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.
HergÃ© 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 "×¢×œ×¢×’×× ×˜" rather than "××œ××’× ×˜". 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, HergÃ© 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 MÃ¼ller'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 MÃ¼ller'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 HergÃ©, 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 "CaÃ¯ffa." 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.