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The adventures of Tintin continue down South American way
on 19 July 2004
"The Broken Ear" is an early adventure of Tintin from 1937 where our hero and his faithful terrier companion Snowy go it alone through a series of perilous episodes (there are brief appearances by the Thom(p)sons and Professor Calculus). The title defect belongs to an Arumbaya Fetish at the Museum of Ethnography which is stolen and then mysteriously returned. When Tintin notices the sacred tribal object now has two perfect ears and our hero is quickly in full Sherlock Holmes mode. However, Tintin is not the only one in search of the real fetish as his path starts crossing that of a pair of mysterious figures. After a series of incidents involving the search for a talking parrot, everyone finds themselves on a ship bound South American way for the Republic of San Theodoros, which happens to be where the Arumbaya tribe lives along the banks of the River Coliflor. There Tintin becomes involved in the political turmoil of San Theodoros and eventually gets around to traveling up the jungle river to find the Arumbayas. Meanwhile, poor Snowy finds that his tail becomes a sore point time and time again.
Overall in "The Broken Ear" the mystery takes something of a back seat to the repeated perils faced by Tintin. I went back and counted them up and on average Tintin faces death or severe physical harm once every three pages in this 64-page story. That might not be a record for our intrepid reporter, but it has to be close. This adventure of Tintin has engendered some criticism because of the way Hergé draws a Negro in caricature and I certainly do not want to suggest that a white male European was not representative of the inherent racism of his culture, but I would point out that Hergé, like Edgar Rice Burroughs writing at roughly the same time, relied heavily on stereotypes for many of his characters and that you will find "good" and "bad" types for every race and ethnicity Tintin encounters. Certainly the South Americans Tintin encounters in San Theodoros, with their heavy accents, fiery tempers and tendency towards extreme violence, should be more central to any such critique. Herge also displays some sensitivity towards the native tribes of the area that is rather enlightened. If Tintin engaged in slurs or derogatory comments towards anyone, that would be something different, but our hero only thinks in terms of "good" and "bad," not "white" and "black". "The Broken Ear" is not a great Tintin Adventure, but you can see how the pieces are starting to come together with Hergé 's work.