Tintin in Tibet

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Tintin in Tibet
(Tintin au Tibet)
Book cover illustration of a group of three on a snowy mountainside, one of whom points out large animal tracks in the snow
Cover of the English edition
Date 1960
Series The Adventures of Tintin
Publisher Casterman
Creative team
Creators Hergé
Original publication
Published in Tintin magazine
Date(s) of publication
17 September 1958 – 25 November 1959
Language French
ISBN 978-2-203-00119-0
Publisher Methuen
Date 1962
ISBN 978-0-316-35839-2
  • Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper
  • Michael Turner
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 published as a book in 1960. Hergé considered it "intensely personal" and came to see it as his favourite Tintin adventure, as it was created while he was suffering from traumatic nightmares and a personal conflict over whether he should divorce his wife of three decades for a younger woman. The story 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 to look for Chang, whom the authorities claim died in a plane crash over the mountains. Convinced that Chang has survived, Tintin searches for him, along the way encountering the mythical Yeti.

Released after publication of the character-filled Tintin adventure The Red Sea Sharks (1958), Tintin in Tibet differed from other stories in the series in that only a few familiar characters were cast, and it was also the only Tintin adventure not to pit Tintin against an antagonist. Tintin in Tibet is highly regarded by critics. It has also been publicly praised by the Dalai Lama, who awarded his Light of Truth Award to the book and Hergé. Tintin in Tibet has been adapted for television, radio, documentary, theatre, and a video game, and inspired a museum exhibition.


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 of Tibet. Tintin believes that his friend Chang Chong-Chen (introduced in The Blue Lotus) is badly injured and calling for help from the wreckage of the crashed plane. Tintin flies to Kathmandu with Snowy and a sceptical Captain Haddock. They hire a Sherpa named Tharkey and, accompanied by porters, travel overland from Nepal towards the crash site.[1]

The porters abandon the group in fear when mysterious Yeti tracks are found, 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 where Chang has carved his name on a rock. Tharkey believes that Tintin saw the Yeti and convinces him to abandon his friend, as the area is too large to search. However, Tintin spots a scarf on a cliff face, concludes Chang is near, and continues on with the Captain. While attempting to climb upwards, Haddock slips and hangs down the cliff wall, imperilling Tintin, who is tied to him. He tells Tintin to cut the rope to save himself, but Tintin refuses. Haddock tries to cut it himself, but drops his knife, alerting Tharkey, who has returned. They lose their tent and must trek onwards, unable to sleep lest they freeze, arriving within sight of the Buddhist monastery of Khor-Biyong before collapsing from exhaustion.[2]

Blessed Lightning, a monk at the monastery, has a vision of Tintin, Snowy, Haddock, and Tharkey in peril. Tintin regains consciousness and, unable to help himself, gives Snowy a note to deliver. Snowy runs to the monastery and is recognised as the dog from Blessed Lightning's vision. Tintin, Haddock and Tharkey regain consciousness in the monastery and are brought before the Grand Abbot. The Abbot tells Tintin to abandon his quest, but Blessed Lightning has another vision, through which Tintin learns that Chang is still alive inside a mountain cave at the Horn of the Yak—and that the "migou" is also there. Tintin and Haddock travel on to the Horn of the Yak.[3]

They arrive at a cave. Tintin ventures inside and finds Chang, feverish and shaking. The Yeti suddenly appears, revealed as a large anthropoid, reacting with anger at Tintin's attempt to take Chang away. Tintin sets off the flash bulb of his camera, scaring the Yeti into fleeing. Chang explains that the Yeti saved his life after the crash. The Grand Abbot presents Tintin with a silk scarf in honour of the bravery he has shown for his friend Chang. As their party travels home, Chang muses that the Yeti is not a wild animal, but instead has a human soul. The Yeti sadly watches their departure from a distance.[4]


Background and early ideas[edit]

Photograph of a snowy, mountainous landscape
Hergé used pictures of the Tibetan landscape from magazines as inspiration for his drawings

