Crom Your Enthusiasm (12)

By: Dan Fox
August 14, 2015

herge tintin

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite fantasy novels from the Thirties (1934–43). Enjoy!

THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | HERGÉ | 1943–44, 1944–48

A group of ethnographers return to Europe from an expedition to Bolivia and Peru. One by one, each falls into a mysterious coma. Shards from a shattered crystal orb cover the floor around their bodies as they’re discovered. All that wakes them from their narcoleptic prison are periodic nightmares and seizures. Can this be the curse of the Inca priest Rascar Capac, “he-who-unleashes-the-fire-of-heaven”?

To find that out you’ll have to read the book. One thing I can tell you is that the production of this adventure of Tintin, Captain Haddock, Snowy and friends was itself interrupted by nightmares for Hergé. It began serialization in 1943, in the Nazi-controlled newspaper Le Soir, but was put on hold due to Hergé‘s health problems. The story resumed for a brief spell until Hergé was accused of collaboration in 1944 and ceased work until he could clear his name. Following his acquittal in 1946, The Seven Crystal Balls picked up from where it left off in the French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants.

The first of a two-part adventure – Prisoners of the Sun is the sequel – The Seven Crystal Balls marks the halfway point in Tintin’s life. The occasionally questionable politics of the early adventures was pushed out of focus during the war years, making way for H. Rider Haggard-style plot and hints of supernatural suspense. This tale, which takes Tintin from Belgium to deepest Peru, would be the last of Hergé’s pure adventure yarns. Tintin’s following escapade, The Land of Black Gold, which began ahead of The Seven Crystal Balls but was cancelled at the outbreak of World War Two, would signal a shift back towards political themes before ultimately moving into his late existential phase.

The Seven Crystal Balls is by-and-large a domestic adventure, much of it it set on Haddock’s Marlinspike estate, which provides contrast with the rugged Andean mountains in Prisoners of the Sun. The story, which shifts effortlessly between slapstick comedy and horror, sees Hergé’s work become more detailed in its execution, his famous ligne claire style underpinned by meticulous research and drawing from life. Two large frames in particular stand out. One depicts a music hall illusionist’s act being disturbed on stage by Haddock, the other shows the seven explorers in a hospital ward experiencing terrifying fits. Both feature an extraordinary depth of focus, peripheral detailing and compositional balance that is cinematic in execution – an artistic vision closer to Citizen Kane than comic book.

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CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): Erik Davis on Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK | Sara Ryan on T.H. White’s THE SWORD IN THE STONE | Mark Kingwell on C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | David Smay on Fritz Leiber’s THIEVES’ HOUSE | Natalie Zutter on Robert E. Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | James Parker on J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | Adrienne Crew on Dion Fortune’s THE SEA PRIESTESS | Gabriel Boyer on Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE stories | John Hilgart on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD | Barbara Bogaev on William Sloane’s TO WALK THE NIGHT | Rob Wringham on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN | Dan Fox on Hergé’s THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | Flourish Klink on C.S. Lewis’s PERELANDRA | Tor Aarestad on L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s THE ROARING TRUMPET | Anthony Miller on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | Suzanne Fischer on E.R. Eddison’s MISTRESS OF MISTRESSES | Molly Sauter on Herbert Read’s THE GREEN CHILD | Diana Leto on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | Joshua Glenn on Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON | Andrew Hultkrans on H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS | Lynn Peril on Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE | Gordon Dahlquist on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME | Adam McGovern on C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | Tom Nealon on Fritz Leiber’s TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE | John Holbo on Robert E. Howard’s CONAN MYTHOS.

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KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | GILL SANS | AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | SHE’S NOT THERE | FAUX DEVANAGARI | FUTURA | JENSON’S ROMAN | SAVANNAH SIGN | TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | KUMON WORKSHEET | ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | DIPLOMA REGULAR | SCREAM QUEEN | CHICAGO | CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | SHATTER | COMIC SANS | WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | GOTHAM.

HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | “That’s the Joint” | “Freedom” | “Rapture” | “The New Rap Language” | “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | “Making Cash Money” | “The Message” | “Pak Jam” | “Buffalo Gals” | “Ya Mama” | “No Sell Out” | “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | “Rockit” | “The Coldest Rap” | “The Dream Team is in the House” | The Lockers.

KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| The joke is on Kirk | Kirk vs. Decker | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Captain Camelot | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | Federation exceptionalism | Wizard fight | A million things you can’t have | Debating in a vacuum | Klingon diplomacy | “We… the PEOPLE” | Brinksmanship on the brink | Captain Smirk | Sisko meets Kirk | Noninterference policy | Kirk’s countdown | Kirk’s ghost | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | How Spock wins

KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | KAMANDI | MACHINE MAN | SANDMAN | THE X-MEN | THE FANTASTIC FOUR | TALES TO ASTONISH | YOUNG LOVE | STRANGE TALES | MISTER MIRACLE | BLACK PANTHER | THOR | JIMMY OLSEN | DEVIL DINOSAUR | THE AVENGERS | TALES OF SUSPENSE | THE NEW GODS | REAL CLUE | THE FOREVER PEOPLE | JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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What do you think?

  1. I would spend what seemed like hours in my pediatrician’s overbooked waiting room with Tintin books — truly the most detailed histories of what didn’t really happen. Look at the way space is deepened and motion extended in that hospital ward scene — my eye reads it as a sequence of the same writhing figure, only in rotation, and clicking one stage at a time. He may have drawn from Citizen Kane, but he tracks a line right to Chris Marker.

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