The Broken Ear is one of the books that I’m not that familiar with, as I’ve only owned a copy for the last few weeks. I have read it in the past, but it obviously didn’t make much of an impact then as I can remember hardly anything of it. One of the reasons it may not have made an impact is that it’s more political than perhaps the others leading up to this point have been, or that I don’t think the story is that exciting.
Inspired partly by the war between Bolivia and Paraguay between 1932 and 1935 and partly by an object Herge saw in the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, The Broken Ear is another book that seems to jaunt all over the place, with the true objective of the book – finding the fetish – being forgotten at some points.
We start Tintin’s part of the story in his flat at 26 Labrador Road and according to Farr this is the first time we properly see Tintin’s home. We also see several Chinese artefacts around the house, perhaps as reminders of the last adventure. He partakes in an excercise programme on the radio, something that was both a real occurence and very modern at that point, as the broadcasts had begun in 1935, the same year that The Broken Ear begun serialisation. (page 61)
As soon as Tintin hears of the disappearance of the fetish he heads straight to the museum to try and get some more information and then heads back home to do some research. For once we are seeing Tintin doing his actual job! The next day the fetish has been returned with a note saying that the theft was for a bet but Tintin can see that this fetish is a fake, the original had – wait for it – a broken ear! After an artist is seemingly murdered and after many japes involving a parrot that Tintin wants to take evidence from (yes, really!) Tintin ends up at the home of Alonso Perez who has the parrot and is also trying to get information from it. Tintin overhears the parrot saying “Rodrigo Tortilla, you’ve killed me” and hears the two men discussing Tortilla’s supposed whereabouts. They soon discover Tortilla has fled for South America but that the boat has been prevented from sailing due to a strike. Tintin has… well I wasn’t sure where he was supposed to be at this point, but we’ll pick up with him again shortly.
The men spend the next three pages trying to work out what disguise Tintin has used to hide himself on the boat too (how they knew he’d be on there I wasn’t quite sure). When a ship steward unwittingly reveals where Tortilla’s cabin is the two men do away with him, only to be swiftly rumbled by Tintin who has been disguised as a black steward (of course!). After an incident on land, Tintin ends up in jail (again!). It seems Herge makes a habit of getting Tintin either into jail or in front of a firing squad, where he finds himself next. It perhaps wouldn’t be such a tiring plot point if you were reading the story week by week over a year or so, but when reading it in one sitting or several books in the span of two or three weeks the constant re-using of plot ideas gets a bit old.
When he is about to be shot, the firing squad are interrupted by a guard who says that General Tapioca has fled and General Alcazar is in charge. In about three panels, the story has changed again and the roles have been reversed once more.
One thing I did find quite funny was on page 22 when Tintin says “I’ve already been shot three times… so a fourth makes no odds to me. I’m used to it.” While in the book Tintin is unusually under the influence of alcohol at the point where he says this, I feel like this really must sum up the experience he has over the 24 books. The amount of attempts on his life must be in the hundreds.
After more mistakes, Herge again falls on another familiar plot point – Tintin is forced to join the army. This has happened several times over the course of the 6 books I have read so far and I’m sure it’s bound to happen again. In this instance, he actually seems to be quite useful and needed. He turns away a man trying to bribe him into an oil deal that will lead to war whilst also trying to track down the two men who were trying to kill him at the beginning of the book. Alcazar, who may or may not be in charge by this point (who knows?) accepts the oil offer and Tintin is set up by the man behind it, once again leading to him being sentenced to death. He is broken out of jail by a man whose life he spared earlier on but then pursued over the hills by Alcazar’s men, as I can’t imagine breaking out of jail by ripping the bars out of the wall with a car was particularly quiet. He is captured crossing the next country’s border as he has stolen an armoured car and they see it as a declaration of war. Tintin finally escapes from an army car when the men guarding him fall asleep.
Soon he ends up in a remote village and learns the tribe who own the original fetish live nearby. At last we are back to the core of the story! After convincing a local to take him to the tribe, they set off. Several days later, his guide abandons him but of course, he carries on alone, if not slightly put out. He meets an explorer called Ridgewell, someone who the villagers where he started from thought was dead as he hasn’t been seen for 10 years. After some unfortunate events (being captured again!) Ridgewell tells the story of the fetish, revealing the fact that it contains a diamond.
Eventually, Tintin makes it back to Europe – where he realises the fetish must be – and spots several across two shops. Alarmed by this he finds out where they have been bought from and discovers a workshop making them. The brother of the artist who was killed right at the beginning (remember him?) has since sold the original fetish to a man who has since left for America. Tintin manages to track down the ship the man is on and catches a sea plane to try and find him aboard. Meanwhile Alonso Perez and his crony are also aboard stealing the fetish. As soon as Tintin sees them, they drop the fetish, causing it to break into several pieces and the diamond falls into the sea. The two thieves and Tintin go overboard in a struggle but only Tintin manages to resurface, leaving the two men to a watery grave. This image is quite grim, but perhaps not to the level of another character death from Herge we will see in about 10 books time.
Tintin explains the theft to the American who insists it must go back to the museum, and that’s what we see on the last panel. The fetish back in its place.
I didn’t actually like this book that much, and found it jumped around far too much and as I said earlier, strayed from the point of the story too much. Perhaps when I reread it another time I’ll feel differently! I think because it’s sandwiched between two really good books it suffers a little but we’ll see.
That’s all for now,
Next week: The Black Island.