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. He considered a number of plot ideas for the next story. One was to send Tintin back to the United States, as he had done in the third adventure, Tintin in America, and have the reporter meet again with Native Americans. However, Hergé came to believe that retracing old ground would be a step backward.[5] Another idea was to base a story around Tintin striving to prove that Haddock's butler Nestor was framed for a crime committed by his old employers, the Bird brothers. He dismissed this as well,[6] but kept the idea of an adventure with no guns and no violence. This would become the only Tintin story without an antagonist.[7][a] A third idea was to send Tintin with Professor Calculus to one of the snow-covered polar regions, where a stranded group of explorers needed Calculus' help to save them from food poisoning. Although the setting in a snowy environment was kept, this plot was also abandoned.[9]

The idea of setting the story in Tibet had been influenced by Hergé's collaborator Jacques Van Melkebeke, who had suggested it back in 1954, likely influenced by the play he had adapted for Hergé in the 1940s, M. Boullock A Disparu (The Disappearance of Mr Boullock).[10] 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 Yak (The Yak's Snout), all of which would have been named after a mountain that featured in the latter part of the story.[11] Initially, it was claimed that the title of Tintin in Tibet was chosen due to market research suggesting that sales would be better if the book used Tintin's name in the title. "In reality," said Harry Thompson, surely "the title reflected the solo nature of [Tintin's] undertaking."[12]

Hergé's psychological issues[edit]

Hergé had reached a particularly traumatic period in his life and suffered a mental breakdown. In 1956, he realised that he had fallen out of love with his wife Germaine, whom he had married in 1932. Instead, he and Fanny Vlaminck, a far younger woman who worked as a colourist at his Studios Hergé, had developed a deep mutual attraction.[13] By 1958, he contemplated divorcing Germaine to marry Fanny, with whom he shared many interests, something which he and Germaine did not. His Catholic upbringing and Boy Scout ethic, however, caused him to feel tremendous guilt.[14] As he later related to interviewer Numa Sadoul:

"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."[15]

During this period, Hergé was suffering from repeating nightmares in which he faced images of what he described as "the beauty and cruelty of white"—visions of white and snow that he could not explain.[16] As he later related to 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."[15]

He travelled to Zürich to consult Swiss psychoanalyst Franz Riklin, a student of Carl Jung, to try to decipher his disturbing dreams and find what could be done about them. Riklin latched on to the "quest for purity" that was so much a feature of Hergé's dreams and, ultimately, of Tintin in Tibet.[17] He told Hergé that he must destroy "the demon of purity" within his mind as soon as he could, telling him, "I do not want to discourage you, but you will never reach the goal of your work. It comes to one or the other: you must overcome your crisis, or continue your work. But, in your place, I would stop immediately!"[18] Although Hergé was tempted to abandon Tintin on Riklin's advice and devote himself to his hobby of abstract art, he felt he could not as it would be an acceptance of failure.[19] In the end, Hergé decided to follow the Scout Law: "A scout smiles and sings through all his difficulties." He divorced his wife to marry Fanny and continued work on Tintin in Tibet,[20] trusting that completing the book would exorcise the "white demons" by which he felt possessed.[21] "It was a brave decision, and a good one", stated Michael Farr. "Few problems, psychological included, are solved by abandoning them."[8] Belgian Tintin expert Philippe Goddin summarized: "[Hergé] sought to regain a lost equilibrium, that he imposes on his hero a desire to seek purity ... considering it necessary for Tintin to go through the intimate experience of distress and loneliness ... and discover himself."[22][b]


Photograph of a red Asian temple on a mountainside
Drigung Monastery, high in the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, similar to the Buddhist monastery depicted in the book

In creating Tintin in Tibet, Hergé drew upon a range of influences. Setting the plot in the Himalayas, a snow-covered environment, was due to Hergé's recurring dreams of whiteness—his fundamental need to create an adventure that "must be a solo voyage of redemption" from the "whiteness of guilt".[24] It was because of the idea of a solo voyage that most of the series' supporting cast were left out of the book, Tintin accompanied only by Snowy and, reluctantly, Haddock—who supplies counterpoint and humour.[25]

