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The Shooting Star is the tenth book in the series of Tintin adventures by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé and was first published in 1942. The story begins with Tintin taking a stroll at night with Snowy and becoming rather perturbed by the unusually warm weather and an extra star in the Great Bear. Even more worryingly, the star seems to be becoming brighter by the second. Tintin visits the Observatory where the eccentric Professor Decimus Phostle tells him that a ball of fire - 'a mass of matter in fusion' - is about to collide with Earth and end all life as we know it. As a doom laden prophet and people gather outside it appears the end is nigh but the shooting star in fact misses the Earth and leaves a large meteorite in the Arctic waters.
Professor Phostle studies a spectroscopic photo taken of the meteor in space and concludes that it contains a new metal - which he plans to call "Phostlite". A scientific expedition is duly launched to the polar regions in the trawler Aurora to find the meteorite with Captain Haddock in command and Tintin and Professor Phostle part of the crew. However, a rival expedition, funded by financier Bohlwinkel from the (fictional) country of São Rico, is also determined to find the precious "Phostlite" and claim it for themselves...
The Shooting Star has a great beginning and a great final section but doesn't always quite maintain these high standards in the middle portion of the book and therefore just misses having a chance of being one of the very best Tintin stories. The opening pages are excellent though with a claustrophobic atmosphere of impending doom as Tintin is led to believe the world might be about to end. It's unbearably hot, tar is melting in the roads, rats have come up from the sewers, a strange star has appeared in the sky, a prophet is irritating him ('Judgement is upon us! Repent! The end of the world is at hand!') and he receives no comfort whatsoever from the wonderfully geriatric and eccentric characters at the Observatory where a huge telescope is trained at the sky to monitor these troubling developments.
When the world doesn't end as predicted, Professor Phostle is more annoyed that the calculations of one of his assistants were off than inclined to celebrate! Only the discovery of the new metal perks him up again and he amusingly decides to celebrate by asking Tintin to buy some sweets - which may or may not be a reference to the rationing of the time when little luxuries we take for granted now really were luxuries then. This strange and unsettling beginning - which echoed the uncertain and fearful atmosphere of 1941/42 when the story was written and illustrated - eventually gives way though to a more conventional story until the highly inventive and enjoyable climax.
The middle section is still a lot of fun at times after a slightly tiresome bit where the nutty prophet sneaks onboard and climbs up a mast. The scientific minds onboard struggle to find their sea legs and are drawn green to indicate sea sickness and there is a running battle of wits between Snowy and the chef, with Snowy usually winning. 'Hey, steward,' says Captain Haddock at lunch. 'What's the meaning of this? The menu says sausages and mash! Where are the sausages?' I did enjoy the moment where Tintin ventures on deck in a storm and finds Haddock perfectly happy and content at the wheel in his waterproofs as rain lashes the ship. 'A gale?' says the Captain. 'What an idea! A mere draught, that's all.' Haddock here is revealed to be President of the Society for Sober Sailors by his old friend Captain Chester but naturally still has more than his fair share of whisky in the story. Tintin uses the Captain's weakness for alcohol in an amusing way to help them compete with the rival expedition.
In the original version of The Shooting Star the rival expedition and baddies derived from the United States. This was later all changed to the fictitious country of São Rico after the war. The crooked financier was originally named Blumenstein but even with a name change still skirts very close to caricature. Charges of anti-Semitism have therefore been leveled at Hergé over the years and The Shooting Star is seen to have a troubling political subtext for some with the Tintin expedition said to represent the Axis Powers against the New World. It's difficult to know what the author did or did not intend but the book was written when Belguim was under occupation and art was carefully controlled. Later, in books like The Castafiore Emerald, Hergé stood up for minorities like Europe's gypsy communities and also often had German villains.
The story picks up towards the end when the race to claim the meteorite - which is like a small island sticking out of the water - becomes more intense. The strange properties have given it some alarming qualities with lifeforms - including mushrooms, flies and (gulp) a spider - suddenly growing much larger than they are supposed to be. This surreal conclusion to The Shooting Star moves the story into science fiction territory and includes some great art of giant apples, exploding mushrooms and the island gradually sinking into the sea. This science gone mad strand gives the book an exciting and unusual final third that is highly enjoyable.
The Shooting Star is a good entry in the series on the whole and the opening pages are some of the most interesting and effective of Hergé's long career. The story can't quite sustain this excellence for its entire duration but it's still a pretty solid one and wraps up in memorable fashion. The art is very colourful and inventive at times, there are plenty of amusing moments and while you are never in any doubt that Tintin and his friends will survive the sabotage attempts the book does generate a good deal of tension in the frantic final panels.