Right from the moment that Tintin breaks the fourth wall on the cover, you know you’re in for something unusual with The Castafiore Emerald. It’s a volume unlike any other in the Tintin series. Essentially, it’s about nothing.
Poor Captain Haddock receives an unexpected visit from the opera singer Bianca Castafiore, whom he detests. Then one of her emeralds go missing. With such a simple plot, it’s a marvel that Hergé is able to keep his story moving. Yet The Castafiore Emerald has a mystery that keeps you guessing right until the end (I won’t give any spoilers away here).
As a writer, Hergé was always a playful and cunning storyteller, something that is reflected in his pen name. Hergé comes from George Remi’s initials reversed (RG) and then written as they would be pronounced in French.
Once you discover the solution to the conumdrum in this story, you can’t help but think that it was staring you in the face. Hergé puts plenty of clues on the page so there’s no real excuse for not spotting the culprit. The reason why it’s hard to do so is because this book is all about suspicion, and people’s capacity for throwing it on the innocent through laziness, stupidity, and blatant prejudice.
Published in 1963, it’s a late story in the Tintin series. It’s the sort of book that you can only write if you have a successful lead character with a large following. However, by this stage, Hergé is only keeping up a pretence that Tintin is the hero. The character that really interests him is Captain Haddock, who has almost completely taken over the role of the protagonist. With good reason.
Captain Haddock may well be the finest comic character ever. Almost permanently angry, he is on a hair trigger, which is not surprising considering his daytime whisky intake. Despite his irascibility, we love him because he is utterly courageous and has a heart of gold. What a model he is too for Hergé’s art. Look at all the emotions Haddock goes though here, all represented with the deceptively simple ligne claire style:
The weird thing about Tintin and Haddock is that even though they are best friends and live in the same house, in the original French they address each other with the formal vous form of you, rather than the familiar tu. That is perhaps one of the few signs that this story comes from another age. It’s fifty years old but you barely notice that as you sit back and relax in a primary colour world of adventure, mystery … and farce.