While considering the character of Chang, absent since The Blue Lotus,[8] Hergé thought of and deeply missed his Chinese friend Zhang Chongren, whom he had not seen since the days of Le Petit Vingtième over twenty years earlier. Zhang had since moved back to his homeland and Hergé had lost contact with him after the Japanese invasion of China.[26] Hergé felt Chang and Tintin must be reunited, just as Hergé hoped that he could see his friend again someday.[27][c]

Another influence came from Fanny, who was interested in extrasensory perception and the mysticism of Tibetan Buddhism,[28] which also fascinated Hergé. These were prominent themes in the story.[29] Hergé's principal source of the many aspects of the Tibetan esoteric was Belgian explorer and writer Alexandra David-Néel.[30]

To learn more about the Yeti, which he depicted as a benevolent creature, Hergé contacted cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans, who had aided him in his study of hypothetical moon exploration for Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon.[31] After reading the section on the Yeti in Heuvelmans' book Sur La Piste Des Bêtes Ignorées (On the Tracks of Unknown Animals), Hergé went on to research the cryptid as much as possible.[32] 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.[33] Even the way the creature cares for the starving Chang is taken from a Sherpa's account of a Yeti that rescued a little girl in similar circumstances.[34]

Hergé collected 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 Sherpa with their backpacks, and the plane crash wreckage—are based on such clippings.[35] Members of his studio helped him gather source material; for instance, collaborator Jacques Martin researched and drew the costumes.[36]


A comic-strip panel of an airplane crashed in a mountainous area, covered in snow
A panel from Tintin in Tibet depicting the plane crash. Air India reacted negatively to having their plane depicted in a crash, and so Hergé agreed to alter the logo on the debris to Sari-Airways.

Due to his desire for accuracy, Hergé added the logo of a real-life 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, "It's scandalous, none of our aircraft has ever crashed. You have done us a considerable wrong." Air India had cooperated closely with Hergé, facilitating his research by providing voluminous reading material, contemporary photographs, and film footage of India and Nepal, especially of Delhi and Kathmandu.[37][d] The crashed aircraft's tail number remained "VT", the country code for all Indian aircraft, but Hergé agreed to change the airline logo in the published edition to the fictional Sari-Airways, dryly noting that there were so many Indian airlines that it was possible that there really was a Sari-Airways.[38]

During production, Hergé kept abreast of the turbulent political developments in Tibet.[39] In March 1959, Tibet's foremost political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled the region and went into self-imposed exile in India following disagreements with the governing Communist Party.[40] When Tintin in Tibet 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 authorities reverted the title to its original name.[41]


Critical analysis[edit]

Tintin in Tibet was well received by prominent literary critics and writers on the art of the comic-book. Michael Farr called it "exceptional in many respects, standing out among the twenty-three completed Tintin adventures ... an assertion of the incorruptible value of bonds of friendship."[8] Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier lauded it as "the ultimate Tintin book ... voted the best French-language graphic novel ever done in a poll of professionals, editors, and critics" and "arguably the best book in the series".[42] They point out the many emotional moments in the story: Haddock's attempt to sacrifice his life to save Tintin, Tharkey's return, the tearful reunion of Tintin and his starving friend Chang, the reverence paid to Tintin by the Grand Abbot and the monks, and the sadness felt by the Yeti while watching the departure of his only friend. "For a comic book to handle such powerful emotions, convey them to the readers, and make them feel what the characters are feeling is a rare and precious achievement."[42] Harry Thompson called it "a book of overwhelming whiteness and purity,"[43] pointing out that the "intensely personal nature of the story made this Hergé's favourite Tintin adventure," adding that if readers wondered whether "the effects of the enormous weight lifted from Hergé's shoulders, [this] can be seen in his next book, The Castafiore Emerald, a masterpiece of relaxation."[44] Given that the book was translated into 32 languages, Donald Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies, stated that the comic must be the "largest selling book about Tibet."[45]

