This is the only book in the 24 that I have multiple copies of. Billed on the back as the “Tintin Classic Collection” the second book is a reproduction of the original colour edition in 1943.
There are three different versions of The Black Island. The first is the yet unnamed adventure appearing in Le Petit Vingtieme between 15th April 1937 and 16 June 1938, the second a slightly rejigged version in colour in book format, one of the first to conform to the 62 page standard of the books today. The last is a the 1966 revised version, the most common found today. The book was completely redrawn on request of the British publishers, who were disappointed in the number of errors in the book. Farr says “In an exercise in pedantry, they compiled a list of 131 errors of detail in the 1943 edition which should be put right.” (page 72)
To create this new version, one of Herge’s artist Bob de Moor was sent on a two-week trip to the British Isles to take photographs and make sketches to make the new version of the book feel more authentic and to lend a truly British feel to the work. Farr argues in his book that this takes away some of the charm from the books and that de Moor’s details are sometimes too fussy compared to the more simplistic earlier edition. Personally, I feel the new version has a lot more pop with the colours and looks far more exciting.
Now, onto the story. I think this is one of the better stories, though perhaps this idea was formed when I was younger and the idea of Tintin having an adventure in England was far more exciting to me than it should be. We start out with Tintin being shot on the first page when trying to help out some pilot’s whose plane is in trouble. Even though he ends up in hospital, as soon as Tintin hears from Thompson and Thomson that the plane has been sighted in England, he makes it his business to get there as soon as he can. Before Tintin even leaves Belgium (as I assume we are still being led to believe that’s where he lives) the scenery around him looks very English already and I can’t help but feel that de Moor’s sketches influenced even the non-British bits of the book.
As Tintin reaches England, his taxi is ambushed and he is kidnapped by two men and walked to the edge of a cliff. We learn these two men are Ivan and Puschov (haha), but I wasn’t sure why they had made Tintin their target, unless they were in with the pilots too. Snowy saves the day (of course!) by distracting a goat and causing it to run at Tintin’s captors. We then see our first glimpse of Doctor Muller, this stories villain.
Once Tintin has escaped he makes his way to Eastdown, where the plane has been sighted. He soon come upon the wreckage of a plane, recognising it as the one he attempted to help. Soon, Snowy has caught a scent and soon finds a flying jacket, which contains clues. This set of clues is something that I always remember from the story, thanks to the brilliant BBC radio adaptation which is probably my favourite adaptation of the book (but perhaps that’s for another blog!)
Tintin manages to piece together the clues containing the words “Eastdown, Sussex, Muller, 3 f r” and a picture of a triangle. On his way out of the wood, he stumbles upon Doctor Muller’s house. Now, obviously, Tintin’s interest is piqued as he has just seen the name. He jumps over the wall and is subsequently chased by a dog into a man trap, from which he is released by Muller and Ivan and taken into the house.
When Muller makes a telephone call, Tintin sees this as his chance to escape, but ends up in a scuffle with Muller, who is armed. Tintin escapes and dodges a burning log but then locks himself in an upstairs room while he decides what to do next. Muller shoots through the door, smashing a jar of chloroform and as Tintin falls to the ground, the house starts to burn.
The fire brigade are called and here we see one of the very obvious changes to the artwork. In the original version, the firemen have a pull along cart which they have water and hoses in and they wear steel helmets but in the reworked version, they have an actual fire engine and wear correct (at the time) uniforms. Muller tells the fire brigade that no one is inside and continues on to cut the hose so that they don’t find Tintin. Thanks to Snowy (again!) the fire brigade look in the house as Muller makes a swift getaway.
After he recovers, Tintin returns to the Muller house and discovers electrical cables snaking through the grass and high up into the trees. He soon figures out that the electrical cables form at triangle and that 3 f r and a triangle all fit together to form a signal – three flares red in a triangle. That night Tintin lies in wait, but so do Muller and Ivan. The plane drops its load and Tintin tries to outwit the others to discover what is in the bags and soon finds out – forged bank notes. According to Farr “forging bank notes had become by the mid-1930s a very contemporary crime” (page 71) showing that Herge was all too aware of what was going on around him and what things were current and new.
Tintin eventually ends up in an air pursuit with Ivan and Muller but his plane ends up crashing in a field and soon after that we see the appearance of the famous kilt from the front cover. Tintin hears that the plane Muller and Ivan were in has crash in Kiltoch and of course, feels he must investigate! He ends up in a pub and hears the story of “the beast”. The beast lives in a castle called Craig Dhui on “The Black Island” (at last! only took 42 pages!) and Tintin again feel he must know what it’s all about.
When he arrives, he soon discovers that the beast is a gorilla – in Scotland, no less. He is chased about the castle by the gorilla and eventually finds himself trapped in a cave, awaiting an oncoming tide. While trying to escape from this fix, he literally falls into what he was looking for – the forgers! They fight back and Tintin ends up having another scuffle and ends up legging it across the castle, eventually finding a radio transmitter to call the police. Chaos ensues, but be assured that Tintin, Snowy and the gorilla, named Ranko all make it off the island as heroes!
The story was written in 1937, two years before the breakout of the Second World War. With war rumour rumbling, Herge, as usual, was one step ahead, pitting a plucky Belgian against a gang of forgers in led by a German in the English countryside. The story also reeks of cinematic inspiration. Hitchcock’s 1935 adaptation of The 39 Steps sees its hero, Richard Hannay being perused across Scotland, much like Tintin and Ranko, of course, feels recognisable from 1933’s King Kong.
That’s all for now,
Next week: King Ottakar’s Sceptre