The white expanses of the Himalayan mountains, the sparseness of the pared down plot and the cast, all come as a welcome antidote to the huge clutter of ideas, characters and slapstick of The Red Sea Sharks, making Tintin in Tibet (even the title has a neat simple alliterative symmetry) a rather atypical adventure, one inspired by a personal crisis - Hergé at this time suffering from nightmares and visions of whiteness - rather than being merely the usual Tintin investigative jaunt through exotic lands meeting interesting characters.
Atypical it might be, but in other ways it's a pure distillation of everything that is great about Hergé's technique - both in terms of the storyline and in terms of the purity of the 'ligne-claire' artwork. Tintin's tenacity to get to the truth is never more driven than here in his desire to travel to Nepal and embark on a seemingly futile expedition in search of his young Chinese friend Chang who has surely perished with the rest of the passengers and crew on a small flight in the Himalayas. Even if he had miraculously survived, a week in the freezing mountains with no food or shelter would certainly have killed him. Yet Tintin is certain that Chang is still alive, having dreamt about him, seeing a vision of the young Chinese boy lying in the snow reaching out to him.
Using a familiar technique of a running joke and a synchronistic series of events - here everyone seems to be tuned into Chang, whether it's the name of a dog or the sound made by someone sneezing - the scene setting for this foolhardy expedition is masterfully laid out by Hergé. More than just being the usual funny coincidences, there's a real sense here of events being premonitory as well as perhaps being related to Tintin's state of mind that has been disturbed by nightmares that seem to be spreading out into the real world. As in the best Hergé Tintin work (The Calculus Affair is a masterclass of such techniques), all of this contributes most effectively to setting a mood, creating other subtle resonances and perhaps even a deep sense of unease that the reader might not even be aware of.
Hergé develops this progressively as the story goes on, taking time to balance it out with humorous incident - often at the expense of Captain Haddock - but even Haddock is tormented by surreal alcohol-fuelled nightmares and individually, Snowy, Tintin and Haddock each very nearly succumb to the perilous dangers of the mountain climb. The pacing, the sense of frame and overall page composition, with magnificent renderings of the desolation of the mountains, the blue-whiteness of the snow and the clear blue skies against which the wrecked plaine is eventually discovered, is simply flawless, all of it contributing to the overall impact, creating indelible images that resonate more than perhaps any other Tintin adventure.
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