Jean-Marie Apostolidès, who offered literary analysis of Tintin in Tibet, observes that Tintin is once again the star of the adventure, a leader for others to follow. Yet, in no other adventure is Tintin in such worry, stress, and emotion. It is a "therapeutic opportunity for the hero to take stock of his life and sort out his issues."[46] Apostolidès sees Tintin as the "foundling" and his friend Chang as "the lost child"—Tintin's "twin"—and that "for both Chang and Tintin, the Tibetan adventure is a series of abandonments."[47] Apostolidès states that Tintin must "save his twin"; he "leaves the comfort of his town ... and ends up faced with Chang's situation. Tintin is virtually alone, face-to-face with the White Goddess" (as the monks refer to the Himalayas).[48] Likewise, the literary analysis of Tom McCarthy compared Tintin's quest to Hergé's successful conquering of his own fear and guilt, expounding, "this is the moira of Hergé's own white mythology, his anaemic destiny: to become Sarrasine to Tintin's la Zambinella.[e] Might not the icy, white expanses of Hergé's nightmares really have their analogue in his own hero?" Especially as "Tintin represents an unattainable goal of goodness, cleanness, authenticity."[49]

Pierre Assouline concluded that "Tintin in Tibet would remain Hergé's favourite. He thought it an ode to friendship, composed 'under the double sign of tenacity and friendship.'"[f] "It's a story of friendship," Hergé said about his book years later, "the way people say, 'It's a love story.'"[51][g]


At a ceremony held in Brussels on 1 June 2006, the Dalai Lama bestowed the International Campaign for Tibet's (ICT) Light of Truth Award upon the Hergé Foundation in recognition of Tintin in Tibet, a book which introduced the region to new audiences across the world.[52] The ICT's Executive Director Tsering Jampa commented that "For many, Hergé's depiction of Tibet was their introduction to the awe-inspiring landscape and culture of Tibet."[52] During the awarding ceremony, copies of Tintin in Tibet in the Esperanto language (Tinĉjo en Tibeto) were distributed.[41] Accepting on behalf of the Hergé Foundation, Hergé's widow Fanny Rodwell spoke, "We never thought that this story of friendship would have a resonance more than 40 years later".[41]


Eight years after Hergé's death, Tintin in Tibet was adapted into an episode of The Adventures of Tintin (1991–92), the television series by French studio Ellipse and Canadian animation company Nelvana. Directed by Stéphane Bernasconi, Thierry Wermuth voiced the character of Tintin.[53] Tintin in Tibet also was an episode of the BBC Radio 4 series The Adventures of Tintin in 1992; Richard Pearce voiced Tintin.[54] The book became a video game of the same name for PC and Game Boy in 1995.[55]

Tintin et moi (2003), a documentary by Danish director Anders Høgsbro Østergaard based on the taped interview with Hergé by Numa Sadoul conducted in 1971, explores the personal battles Hergé experienced while creating Tintin in Tibet, clarifying how the events drove him to create what is now regarded as his most personal adventure.[56]

As the 2007 centenary of Hergé's birth approached, Tintin remained popular.[57] Tintin in Tibet was adapted into a musical theatre production titled Hergé's Adventures of Tintin, showing from late 2005 until early 2006 at the Barbican Arts Centre. The production was directed by Rufus Norris and adapted by Norris and David Greig; Russell Tovey performed as Tintin.[58] The show was successfully revived at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End of London before touring through 2007.[59] In 2010, the television channel Arte filmed an episode of its documentary series Sur les traces de Tintin (On the traces of Tintin) in the Nepalese Himalayas, exploring the inspiration and setting of Tintin in Tibet.[60] Between May and September 2012, the Musée Hergé in Louvain-la-Neuve hosted an exhibition themed around the book entitled Into Tibet with Tintin.[61]



