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Land of Black Gold: The four versions

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#1 · Posted: 7 Jun 2004 04:22
As someone who lived in Israel for a year, I am very curious to read the original (or, technically, second) version of "Land of Black Gold" in which Tintin arrives in Haifa in then-British Palestine.

I once held the book in my hands -- at a bookstore in Lyon, France -- but at a price tag of around 5,000 francs there was no way I could afford it. (And I thought reading it then and there would be tasteless).

Has anyone read it? Is the fictional Khemed involved, or does the entire story play out in British Palestine? If Tintin leaves the country, how does he do so and where does he go? What's Müller's role? Is Ben Kalish Ezab there (I know Bab el-Ehr is)?
Trivia Challenge Score Keeper
#2 · Posted: 7 Jun 2004 09:40
There are actually four versions of "Black Gold":
1 - The "Petit Vingtième" version from 1939-40
2 - The "Tintin" magazine verson from 1948-50
3 - The first colour edition from 1950 (the magazine version with some cuts)
4 - The second revised colour edition from 1971.

I assume you're referring to the third version, as the second version has never (to my knowledge) been commercially available - though who knows about pirate editions?
The good news is that it is now readily available as a facsimile edition from Casterman, which you should be able to order from any good French bookshop on the Web.
#3 · Posted: 7 Jun 2004 14:47
Thanks so much for that! I had no idea about the re-edition... I just went online this morning and ordered it from Fnac. In French, obviously, but that's fine with me.
#4 · Posted: 13 Jun 2004 17:35
Okay, my copy arrived this weekend and I sat down to read it. This version left me with far more questions than answers!

I don't know how many people here have read it, but let me give you a quick synopsis of the difference and then ask a couple questions that maybe someone can help me with.

Essentially the only real difference from the 1971 version is that Tintin arrives at Haifa (in what is now northern Israel) instead of Khemikhal. When he gets off the "Speedol Star," there are Hebraic signs on the shop windows.

Hergé is a little inaccurate here... his signs are all foreign words transliterated into the Hebrew alphabet -- for instance, the second sign shown says the English word "Elegant" -- which is normal enough, except that the transliteration is Yiddish phonetics, not Hebrew. He messes up the letter 'ayin, but he writes it as "עלעגאנט" rather than "אלאגנט". Yiddish is a Germanic language which happens to use the Hebrew alphabet, but it is not Hebrew, the language of Palestinian Jews (later Israelis). Much as how English and French use the same alphabet but are different languages. Granted, modern Hebrew was still a young language in 1948, so use of the Yiddish system for phonetic transliteration may have been more common then than it is now, but Zionism has always frowned on the use of Yiddish.

I suspect that, in his famous collection of clippings, Hergé merely had a sample of Hebrew lettering, and mistook it for the Hebrew language.

Anyway, Tintin is captured -- not by Bab El Ehr's forces as in the later version -- but by three members of the Irgun, an underground Jewish group who fought British control of Palestine in the 1940s. The group has mistaken Tintin for one of their own, Salomon Goldstein, who bears a similar hairstyle. Upon realizing their error, they decide to go to their base anyway and take it from there.

They hit an Arab ambush along the way, however (and they are rightly referred to simply as 'Arabs,' since the term 'Palestinian' for an Arab Palestinian wasn't yet in use), and this time it is Bab El Ehr's forces, who also mistake Tintin for Goldstein. They abduct him and -- so it seems -- turn the Irgun members into the British authorities, as they next appear in the offices of the British mandate with handcuffs on. I'd love to think that this non-violent outcome could really have happened, but in truth, the three would almost certainly have been gunned down on the spot.

Bab El Ehr is no longer just a power-hungry sheikh as in the 1971 edition. Rather, he is an Arab resistance leader battling British rule as well (and the Jewish Palestinians too, who were trying to establish a state). The insults he hurls at the British are gone in the 1971 version, obviously.

Interestingly, in the scene where the British (later Khemedite) plane flies overhead, dropping leaflets, Bab El Ehr is far more concerned about the contents of the leaflets (which are never revealed) than he is in 1971. In 1950, he shouts to his henchman, "Tell the others that whoever reads one of those papers shall be shot on the spot!" But in 1971, he merely laughs them off, saying "My men can't read!"

Also, Bab El Ehr has no oil interests. In Müller's forged letter, he is said merely to want the Emir to stop trading with an unnamed British-owned oil company, merely because it's British (neither "Arabex" nor "Skoil" are ever mentioned). Apparently Müller's unnamed company, presumably German, was supposed to be preferable.

