Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Castafiore Emerald Post

My last ten posts, barring only two, have been about travel. I would much rather continue to write travel-posts, but unless Fortune unexpectedly smiles, I am now stuck at home until May 22, which is when I leave for Benares. So posts about Oriya delicacies, road trips, Buddhist caves, tribal festivals, side-lower berths and bright yellow birds will have to take a back seat for now.

As a break from the heady excitement of travel-writing, I thought of trying my hand at something I am not very good at: a contemplative post, a sit-at-home post, a post where nothing much happens. A Castafiore Emerald Post!

The Castafiore Emerald is the 21st book in the Tintin series. Before this, Tintin had been to all corners of the world - the U.S., Congo, Peru, Switzerland, Tibet and several imaginary countries. He had even gone on an undersea treasure hunt and an expedition to the moon. In The Castafiore Emerald, the adventure moved to Marlinspike.

On the cover, Tintin, acting for Hergé, puts his finger to his lips, inviting us to watch the comedy unfold. What follows is a meticulously constructed drawing-room farce, replete with red herrings, cross-connections and people falling down the stairs. To one who is not familiar with the Tintin series, it is hard to explain just how different The Castafiore Emerald is from the other Adventures. It has no exotic locales, no villain, no real danger - just a visiting opera diva and a valuable emerald gone missing. Almost no one likes The Castafiore Emerald.

Why then is it my favourite book in the Tintin series? I am not sure myself. Maybe it is because all the characters are so gloriously in their element; the book in some ways is nothing more than a series of scintillating character studies. Maybe it is because the story is so beautifully structured, so perfectly ordered, like a Jane Austen novel. Maybe it is because I have commonplace taste in general, but unconventional taste in the particular. Along with the rest of the world, I love the Beatles and Satyajit Ray, but my favourite Fab Four album is Rubber Soul, and my favourite Ray movie is Kanchenjunga.

The Castafiore Emerald also has one of the most beautiful panels Hergé ever produced: the night scene by the gipsy camp fire on page 40. Tintin goes out for a stroll. It is a perfect night; haunting guitar music draws him to a clearing in the woods. And then he sees this.

I got this book when I was six years old. It would be many years before I learnt the word chiaroscuro, but that did not lessen my appreciation of this piece of art. Another panel which affected me profoundly on my first reading was this one.

I still remember the thrill of learning three new words from a single panel. For weeks afterwards, at the most trivial of incidents (e.g. power cut, bread getting burnt in the toaster), I would go “Cataclysm! Calamity! Catastrophe!”

I must have been a somewhat irritating kid.


Rick said...

You must have been an engaging kid, indeed.

Thanks to you, an addition to my vocab-chiaroscuro! I suppose they have a word for everything.

And the reasons that you presented under "may be because" are nigh on perfect for any book to become a universal favourite!

Indecision Personified! said...

"Maybe it is because the story is so beautifully structured, so perfectly ordered, like a Jane Austen novel."

I don't know of too many boys who read Jane Austen! I din't know you read her either!

and yes Sroyon only 'somewhat' irritating!

new age scheherazade said...

I don't have to tell you how much I love this post.
(Oh, and it's my favourite book in the series too, in terms of Herge-adulation-inspired. My favourite Tintin book is Tintin in Tibet, which is just too beautiful to be otherwise.)

And just to annoy people on your blog, and relive my moment of epic fail, I reproduce here:
In the 6th panel on page 2 of The Castafiore Emerald, Captain Haddock scares a gypsy girl. In the 7th panel, she bites him. In the 8th and 9th panels, she runs away. The 10th panel is, in a way, special in the whole of the Tintin series. How?
Question credit: Sroyon Mukherjee, some college quiz.
This question:Anasua::Bane:Batman
(a blemis, as word verification says in changra ishtyle.)

Abhiroop said...

So why is the 10th panel special?

Priyanka said...


Lovely post, now I must gp reread the comic. And i'm with ana as far as Tintin in Tibet goes. Also The Calculus Affair, I don't know why.

and, in going with strange changra wvs: paliese

ಕವನ said...

Haddock was responsible for a lot of words in my vocabulary... I believe my favourite was 'bashi-bazouk' :P

Opaline said...

What I like best about Castafiore Emerald is that it has so much of Bianca Castafiore, favourite Tintin character after Rastapopulous.

Indecision Personified! said...

oh do tell... why was the 10th panel special? Do not ask questions.. and leave them unanswered!!!

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

I love Kanchenjunga also. I wish I had read more Tintin as a kid. Sniff sniff. Is it too late to pick up from where I had left???

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

Bapre, 9 comments in ONE day?! Hehe,you're on a roll. Also, Lahiri's stuff is amazing. Tell him for me :D

Rahul Saha said...

must have been? as in, the past tense?

Sroyon said...

@Rick: Well since it's me who's giving the reasons, you can be sure a certain amount of bias has crept in.

@IP & Saha: I knew the moment I had written it, that the last line was a mistake. It is a bloody invitation to leave snide comments of this sort.

@scheherazade: Hah, Tintin in Tibet. What I like most about that book is how Haddock backs out so many times and still sees it through. "Go to Nepal, go to Timbuctoo, go to Vladivostok for all I care." And the next panel he's at New Delhi airport.
Simple question: What was the name of the levitating monk?

@Abhiroop: Ask Anasua.

@Priyanka: Yes, gp reread the comic.

@ಕವನ: Oh, the curses deserve a whole post all to themselves.

@Opaline: Rastapopulous? That's a funny choice!

@Shrabasti: It is NEVER too late.

Doubletake, Doublethink. said...


by correcting my typo i am messing up your policy of rounding up all comments with a reply comment. hah. so much for OCD.

new age scheherazade said...

And I add to the OCD provocation:

Blessed Lightning. (Unworthy. i'm offended.)

And the answer to the Castafiore Emerald question is, it's the only instance of blood being shown in a Tintin book. (I reread all the books, scrutinized, theorized and failed for about a week before this was revealed to me.)

Opaline said...

1. He has a funny nose.
2. My family doctor looks like Rastapopulous.
3. Lake of Sharks was the only Tintin book I had year long access to.

Also General Alcazar.

Pratiti said...

"Must have been", Sroyonda??

Karthy said...

I found this folder of pdf versions of tintin comics at my internship place...and then I read this post! I've never read much Tintin, but I think I'll copy that folder now :)

aneek said...