· Posted: 4 Nov 2004 13:52
Over the years, I've come to see Emerald as one of my favourite Tintin books, but things were pretty different when I first read it at the age of about 10 or 11. It was the last one of the books that I read (at least, before I became aware that Congo and Blue Lotus hadn't then been translated), as it was the one that none of our local bookshops ever seemed to have a copy of. Going by the thumbnails on the back covers of the other books, I sort of imagined it to be an exciting whiz-bang jewel robbery tale, probably set around a TV studio. When I finally got hold of a copy, I was more than a little underwhelmed. It's been described as "Tintin Stays At Home", or "the one where nothing happens", and that was my feeling then!
These days, I love the more relaxed feel, and all the local colour added. In the previous books, we never really found out much about Marlinspike as a place, but here there's loads of lovely little details in there. In terms of the plot, it is played out rather like a stage farce. In some ways, it's more a Haddock story than a Tintin adventure. Most of the "action" concerns the Captain's frustrations, and the way his desire for a quiet life is constantly thwarted; by the unreliable stonemason, his injury, Castafiore, reporters, TV crews, bees... and of course that wretched parrot! Tintin of course does all the crucial plot advancing bits of the book, but for much of it, the Captain takes centre stage.
The Prof also gets a good showing, with his new-found interest in horticulture, and a great bonkers invention in the form of his colour TV gadget. I love the way in which that one frame on page 50 is drawn to show the effect it has on everybody! His obvious infatuation with Castafiore is quite touching as well - he's probably got more than one motive for going to Milan at the end ;)
The great diva herself comes into her own here, her previous appearances being, in the main, cameos, with her popping up for a few pages to get our heroes out of a fix. Has to be said though, that in some ways, it's not a very sympathetic characterisation! She's vain and self-obsessed (her generous gift of one of her own records to Tintin), none too clever ("...Henry the Tenth, is it not?"), and something of a tyrant on the side (Mr. Wagner seems more than a little scared of her). On the other hand, we can share the Captain's glee as she demolishes Wagg with a few well-placed words, and there's some fantastic satire in her dealings with the press. Her lack of concern at the "exclusive" that she and the Captain are to be wed is very nicely contrasted with Haddocks's dismay and anger.
On the whole, I think Emerald is a brave attempt to do something which pushes the boundries of Tintin stories, though I can't help wondering what the readers of Tintin Magazine thought during the original serialisation. Probably spent a lot of the time wondering when a grotesque villain or fiendish deathtrap were going to put in an appearance! (Well, they had to wait until the next story, in which they got plenty of both!) In some ways, I see it as Tintin's own variant on the James Bond films' On Her Majesty's Secret Service ; a change of direction, which seems to have been somewhat low-regarded in comparison with the rest of the series, but which has become much more appreciated as the years have gone on!