The Blue Lotus continues Tintin’s Asian adventures, this time taking him deep into China. The story first appeared in strip form between 1934 and 1935 but is set in 1931, at which time the Japanese had a large presence in China and as Tintin discovers, not always a good one. This is the first Tintin story which wasn’t improvised from week to week. While the first few stories seem to finish every few frames on a cliffhanger, The Blue Lotus is a bit more fluid. Herge knew where the story was going and for the first time had planned what was going to happen to Tintin, instead of deciding the morning of the drawing of the strip.
This is also one of the earlier books that doesn’t appear to have been redrawn much, if at all. Tintin is still very round faced, whereas in Cigars, he looks much like the Tintin we know now. Some influence from the early version of Cigars and the earlier books is still obvious. Farr states that “the black and white version which came out in book form in 1936 was already so well thought out and constructed that its adaptation for the new format 10 years later involved little more than colouring.” (page 57). To the casual reader, this slight difference isn’t obvious, but compared to the redrawn Cigars before it and the later books, Herge’s progression is there.
The story starts with Tintin and Snowy still in India with the Maharaja and the gang from Cigars have all been accounted for, apart from one member who disappeared over a cliff and has not been found. Tintin starts the story trying to decipher a code on his wireless transmitter but is unable to make any sense of it. The Maharaja gets a fakir to tell Tintin’s fortune and he is warned of a Chinese man who strangely turns up only a short while later. Before the man can tell Tintin what he needs to, he is struck by a dart dipped in the rajaijah poison used in Cigars, which sends the victims mad. The man manages to give Tintin a name – Mitsuhirato before succumbing to the poison.
Tintin vows to head to China and find Mitsuhirato believing he holds answers. As soon as he arrives in China, a letter from Mitsuhirato is delivered to his room. He meets with Mitsuhirato who advises him to head back to India as soon as possible, but as Tintin is leaving the meeting, he is shot at but rescued by a passer-by who runs away before Tintin can identify him. Later on in his hotel room, he is shot at again through an open window and while chasing after the shooter he is arrested by the police. When reading this sequence, I actually thought Tintin was rather stupid to go running down the road brandishing his gun and not expecting to get in trouble when no one else was in sight. After a clever escape from jail he is sent a disguise and a letter requesting a meeting. He heads to the location, only to find an abandoned house with a man inside who has been injected with the poison.
The next day Tintin decides to head back to India, but during the night is cholorformed and thrown to a passing boat trapped in a box, and episode rather reminiscent of Cigars and the coffins. Waking up, he is confronted by the madman again. The madman was supposed to be guarding Tintin in Shanghai but was injected before he could carry out his job. Wang Chen-yee, the father of the madman and the owner of the house Tintin finds himself in implores Tintin to stay in China. He tells Tintin that Mitsuhirato is a secret agent from Japan who has joined forces with opium dealers and Mr Wang is part of a secret society trying to bring them down.
Later on, Tintin intercepts a message on his radio stating “Blue Lotus ten tonight”. He has finally cracked the clues that escaped him in India and obviously resolves to be there. When there, he listens in on one of Mitsuhirato’s deals and follows him out, watching as he and his henchmen blow up part of a train track. After making a silly mistake (sneezing!) he is caught by Mitsuhirato (who has assumed he was on the way to India) who injects him with the poison. It conspires that the poison has been switched for harmless coloured water by one of Mr. Wang’s helpers who has also tampered with Mitsuhirato’s knife and gun. After a fight in the street, Mitsuhirato reports Tintin to the police and he ends up with a 50,000 yen reward on his head.
Tintin heads back to Shanghai after being smuggled out of the city to escape the bounty after promising Mr. Wang he will find a cure for the poison. While Tintin is showing immense bravery and loyalty, I think he shows immense stupidity at times too. After his friends risk themselves to smuggle him out of the city so he is safe, he heads straight back in with no real plan.
He eventually reaches the International Settlement where he believes he will be safe but is turned away because he has no papers. Several mishaps come to pass and Tintin finds himself yet again with a ransom on his head and faced with execution. Mitsuhirato tries to offer him a deal, asking him to switch to his side and a payment of $10,000 and he will be free. Tintin refuses.
Somehow, he is rescued from prison by Mr. Wang and an accomplice who then smuggles him out of the city once more. Tintin then heads to Hukow and on the way he finds that a flood has destroyed the train track and goes on to rescue a young boy from the river. The young boy is Chang. This name will be important later down the line, so remember it! Chang was based on a real person that Herge met and was a young Chinese student who had come to Belgium to study sculpture at an art school in Brussels. With Chang’s help and advice, Herge tried to make The Blue Lotus an accurate portrayal of China.
From this point on there seems to be a lot of backward and forwarding between Shanghai and other places, which I actually found rather distracting. From this point of view I found Cigars to be a much clearer storyline, even though Tintin does go from one place to another (as he does in many of the books) but there didn’t seem to be as much to-ing and fro-ing.
Eventually the Wangs are captured by Mitsuhirato and it is revealed that Rastapopoulus is the ringleader of the opium gang. Tintin meets him earlier in the story and he seems to give Tintin a push in the right direction, but now this is shown as an obvious red herring. Many lucky coincidences occur and the gang are rounded up, Tintin being once again hailed as a hero.
The end of the series shows Tintin showing true emotion for one of the first times. He cries as he leaves the Wang family who have taken in Chang knowing the change he has made to these people. This is a different slate than the rather indifferent Tintin of the earlier books (see the monkey incident from Congo, for example).
That’s all for now,
Next week: The Broken Ear