Though Bab El Ehr's anti-British motives may seem to have a more noble quality than mere control of an emirate, he is not a sympathetic character, as he still won't release Tintin despite the latter's having nothing to do with his conflict, and leaves him to perish in the desert.

From that point on, the story is mostly the same as 1971, except that no mention of Khemed is ever made! So this leads to the obvious question...

Where on earth is it taking place? The easy answer is British Palestine, of course, but then there are some huge discrepancies:

1) Who is the Emir? There are no emirates within the boundaries of British Palestine, obviously... is he just supposed to be a local warlord with loyal followers in his own corner of the country? (After all, Wadesdah is described as a "small town," not his "capital.") But then...

2) There's no oil in historic Palestine! Not in Israel, not in the Territories, not in Jordan. Is this merely an oversight by Hergé, or is the oil battle actually supposed to take place well outside the territory of those areas, in what would really be Iraq or Saudi Arabia? i.e. Did Tintin, while wandering through the desert, somehow cross the border into a neighboring country before meeting the Emir? Why isn't this clear? If so, what is Bab El Ehr's rivalry with the Emir if they inhabit two different countries?

3) If Khemed is not mentioned until 1971, what happened in The Red Sea Sharks, written in the 1950s, when Tintin goes back to the Middle East? In my version he certainly says it's Khemed, but is there an older edition where they leave the area ambiguous? If so, how come no one ever talks about this edition? And where are we supposed to presume it is? Israel? Not a chance that in 1950s Israel you'd have some emir and some sheikh battling for control of a country neither one rules...

I can't answer question 3, but the rest of the puzzle leads me to believe that the 1950s version wasn't really supposed to be set in British Palestine. (The word "Palestine" never does come up, for what it's worth). In the black and white version, even Haifa was substituted by the fictional "Caïffa." It seems this is another, unnamed, corner of the Middle East that also happens to have a Zionist movement.

Farfetched as that may sound, Haifa just seems chosen arbitrarily as a familiar name. Tintin is in a huge desert -- and oil-producing territory -- almost immediately upon leaving the city. The real Haifa is surrounded by greenery, not desert, and there's no oil to be found.

Any thoughts?
#5 · Posted: 13 Jun 2004 18:35
That is a fascinating piece of thinking there! Well done!! I know nothing of the politics, so I can’t fault you; your reasoning is excellent.

In regard to the Yiddish, would you say that the words Hergé uses are largely real and appropriate (allowing for his confusion over letters)? I just wonder if he might have copied them down from shops and business premises in Brussels? It might be that the originals he copied from contained the spelling mistakes - many signs in English suffer from poor spelling, incorrect punctuation; add into that the problems people sometimes have painting on glass, and that might lie at the root of it.

Once again, thanks for the thought provoking piece - I’d vote that it gets moved to the essay section!
#6 · Posted: 14 Jun 2004 10:58
Nice bit of info there! Great research

Also in one of the books (i forget which one) an Arab gets annoyed at Tintin and yells at him in Arabic, Snowy tells him something along the lines that it's too rude to be spoken in English. Anyone know/remember what he says?

Trivia Challenge Score Keeper
#7 · Posted: 14 Jun 2004 14:32
That would probably be Bab El Ehr on page 18 of "Land of Black Gold" - the sheik shouts something like "Damn your father, you coward... Damn you, you Bedouin!". Snowy replies "Such language!... Don't listen to him, Tintin... even in Arabic!"
I believe in the original pre-1971 versions Bab El Ehr called them "English dogs" (chiens d'Anglais).
#8 · Posted: 14 Jun 2004 14:36
Yeh Ed, that's the one. It's a shame, I thought it'd be much stronger than that

#9 · Posted: 14 Jun 2004 15:07
In regard to the Yiddish, would you say that the words Hergé uses are largely real and appropriate (allowing for his confusion over letters)? I just wonder if he might have copied them down from shops and business premises in Brussels? It might be that the originals he copied from contained the spelling mistakes - many signs in English suffer from poor spelling, incorrect punctuation;

Oh, there aren't spelling mistakes per se. (Well, like I said, he kinda messed up one of the letters, but that's understandable). It's just that the spelling used shows that these are English words transliterated into Yiddish -- not Hebrew, as they almost certainly would have been. (Actually, for all I know, it might not even be a transliteration of English... because both are Germanic languages, a lot of English and Yiddish words are similar).

For instance, take the name of a foreign country like Cameroon. The name is obviously derived from a tribal language, but when transliterated into English we write it with a double-o, whereas in French it's written "Cameroun," because 'oo' does not work in French. So if you saw a shop window that said "Cameroun," you'd know that it was 'in French,' even if the word itself is neither English or French. See what I mean?

