research into the cryptid as possible. According to Harry Thompson, Hergé "interviewed mountaineers, including Maurice Herzog, who had spotted the tracks of an enormous biped which stopped at the foot of a sheer rock face on Annapurna. Even the way in which the creature cares for the starving Chang is taken from a sherpa's account of a Yeti which rescued a little girl in similar circumstances."
Hergé collected together a large assortment of clippings, partly from National Geographic Magazine, that he filed away and used as a basis from which to draw Tintin in Tibet. Images found in the book such as the monks with their musical instruments, the sherpas with their backpacks and the plane crash wreckage, are all visually based upon clippings in Hergé's collection. Members of his Studio Hergé also helped him gather together source material for the story, for instance Jacques Martin (1921–2010), a member of the Studio and a comic strip writer in his own right, researched and drew all the costumes for the book.
Due to his emphasis on accuracy, Hergé added the logo of a genuine airline, Air-India, to the crash debris in Tintin in Tibet. This upset Air-India and a representative complained to Hergé about the adverse publicity that they might suffer, arguing that "It's scandalous, none of our aircraft has ever crashed. You have done us a considerable wrong." Air-India had cooperated closely with Hergé in facilitating his research by providing voluminous reading material, contemporary photographs and film footage of India and Nepal, especially of Delhi and Kathmandu. In the story-line, Air-India flew Tintin, Snowy and Haddock from Europe to Delhi and Kathmandu. The crashed aircraft's tail number began with "VT", still the country code for all Indian aircraft, and was VT-ORO, which no actual aircraft has ever had. Due to Air-India's objections, Hergé changed the logo in subsequent editions to the fictional Sari-Airways, however he also observed that there were so many Indian airlines that it was possible that there really was a Sari-Airways.
When the book was published in the People's Republic of China, state authorities renamed it Tintin in China's Tibet. Hergé and his publishers protested and the title was reverted to its original name.
Tintin in Tibet was well received by prominent Tintinologists and writers on the art of the comic-book; Michael Farr called it "exceptional in many respects", and Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier lauded it as "arguably the best book in the series". Given that the book was translated into 32 languages, Donald Lopez stated that the comic the could be the "largest selling book about Tibet".
On 1 June 2006, Tintin became the first fictional character to be awarded the Dalai Lama's Truth of Light award. "For many people around the world Tintin in Tibet was their first introduction to Tibet, the beauty of its landscape and its culture. And that is something that has passed down the generations," said the International Campaign for Tibet's Simon van Melick. During the awarding ceremony copies of Tintin in Tibet in Esperanto (Tinĉjo en Tibeto) were distributed.
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