Top positive review
8 people found this helpful
The one with the mummy
on 6 July 2010
There's the temptation to regard the first parts of all the Tintin two-part adventures as lesser scene-setting setting works for the main course - Destination Moon surpassed by the exploits of Explorers on the Moon, The Secret of the Unicorn establishing the adventure in Red Rackham's Treasure, and here with The Seven Crystal Balls clearly being "eclipsed" by the Inca adventures of Prisoners of the Sun. In many ways however there is just as much if not more interest in the earlier parts of these stories, which tend to have a rather more serious tone than is usual in Tintin books whereas their second-halves fall back on the usual exotic adventuring.
This is particularly the case with The Seven Crystal Balls. On the surface, it would seem to be little more than a mature version of the Egyptological themes of one of Hergé's earliest (and consequently most underrated) solo adventures, the hugely entertaining Cigars of the Pharaoh. Once again, the curse of Tutankhamun is evoked in the story of seven scientists who fall into mysterious comas soon after their return from Peru, where they have discovered and unearthed tomb of the legendary Inca King Rascar Capac, removing the mummy from its ancient resting place to take across the ocean for investigation and display in Europe.
The Seven Crystal Balls would seem to be better balanced than the earlier Tintin work in its treatment of the subject of mystic ancient curses, but that doesn't mean that it's necessarily more soberly realistic or any less entertaining as an adventure. If anything, the mystical elements are taken to even greater lengths in The Seven Crystal Balls (the title says it all - the mystic number seven, the telling of dark fortunes), with a tone of dread that is even darker. With greater length to elaborate the story, Hergé masterfully sets up dark premonitions right from the start, as Tintin reads an article about the archaeological discovery in a newspaper on his way to visit the newly aristocratic Captain Haddock in Marlinspike, but it's with a fantastically staged theatre act of audience participation in a mystic seer that raises the tensions considerably as the news of the first victim is dramatically announced.
Not so clearly the victims of a poisonous dart seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, there are however traces of shattered crystal found at the side of each of the seven victims, which suggests that an earthly hand is involved, but Hergé keeps this wonderfully ambiguous with lightning bolts and dream-like states that bring visions of Rascar Capac coming to life and exacting terrible vengeance. It evokes a potent and palpable atmosphere that carries out throughout the book, the usual slapstick much toned-down here, relating only to an incident between Snowy, a cat and Nestor with a tray of drinks. Even there however, if so inclined, you could associate Snowy's pragmatic headlong attack and ignominious defeat at the claws of rather more mystical feline forces of Haddock's pet cat as a further commentary on what is to come.
Regardless, the tone established by Hergé is consistent and masterful throughout The Seven Crystal Balls, and although that tone changes considerably with the journey to South America in Prisoners of the Sun, the two halves are perfectly complementary, creating a whole that is unquestionably one of Hergé's greatest and most accomplished achievements.