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Revisiting Old Ground...
on 11 June 2001
In this story Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus return to San Theodoros, the land of the Arumbayas first visited in "The Broken Ear". General Tapioca has imprisoned Bianca Castafoire and her retinue in an attempt to lure Tintin and friends to Tapiocapolis (the capital of San Theodoros). Unleashing a wave of propoganda he claims Bianca Castafiore is a spy and that a plot to overthrow his government was conceived and planned at Marlinspike (presumably in "The Castafiore Emerald"). Haddock and Calculus travel to San Theodoros to the aid of the Milanese Nightingale (Bianca Castafiore) but Tintin is reluctant at first fearing a trap. His fears are well founded as an old enemy, Colonel Sponsz (from "The Calculus Affair") is waiting to enact his revenge. An adventure ensues during which Tintin helps General Alcazar regain control of San Theodoros again through the use of the costumes of "The Jolly Follies" (a band of performers among whom travels the ubiquitous insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg). The Arumbayas are revisted again also during this adventure.
This was the last complete adventure that Herge created for Tintin ("Tintin and the Alpha-Art" was an incomplete story). "Tintin and the Picaros" was finished in the spring of 1976. Eight years had passed since the previous story "Flight 714" and Herge was in no rush with this story. Tintin was a successful product now and the financial pressures had gone.
Something I found interesting about the story was that many have criticised Herge's political correctness with very early adventures such as "Tintin in the Congo" (which has never been released in it's colour form in England presumably because of fears about this). "Tintin in the Congo" portrays black people in Africa in a somewhat dubious way. To Herge's defense he has claimed that he was merely echoing how society thought then. His peers and people around him did think that Africa was full of savages in the 1930's when the book was created and so he was merely reflecting this. Some have found this claim a weak defense.
But I think that "Tintin and the Picaros" illustrates well how Herge's politics in the stories do reflect thinking around him. In this adventure Tintin sports a motorbike helmet with a CND sticker on it. The way the characters speak in the story is noticeably updated and they sound far more modern. The view of politics in San Theodoros is also a more modern one though no less cynical! In my opinion Herge does reflect attitudes around him - he doesn't create them - at least not conciously (he is only human so some influence from what's around him is always going to creep in).
I was a little disappointed with the return to familiar territory in the form of San Theodoros... I felt perhaps a lot of story was covering already well trodden ground. "The Broken Ear" was written in 1935 and really "Tintin and the Picaros" just revisits many of the same themes but in a more modern way. It's a little like Herge is saying that this was "a unstable country almost in constant revolution in 1935" - and then "here it is again now in the 1970's". The thing is not much has changed. Just the maturity of the writing and the change in thinking (back in 1935 nobody cared if the revolution was bloodless or not!).
Nevertheless, despite these reservations, this is a good Tintin story (if a little predictable) and so again it's as essential as any other to a Tintin fanatic such as myself...! Oh and do be sure to pay special attention to the language of the Arumbayas. It's "knot'llits eems" ;-)