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A GREAT ADVENTURE
The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus - Herge
Member Name: Mauri
The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus - Herge
Advantages: Good story, well paced and good illustrations
Disadvantages: A little dated in places
The original adventures of Tintin were a series of comic books written and illustrated by the Belgian artist Georges Rémi better known by his pen name Hergé. The comic books are hugely popular having been translated into 80 languages and having sold over 350 million copies to date. Hergé first started producing them in 1929 and continued writing them until 1976 a few years before his death in 1983.
The book I'll be looking at in this review is 'The Blue Lotus' a Tintin adventure originally published in 1936 in black and white and subsequently republished in colour.
In many ways 'The Blue Lotus' is the first of Tintin's 'golden period', it is the first to feature a more sophisticated plot and move away from the bland stereotypes of earlier books. It is still regarded by fans as one of the best in the whole series.
The story is in fact a sequel to the previous book in the series called 'Cigars of the Pharaoh'. Ideally it should be read in the right order but it can still be enjoyed as a stand-alone story.
As usual we follow the exploits of Tintin a young reporter who always finds himself immersed in foiling the plots and evil schemes of international criminal masterminds. Tintin is probably along with Poirot and Jean Claude Van Damme one of the most famous fictional or non fictional Belgians. Although his actual age is not specifically mentioned in the stories Herge has stated in interviews that he sees him as being 17 years old.
In this book as with all the others Tintin is loyally assisted by his faithful dog snowy. Missing however are other regulars such as the cantankerous Captain Haddock and the eccentric Professor Calculus. We do though have the pleasure of meeting up with the bungling Scotland Yard detectives the Thomson Twins.
'The Blue Lotus' is a truly international adventure on an ambitious scale. It starts off with events at the end of Cigars of the Pharaoh' with Tintin on holiday in India staying with his friend the Maharaja of Gaipajama. A mysterious Chinaman comes to visit Tintin with an urgent message but before he can deliver it he is struck with a dart dipped in the madness inducing Rajaijah poison. The only part of the message that he delivered is that a man named Mitsuhirato needs Tintin to be in Shanghai. Intrigued by the incident, Tintin goes off to Shangai and thus the adventure begins which will take him into opium dens, see him arrested for espionage and sentenced to death and get involved with the Chinese resistance movement to the invasion and occupation of Manchuria by the Japanese army.
As usual Tintin deals with everything that is thrown at him with a mixture of bravery, cunning and quite a bit of luck, not to mention the help (and sometimes hindrance) of the ever present Snowy.
The story is complex enough to keep an adult reader interested and at the same time it flows with ease and is so action packed that younger readers will be enthralled. One word of warning for parents of very young children, there is violence in Tintin and some aspects of the story such as those involving the opium dens some might be unsuitable in the view of some. The figure of Tintin in his trademark blue jumper and plus fours is an iconic one and the illustrations of this book in particular are to very high standards with lots of detail for a comic book and great colours.
Hergé has over the years been a controversial figure. Some have accused him of being racist and perpetuating very ignorant stereotypes of many foreign cultures. He was also accused of being a Nazi collaborator during the Nazi occupation of Belgium where Herge lived and worked. These latter claims are almost all unfounded and there is no evidence from his work of this period to substantiate any of the claims.
The writing of 'The Blue Lotus' marked a change in Herge's work, up until this his cultural knowledge was mainly based on what his mentor and editor of the newspaper 'Le Vingtième Siècle' (The Twentieth Century) the abbot Norbert Wallez had told him about. This was mainly a mixture of popular prejudice of the time and stereotypical views about Socialism, the Soviet Union, colonial Africa and the United States which was reflected in the Tintin stories published in the 'Le Petit Vingtième', a supplement to the newspaper. Before he penned this story Hergé announced that it would be set in China, this led to a letter being written by Father Gosset the chaplain to the Chinese students at the University of Leuven urging him to be sensitive about Chinese culture lest he offend the students. Hergé took this advice on boards and later in the year Gosset introduced him to a young art student Chang Ch'ung-jen. The two became close friends, and Zhang introduced Hergé to Chinese culture, and the techniques of Chinese art which can be seen in the drawing featured in the book. Hergé went as far as adding a character Chang Chong-Chen a young orphan boy in the story using him to dispel some commonly held views involving negative cultural stereotypes. This friendship was to last a lifetime and Chang to feature again in another later story set in Tibet.
To his credit and in part due to Chang's influence Hergé does begin in 'The Blue Lotus' to show a much more enlightened attitude to race and other cultures. The sympathetic characters in this book are invariably the oppressed people of colonial powers, the Indian and the Chinese who are resisting Japanese imperialism. The British characters included are also painted in an unflattering light by aligning themselves with the baddies in the story.
Among the action and the many comic moments in the story mostly at the expense of the bungling British detectives the Thomson Twins there is some more serious political comment in this story. Some of the events that take place in the story are based on actual events if rather simplified for the comic. The blowing up of the Japanese owned railway line which Tintin witnesses is based on the real life Murken incident in 1931 when a Japanese act of sabotage is blamed on Chinese terrorist and used by Japan as an excuse to invade Manchuria and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo which they then controlled. It is details like this in the story that elevate Tintin from simply being a children's comic book to something a little more sophisticated.
The drawings in this later colour version of story are crisp and colourful and some of the larger panel are full of interesting detail, you can definitely linger on these to get the best out of them. Hergé was especially talented in expressing comic moments in his art and these scenes are among the best in the story.
In short this book is a delight and should be enjoyed by young and old.
The Adventures of Tintin- 'The Blue Lotus' by Hergé can be bought in paperback (64pages ISBN-10: 1405206160-Translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner) from Amazon.co.uk for £5.99 at the time this review was written.
© Mauri 2011
Summary: One of the best early adventures of Tintin
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