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King Ottokar's Sceptre was first published in a catholic French paper in 1939 and is the eight in the Tintin comic series. Many people have said that this book draws very heavily on the political happenings and conspiracies of the time, especially due to the thematic features and the name of one of the villains: Musstler (drawn from Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler). I have to admit that before doing some research on this particular episode, I truly didn't notice the political dimension of the book at all. Like all the other Tintin books therefore, this one also draws from realistic happenings, but is still light and entertaining enough to be read merely another fictional adventure.
Tintin and Snowy are just relaxing the park one day when he finds a lost briefcase and goes to return it to the owner. They enjoy a nice chat and he learns that the owner, Professor Alembick is quite an interesting man who is a sigillographer, an expert on seals. The latter is very interested in a particular seal that once belonged to Syldavian King Ottokar IV and he's therefore planning a visit to Syldavia for his research. When Tintin leaves Professor Alembick's flat, however, he hears some strangers talking about him and starts an investigation. A series of circumstances lead to Tintin deciding to accompany the Professor to Syldavia, but he soon begins to suspect that the Professor has been kidnapped and that he is travelling with an impostor in disguise...
While neither the Captain Haddock (he will first appear in the following book) or the Professor Calculus appeared in this book, I have to say that Thompson and Thomson are given more depth of characters in this episode. In fact, this is the first book where they are actually given names. These two characters are, according to me, vital parts of the entire series and this is the book where they are given more life and importance. I also loved their presence in this episode because the story is rather grim with serious thematic features about power, greed and betrayals, and the comic relief provided by these two detectives was quite hilarious. I really admire the manner in which they were artfully depicted in appropriate circumstances; it was just the right time to break through the tension or stop the book from becoming overly drab and serious.
The protagonist himself is very much an epic hero in this particular episode. The one thing I would deplore about this adventure however is that the adventure itself was too short and for once, Hergé lingered for quite a while on before and after the adventure, rather than the adventure itself. I really would have loved it more if there had been some more plot twists and complications for Tintin and Snowy to solve. Of course, one can always count on Snowy to save the day, and I would say that like the two detectives, even Snowy gets more than his usual share of spotlight in this episode. Since I just adore the little dog, I was really pleased with how there was such focus on him.
Overall, very, very highly recommended. While the adventure in this book was not overly long and complicated, and somewhat predictable for me, it was still yet another enjoyable and entertaining Tintin book.
All Tintin books are available on Amazon and eBay for £ 6.49 (aprox) and are around 62-64 pages.
~Thanks for reading~
King Ottokar's Sceptre is the eighth book in the classic series of Tintin adventures by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé and was first published in 1938 in the magazine Le Petit Vingtième before being updated and coloured in 1947. The book begins with Tintin discovering a briefcase left on a bench while taking a stroll in the park. He returns it to the owner who turns out to be Professor Hector Alembick, a sigillographer and expert on the seals used to make state documents official. Professor Alembick is about to travel to Syldavia to study their archives but when Tintin discovers they are both under surveillance and is given various warnings - including a bomb in his flat - he decides to go to Syldavia as Professor Alembick's secretary to investigate further. Intrigue and danger soon abounds when Tintin notices something strange about Alembick on the plane and stumbles into a plot to overthrow the King of Syldavia that all revolves around the sceptre of King Ottokar IV, which the reigning King must always possess in order to rule.
A great early entry in the series, King Ottokar's Sceptre is tremendous fun once it gets going and has a second act that is as exciting and action packed as any Tintin adventure. The plot was very topical when devised with a character named Müsstler (Mussolini/Hitler) and schemes involving the annexation of peaceful countries. King Ottokar's Sceptre is Hergé at his best and a little like The Black Island in the way it spins a very simple beginning into an increasingly complex and incident packed adventure with, of course, some funny jokes and various cliffhanger situations on every page. The opening pages are very enjoyable with Tintin soon realising something strange and murky is going on and Thomson and Thompson - who are given some of their funniest moments in the series here - involved in comic set-pieces involving a motorcycle and a bomb - which they discover Inspector Clouseau style in Tintin's flat. There is also a great bit when Tintin visits a Syldavian restaurant where plots are being hatched, the waiter shows a dark sense of humour (my reading anyway) and Snowy cleans out the kitchen.
One of the brilliant things about King Ottokar's Sceptre is the way that Hergé fleshes out the (fictitious) country of Syldavia and makes it feel like a real place. One of the ways he does this is by having Tintin read a travel brochure on the plane which we then see for ourselves over three full pages. This includes text about the history of the country and reproductions of famous Syldavian art and is wonderfully detailed and inventive. 'Among the many places that deservedly attract foreign visitors with a love for picturesque ceremony and colourful folklore, there is a small country which, although relatively unknown, surpasses many others in interest. Isolated until modern times because of its inaccessible position, this country is now served by a regular air-line network which brings it within reach of all who love unspoiled beauty, the proverbial hospitality of a peasant people, and the charm of medieval customs which still survive despite the march of progress. Syldavia exports wheat, mineral water from Klow, firewood, horses and violinists.'
Syldavia is depicted by Hergé as a sort of Balkanesque fairytale land known as 'The Kingdom of the Black Pelican' that embraces both Tradition and Modernity. It's full of enchanted landscapes and woodland, horse drawn carts, ancient castles and soldiers in bright anachronistic uniforms carrying swords. The panels that take place in the royal treasure and staterooms of the Syldavian King are also very detailed and colourful with various dignitaries drawn wearing elaborate costumes in some wonderful pieces of art. King Ottokar's Sceptre also has the first of Tintin's many encounters with the 'Milanese Nightingale' - opera diva Bianca Castafiore, who would become a regular supporting character in future volumes with numerous comic cameos. Castafiore returns to the story two or three times with her infamous 'Jewel' song deployed for amusing effect in some good moments.
Thomson and Thompson in particular have some very funny moments in King Ottokar's Sceptre including a series of panels where they attempt to demonstrate (in their usual accident prone fashion) how the sceptre - in their opinion - was stolen through a window full of metal bars. They are even involved in an amusing sight gag on the final page. Other great moments in King Ottokar's Sceptre include Snowy's memorable visit to a Natural History Museum and Tintin's detective skills suddenly noticing something strange about Professor Alembick on the plane journey to Syldavia. You don't know why Tintin is bemused by this particular incident when it happens but it all becomes clear - and obvious in hindsight - when explained several pages later. The fact that the books are carefully plotted and storyboarded is a great strength of the series. One interesting thing about the Tintin books that always works well I think is the way the characters reactions and thoughts are expressed by facial expressions and bold exclamation or question marks appearing in a speech bubble when they are surprised by something.
There is a strikingly drawn and coloured plane sequence later on in King Ottokar's Sceptre and the illustrations of the rocky hills of Syldavia - with chases down treacherous pathways and tumbles down hills - are very impressive. I like many of the little details and touches here too like Tintin suddenly feeling dizzy because he hasn't eaten for a day and walking straight into a Bordurian frontier post full of soldiers in his search for food. King Ottokar's Sceptre builds to a frantic finish and has one of the best and most satisfying third acts of any book in the series. This is certainly one of the most inventive and entertaining Tintin adventures and sits somewhere at the top table as an excellent example of Hergé's ability to entertain, amuse and tell a good old-fashioned story with some colourful and attractive art.