Posted - September 4, 2011 | Updated: August 23, 2015
Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh
The Adventures of Tintin are a series of twenty-four books published from 1930 to 1986. The tales are from the mind and talent of Herge, the pen name for Georges Remi, a Belgian artist. There is something strange and wonderful about these books that you must check out for yourself : They emanate happiness. That's right. Reading a Tintin comic, I've become aware of a subtle yet undeniable shift in my temperament. A feeling of lightness, a joyful feeling. Maybe it's the clean, attractive art or the colors or the way the story unfolds, or, more likely, the way Herge combines all these elements; but it's undeniable, reading Tintin is a happy way to pass the time.
In the entries that follow, join me for adventures of wonder that we will not soon forget.
Cigars of the Pharaoh is a sweeping story that will take you from the Mediterranean Sea to the sands of Egypt, to the Saudi Coast, then on to the jungles of India.
It all starts with a cruise. A delightful enough vacation for the reporter Tintin. But his dog, Snowy, is bored. Not to worry, destiny will soon give Snowy more than he bargained for.
A terrible thing happens to Tintin, but before we get into that, there is something we should take note of. Here Tintin bumps into one of those 'difficult' people.
Let's leave it at that for the moment; we'll come back to this later. For now, the terrible thing that happens to Tintin.
Yes, somebody has planted heroin in Tintin's cabin and he is accused and arrested for attempting to smuggle narcotics. It's important to appreciate the seriousness of this circumstance which could potentially result in a very long prison sentence or some such. Step out of the comic for a bit, and think about yourself in the same situation: Taking a cruise then accused of being a drug smuggler. This is the type of thing that stops your life in its tracks; puts everything on hold. Money doesn't matter, nothing matters, you make every phone call and ask help from everyone you know. This is something that you have to get out of. It's important to consider this, for a point I'm about to make later. Right now its enough to recognize that Tintin is in a major life situation that would have crushed most of us if we were to be in it.
The ship's hold, or storage room, becomes Tintin's makeshift prison as the ship makes a stop in a nearby port - part of the Mediterranean tour package. Tintin escapes this prison by hailing a passing dinghy and sneaking out of the porthole with Snowy.
Now in Egypt, he accompanies Professor Sarcophagus on an expedition.
At one point Tintin and Snowy stumble on an underground room full of mummies.
These mummies are the previous explorers who have tried to find this archaeological site. There are some aspects of these panels that are curious - to say the least. First of all, why are the sarcophagi displayed standing up and uncovered? and why do the mummies inside look like they are still very much alive with there faces exposed? And most importantly, why are there pre-prepared - and labeled - sarcophagi waiting for Tintin, the Professor and poor Snowy? It's all pretty absurd until it becomes brilliant. These silly little panels are invitations to reading with a spirit of whimsy, They are asking us, the readers, not to take the tale too seriously. Have a little fun, relax, accept the wonder of this tale.
Shortly after this, the next great disaster happens to Tintin. He is drugged, put inside a sarcophagus and thrown out to sea. He finds himself floating in the middle of nowhere as a storm builds up. Once again, note the seriousness of the situation. This is even more serious than the drug smuggling incident. Tintin himself is convinced he's not going to survive this.
But survive he does - rescued by the crew of a passing ship.
Here let's take a moment to meet one of those interesting characters one finds in the pages of a Tintin book. We have before us a wondrous salesman, Senior Oliveira da Figueira. He's a trader who illustrates for us the potential for wealth of simply transporting one good from one part of the world to the other. Even Tintin is not immune to his sales pitch.
But the most amazing thing is when our intrepid trader makes landfall on the Arabian Coast.
He sets up a set of giant speakers to communicate to potential buyers that goods are available.
And they come running
Once again, the magic (and wealth building potential) of doing one simple thing: transporting goods from one land to the other.
While hiking the rocky outcroppings of Arabia, our hapless Tintin is set upon and kidnapped by brigands. Now here's a surprising panel. The leader of the brigands is actually a fan of Tintin and brings out a Tintin comic to prove it.
Really nice touch.
So here we have Tintin free once more and given a horse by his admiring host. He's going along and finds a woman in distress. He jumps in to save the day only to find out that he's interrupting a photo shoot. And who did the Director turn out to be? The 'difficult person' he bumped into during his sea cruise. But this time the old curmudgeon has changed his tune.
There is a spot of wisdom in this for all of us. How many times have we bumped into someone who was just in the ghastliest of behaviors. I've met some of these people and, to this day, I have the worst opinion of them. But Herge is right, people have bad days and its simply incorrect to judge them based on one incident. I find the side story with the Director very comforting. "I'm' sorry I lost my temper!" - isn't that a great thing to say?
Here Tintin stumbles into tragedy number three. He goes back to the ship that rescued him only to discover that they are gun smugglers. He is trapped on board and discovered by the officials looking for him because of the drug smuggling charge he was framed for. The intrepid Tintin manages to stage an escape! And fails! But Lady Luck isn't finished with him yet - a 'misunderstanding' about a grenade allows him to try for a successful escape this time. Once again note the utter desperation of the circumstance where this to happen to you or I.
What follows is a dizzying wave of troubles and rescues.
Tintin is in the desert once more but his water supply is lost, both he and Snowy wander around desperate for water; at the last moment, they find an oasis . . . and a town. Here is a great illustration of the desert town.
The town is in a state of war and every male is being mobilized, including Tintin! Our reporter can't help but snoop around causing him to be accused of spying and be condemned to death! Tintin is promptly taken out and shot!
Happily, the authorities who have been hunting him because of the drug charge have become aware of his innocence and have bribed the town officials to use blanks for Tintin's execution. This is the closest our hero has come to really checking out so far. Once again note how serious the series of situations are if it happens to you or I.