  1. ^ Tintin in Tibet is the only Tintin adventure without an antagonist. "Even The Castafiore Emerald has a culpable magpie."[8]
  2. ^ Harry Thompson noted, "It was ironic, but not perhaps unpredictable, that faced with the moral dilemma posed by Riklin, Hergé chose to keep his Scout's word of honour to Tintin, but not to Germaine."[23] Though separated from her, Hergé visited Germaine every Monday.
  3. ^ Years later, in 1981, Zhang was located and reunited with Hergé in Brussels.[28]
  4. ^ Air India remained in the storyline; the airline flew Tintin, Snowy and Haddock from Europe to Delhi and Kathmandu.
  5. ^ McCarthy is referring to characters Ernest-Jean Sarrasine and his love Zambinella in Honoré de Balzac's Sarrasine.[49]
  6. ^ Quoted in Sadoul,[15] Hergé's inscription in Raymond Leblanc's copy of Tintin in Tibet.[50]
  7. ^ Hergé said this in his letter to Jean Toulat, 16 January 1975[50]


  1. ^ Hergé 1960, pp. 1–27.
  2. ^ Hergé 1960, pp. 26–44.
  3. ^ Hergé 1960, pp. 44–54.
  4. ^ Hergé 1960, pp. 54–62.
  5. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 235; Farr 2001, p. 162; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 120.
  6. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 235; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 120.
  7. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 235; Peeters 1989, p. 110; Goddin 2011, p. 101.
  8. ^ a b c d Farr 2001, p. 161.
  9. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 235–236.
  10. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 122.
  11. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 238; Farr 2001, p. 168; Goddin 2011, p. 103.
  12. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 238.
  13. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 228–229; Peeters 1989, p. 110; Farr 2001, p. 161; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 25; Goddin 2011, p. 101; Peeters 2012, p. ?.
  14. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 234; Farr 2001, p. 161.
  15. ^ a b c Sadoul 1975.
  16. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 234; Goddin 2011, p. 103; Sadoul 1975.
  17. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 108.
  18. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 108; Thompson 1991, p. 234; Farr 2001, p. 161; Sadoul 1975.
  19. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 234–235.
  20. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 234–235; Farr 2001, p. 161.
  21. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 236; Peeters 1989, p. 110; Goddin 2011, p. 108.
  22. ^ Goddin 2011, pp. 104,107.
  23. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 171.
  24. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 236.
  25. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 236–237; Peeters 1989, p. 110; Farr 2001, p. 161.
  26. ^ Lopez, Jr. 1999, p. 212; Thompson 1991, p. 236; Goddin 2011, p. 101.
  27. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 236; Goddin 2011, p. 101.
  28. ^ a b Farr 2001, p. 162.
  29. ^ Farr 2001, p. 162; Peeters 1989, p. 112.
  30. ^ Farr 2001.
  31. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 237; Farr 2001, p. 165.
  32. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 112; Farr 2001, p. 165.
  33. ^ Farr 2001, p. 165.
  34. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 238; Farr 2001, p. 165.
  35. ^ Farr 2001, pp. 166–168.
  36. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 237.
  37. ^ Farr 2001, p. 168; Peeters 1989, p. 112; Goddin 2011, p. 103.
  38. ^ Farr 2001, p. 168; Peeters 1989, p. 112.
  39. ^ Farr 2001, p. 162; Goddin 2011, p. 107.
  40. ^ Farr 2001, p. 162; French 2009.
  41. ^ a b c BBC News 2 June 2006.
  42. ^ a b Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 124.
  43. ^ Thompson 1991, p. ?.
  44. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 238–239.
  45. ^ Lopez, Jr. 1999, p. 212.
  46. ^ Apostolidès 2010, p. 203.
  47. ^ Apostolidès 2010, pp. 211–212.
  48. ^ Apostolidès 2010, p. 213.
  49. ^ a b McCarthy 2006, p. 160.
  50. ^ a b Assouline 2009, p. 251.
  51. ^ Assouline 2009, pp. 191–192.
  52. ^ a b Int'l Campaign for Tibet 17 May 2006.
  53. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 90.
  54. ^ BBC Radio 4 1993.
  55. ^ MobyGames.com 1995.
  56. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 238; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 150; Farr 2001, p. 162.
  57. ^ Pollard 2007.
  58. ^ Billington 2005; YoungVic.org 2005; Barbican 2005.
  59. ^ Smurthwaite 2007; SoniaFriedman.com 2007.
  60. ^ Arte 2010.
  61. ^ Musée Hergé 2012.


External links[edit]