So in that sense, I do think that either Hergé had clippings of Yiddish, or else -- as you say -- he grabbed something from a shop window in Brussels (although Bruxellois Jews would probably put their shop windows in French, I would think... they were quite assimilated).

Thinking about this further, though, I think Hergé indeed got a Hebrew source for the first sign. It's not in front of me now, but it too is an English word, saying "blossom" (or, by Hebrew phonetics, it could also be "blussum," but that wouldn't make sense), preceded by another word with a hyphen (Hebrew goes right to left, keep in mind), which, though you can only see part of it, looks like it'd be Hebrew too. So it's really only the "elegant" sign which is definitely Yiddish phonetics.

The third sign, seen backward on the window of the boss's shop, is only a few letters, so you can't really tell what it might say.

Also in one of the books (i forget which one) an Arab gets annoyed at Tintin and yells at him in Arabic, Snowy tells him something along the lines that it's too rude to be spoken in English. Anyone know/remember what he says?

In the 1950 edition, it's in fake Arabic. Just Arabic-looking letters, but nothing real. In the 1971 edition, Hergé updated these arabesque scripts into real letters (like on the cover), so it's probably something real then. My copy's in Vancouver (and I don't actually understand Arabic!), so unfortunately I can't say much more than that.

But back to my original questions? Can anyone say who/where the Emir is supposed to be in the 1950 edition? Or how Khemed comes to be mentioned in "The Red Sea Sharks" even though it hadn't been a few years earlier in "Land of Black Gold"?
Harrock n roll
#10 · Posted: 16 Jun 2004 15:37
Many thanks to Jyrki for raising some very interesting points concerning 'Land of Black Gold'. Sorry for this tardy reply but my laptop has conked out (temporarily I hope) so I'm a bit behind.

Some time ago I undertook an English translation of the 1939-40 Le Petit Vingtième version as a pet project. In the course of some "research" on the book I uncovered a few interesting things - all of my notes are on the conked out laptop! - but I'll attempt to add what I can remember.

As Jyrki pointed out, the geographical locality of the first 2 versions does become complicated under close scrutiny. In the 1939 version the port of call is Caiffa, the name for Haifa given by Crusaders in the 12th century. Perhaps Hergé was attempting to disguise it or was pulling his punches on a political level. The Irgun are not referred to directly in the original, but the story is quite clearly set in the British Mandate of Palestine with kilted soldiers and all the rest.

In the 1950 version Khemed is not mentioned by name, although the emir tells Tintin that Professor Smith's castle is in Wadesdah, the capital. The castle looks very much like a crusader's fort and in Michael Farr's Complete Companion there is a photo shown from Herge's archives of a similar fort in Yemen.

Also, I have a theory that Hergé was attempting a kind of symmetry in the original version. The name for the breakdown company is Simoun (a fairly common French name and rhyming nicely with "Boum!"). In the very final page (not published in Le Petit V. because of the invasion of Belgium) Tintin is tied up and abandoned in the desert by Müller and seeing the oncoming wind he cries out "Le Simoun!". This leads to another geographical error; the Simoun is a Saharan desert wind (setting our story now somewhere in North Africa!) - Hergé revises this in 1950 to the Khamsin, the Saudi desert wind, losing the symmetry unfortunately - or maybe fortunately for Hergé considering his mistake and that it was never published!

Obviously, Hergé was just rolling along with the story without taking too much care in the attention to detail that was his trademark. For 'The Red Sea Sharks' Herge sketched a map of Khemed and it's surroundings in order to trace our hero's route and give it more geographical reality. It's reproduced in Benoît Peteer's book 'Tintin and the World of Hergé.' With the revisions that he made for the English publishers in 1969 the story makes much more geographical sense and apparently he was much more pleased with it, obviously he knew his mistakes.

Personally I think despite it's shortcomings (and short length), the original has a great flow with none of the complications of the impending war or Haddock's involvement and it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. In the scene where the British (anglais) drop leaflets, and Bab-el-ehr orders his men not to read them, Tintin carefully sneaks one into his pocket. We don't get to see the development of this and more frustratingly we don't get to find out how Tintin was to get out of his predicament in the last drawn pages. The Thom(p)sons had already crashed into the mosque and were thrown in jail without meeting Tintin in the desert as they did in the later versions. Maybe Khemed wouldn't have featured at all and it would have continued in a vague Saudi Arabia or Iraq or back in the British Palestine Mandate - it could have been very different...


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