Tintin manages to steal a plane and escape yet again; this time flying all the way through the middle east to crash in the jungles of India.
In a truly whimsical turn, Tintin manages to fashion a trumpet of sorts and learns how to talk to the elephants. Here he is asking for a bath.
In an amazing circumstance , Tintin encounters Professor Sarcophagus once again. The Professor has now been rendered quite mad. Tintin takes the Professor and they come upon an English house in India to which they are received as guests. At one point, Tintin encounters a curious object in this house.
This object reportedly given by a fakir meaning a 'religious beggar'. I recall that Churchill once referred to Gandhi as a 'fakir'.
This fakir is to make his entrance the next day with feats of hypnotism that renders meek Professor Sarcophagus into a would be killer. Lucky for Tintin, the Professor proves to be a blundering assassin. At long last, Tintin begins to unearth what is happening. His frame-up and every subsequent incident is the work of a drug smuggling syndicate using the Egyptian desert as a base.
Both the Professor and another chap, a poet named Zloty, have been rendered mad by mysterious darts. Here Tintin takes both to a hospital. I love the illustration of the vintage car speeding along a dirt road through the Indian forest.
In another crazy twist we have the drug syndicate, through their agent, the fakir, arrange things so that Tintin is admitted while the two crazies are allowed to drive off! See for yourself.
Trapped once again, Tintin manages to escape once again but this time he gets separated from Snowy.
Snowy is off to his own adventure were we find him attacking a cow. Since cows are sacred in India, Snowy is trussed up and about to be sacrificed to the goddess Siva.
Siva or Shiva the Destroyer is an Indian god that stands for the destructive power of the universe. But here the choice is simply made because of the striking statue of Siva - very popular in Western adaptations that want to call up the mysterious appeal of India. Here's another Shiva statue.
Tintin, wandering in the jungle, gets caught in a tiger trap. And here's another wonderfully whimsical development : A full-grown tiger jumps into a giant basketful of people on top of an elephant. Now something like this happens in the real world, everybody in the basket is dead unless they jump out really fast. What we have happen here is Tintin manages to wrestle the tiger into a straightjacket. Once again, we have Herge reminding us to keep the spirit of whimsy when reading his work.
The man who owns the elephant is the Maharaja of Gaipajama, the overseer of this part of India, and a great enemy of the drug smuggling syndicate. It turns out that the Maharajah is already the third in succession, his father and brother having succumbed to a strange madness which Tintin immediately recognizes as the same one that was inflicted on Professor Sarcophagus and Mr. Zloty by the fakir. He informs the Maharajah of this and a defense is agreed upon. Before we leave the sumptuous palace of the Maharajah I would like to present two panels by Herge that are delightfully detailed, reflecting the exotic palace - pay attention to the backgrounds.
While tracking the fakir, Tintin discovers a hidden pathway. And here we are once again invited to keeping a sense of fun by Herge who introduces us to the drug smuggling syndicate. Not the fearsome, bloody-handed group that they should be but a group of purple-robed blunderers.
They have a bit of a problem. Having been made aware of a traitor in their midst (Tintin); they have to reveal him without taking off their secretive hoods. One by one each member is asked to come to the leader to whisper the secret password as a proof of membership. Unfortunately, one of them forgets the password, remembers it suddenly, then blurts it out for everyone to hear - ruining the secret. It's a fun meeting full of these tremendous silliness. It could only end one way: With Tintin being able to knock out every single member of the syndicate.
Then we are in a mountain car chase, as the Maharajah's son is kidnapped by the leader of the drug smugglers and our old friend, the fakir. It all ends very badly for the villains. Mysteriously, we never see who the ringleader really is as he falls off the mountainside.
The celebrations can now begin. Herge gives us a gorgeous panel.
Now for the meaning of the title of this tale : Cigars of the Pharaoh. It turns out that the opium smugglers hid the drugs inside cigars with this brand and insignia.
The cigars were stored underneath ancient Egyptian tunnels; that is why every archeologist to discover the site was, in turn mummified, lest they discover the drug smuggling ring.
And now we come to why I was noting down every troublesome situation that Tintin ever got into in this story. Some piece of wisdom is contained for all of us in the pages of this comic. It can be discovered by how Tintin reacts to problems. He's no stoic, Tintin isn't. He was troubled when locked up on the hold on suspicion of drug smuggling; downright distraught when lost on the high seas and evidently scared out of his mind when condemned to be executed in the desert. No, Tintin is no believer in denying his emotions, he feels them; this is already a big lesson for most of us, specially those who try to 'keep feelings bottled up'. Let yourself feel what you are feeling; don't deny it. Now here is what Tintin doesn't do - he doesn't let his imagination make the situation worse than it is. How many of us, finding ourselves in dire straits, think up of so many scenarios that we end up scaring ourselves more than the situation warrants? Rather than engage in this useless activity, Tintin tends to look around for items he can use, situations he can exploit. Maybe a small boat passing nearby, or a rope to keep him and Snowy together in the deep ocean, or a straightjacket for a tiger even. Tintin uses the situation to help himself. No sitting down and bewailing his fate. Tintin reflects continuing faith in life shown by his willingness to go with the situation. And did you notice his level of focus? No matter whether he was in the coast of Arabia or the jungles of India, conscripted as a soldier, held as a hostage, Tintin was focused on getting to the bottom of the mystery. Feeling emotions as they arise; looking at the situation soberly refusing to exaggerate the ills of the moment; trusting life to be helpful; keeping constant focus on our goal. At the heart of the beautifully drawn tale and sweeping adventure is great wisdom for living life.