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Tintin on the track of unknown animals
on 7 August 2015
“Tintin in Tibet” is one of the most popular Tintin comics. It's the only Tintin album ever to be translated to Tibetan, and has received a posthumous prize from the Dalai Lama. It was published in 1958-60, exactly when the crisis over Tibet's relationship to China culminated. The Western Yeti craze probably culminated at pretty much the same time. Nepal, where part of the plot is set, had also been in the media lime light due to a certain expedition on Mount Everest…
Personally, I consider “Tintin in Tibet” so-so. The story contains too much slapstick and blistering barnacles for my taste, but I admit that the central plot is interesting. Tintin and crazy old Archibald Haddock travel to Nepal and Tibet in search for Chang, an old friend of Tintin believed to be dead after a plane crash in the Himalayas. In reality, Chang is alive…but not quite well, having been abducted by the Abominable Snowman!
As far as I know, this is Hergé's only foray into cryptozoology. Hergé was a friend of Bernard Heuvelmans, the “father” of cryptozoology, and discussed the Yeti issue with him. He also interviewed a mountaineer who claimed to have seen the beast in situ. In Hergé's version, the Yeti is described as lonely and misunderstood, rather than dangerous. There are obvious parallels to the gorilla in “The Dark Island”. Although our heroes manage to rescue Chang, the story nevertheless ends on a pessimistic note, with Tintin expressing fear that the Yeti might be caught (and killed?) by some of the expeditions looking for him...
Telepathy, Tibetan Buddhism and levitating monks are all part of the story, and the Sherpa character Tharkey is apparently based on a real person (sic), but the political angle is noticeable by its complete absence. The Chinese presence in Tibet isn't mentioned at all, and the difference between Nepal and Tibet isn't all that clear to the undiscerning reader. Apparently, the story has recently been published in China!
In the end, I give “Tintin in Tibet” three stars.