The Broken Ear

The Broken Ear
The Broken Ear
(L'Oreille cassée)

Cover of the English edition
Publisher Casterman
Date 1937
Series The Adventures of Tintin (Les aventures de Tintin)
Creative team
Writer(s) Hergé
Artist(s) Hergé
Original publication
Published in Le Petit Vingtième
Date(s) of publication December 5, 1935 - February 25, 1937
Language French
ISBN 2-203-00105-4
Publisher Methuen
Date 1975
ISBN 1-4052-0617-9
Translator(s) Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner
Preceded by The Blue Lotus, 1936
Followed by The Black Island, 1938

The Broken Ear (French: L'Oreille cassée) is the sixth of The Adventures of Tintin, a series of classic comic-strip albums, written and illustrated by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé, featuring young reporter Tintin as a hero. First serialized in Le Petit Vingtième from 1935 to 1937, and first collected in book form in French in 1937, it was later redrawn and colourised in 1943.



An idol that originally belonged to a Native American nation in South America is stolen from the Museum of Ethnography in Brussels. The following day it is back in the museum, along with a note apologizing for the inconvenience caused, saying that the reason for the theft had been a bet. Tintin, who is among the reporters looking into the story, realizes that the replacement is a fake, the distinction being an ear broken on the original but intact on the replacement.

He peruses a book from his own library with an image of the idol, drawn by an explorer: it confirms that one of the ears is damaged, while the one back in the museum is not. Tintin then reads that a wood carver called Balthazar has died, apparently from a gas leak. However his parrot has survived despite the leak. Tintin realises he was murdered and the gas turned on later to make it look like an accident. Suspecting that Balthazar made a duplicate of the idol and was murdered, Tintin tries to obtain the man's parrot in order to get a clue to the killer's identity. But he soon discovers that a pair of South Americans — Alonso Perez and Ramon Bada — are also on the trail of the idol, following the same clues and employing more ruthless methods. They even make attempts on Tintin's life.

The parrot eventually repeats the last words of his late owner, naming a man called Rodrigo Tortilla as his killer. Alonzo and Ramon know Tortilla, and Tintin, having tracked them down, overhears their conversation. This takes the three men, and their attempts to outwit each other, to South America, where the plot thickens.

During the journey by ship, Alonzo and Ramon hear from a sailor of the cabin Tortilla is in. That night they murder Tortilla, coshing him and throwing him overboard. It was he who stole the idol from the museum and murdered Balthazar after getting him to produce the copy that Tortilla placed in the museum. Among his luggage is yet another replica of the stolen idol. Tintin, who was also on the ship in disguise, has Alonzo and Ramon arrested as they dock in the main port of the republic of San Theodoros. But when soldiers arrive on board to take them away, they are led by a colonel who knows Ramon and Alonzo and, once ashore, lets them go. He then helps them to lure Tintin to shore where he is framed for terrorism and sentenced to death.

In San Theodoros General Alcazar and his rebels are fighting against the ruling General Tapioca. Just as Tintin finds himself at the gun tips of the firing squad, General Alcazar's rebels save him. Unusually, Tintin has been drinking heavily because, at the start of the execution, the soldiers found out that their guns had been tampered with and the commander treated him to a "little apertif" of aguardiente, the national drink. Thus, in a drunken state, Tintin proclaims his support for Alcazar in front of the firing squad, interrupted by an uprising. Now in command of the country, General Alcazar honours Tintin by making him Colonel. Alcazar's aide-de-camp, Colonel Diaz, suggests he make Tintin a corporal instead, as they have 49 corporals and 3,487 colonels. In anger Alcazar makes him a corporal and makes Tintin his new aide-de-camp.

Tintin's new position of power is not without its problems. For one thing his humiliated predecessor swears revenge and makes several bungled attempts to kill him and Alcazar. Alonzo and Ramon also continue in their attempts to get rid of him and recover the genuine idol. The idol found in Tortilla's possession has turned out to be yet another fake. Tintin is lassoed by two men at night, knocked out, tied up, and taken to a house where Alonzo and Ramon are. They are erroneously convinced that Tintin knows the location of the original idol and do not believe his denials, forcing him to lie about its whereabouts. Tintin manages to escape when a lightning strike frees him just before Alonzo shoots him, and captures Alonzo and Ramon. He takes them to prison, but they are soon free again after escaping.

To add to this, two rival oil companies, General American Oil and British South-American Petrol, manipulate the governments of San Theodoros and the neighbouring state of Nuevo-Rico, pushing both countries to war in order to get control of some profitable oil fields. When Tintin attempts to prevent war, R.W. Trickler, a representative of General American Oil, arranges for him to be killed by a man named Pablo. Pablo's attempt fails, due to a simultaneous assassination attempt by Ramon. His thrown knife goes ahead of Tintin, cutting free a bunch of bananas which falls onto Pablo as he shoots at Tintin. Tintin captures Pablo, who begs for mercy, and lets him go.

Trickler then frames Tintin for espionage and the young man is soon sentenced to death. Pablo, grateful that Tintin spared his life, assembles a gang of men, breaks into the prison and frees Tintin and Snowy. Tintin and Snowy escape by car to the border with Nuevo-Rico, but come under fire by Nuevo-Rican border guards with a Hotchkiss M1914 and a Pak 38. The incident is exaggerated in the press and used by the belligerent governments of both countries as justification for the war that Tintin tried to prevent.

Tintin escapes the Nuevo-Ricans and discovers that he is not far from the Arumbaya River. The Arumbayas, who live isolated in the rainforest, were the original owners of the idol. The idol itself is of no real value and Tintin has been wondering why so many people have been willing to steal and kill for it. He believes that the Arumbayas hold the answer and convinces a reluctant native to take him to them. However the native later leaves Tintin.

In the rainforest Tintin meets Ridgewell, a British explorer living with the Arumbayas. They are captured by the Rumbabas, the enemies of the Arumbayas, tied up, and taken to the village, where the natives plan to cut of their heads and shrink them. However an idol they are about to be sacrificed before seems to say it forbids their sacrifice, though after they are freed Ridgewell says he used ventriloquism. The withc-doctor has told a man to cure his son he must bring him the heart of the first animal he fnds in the forest. Snowy brings Ridgewell's cloth and quiver, the cloth was used to bandage Snowy's tail when Ridgewell accidentally shot it with a dart when demonstrating his aim by shooting a flower. The man brings Snowy back live, thinking Ridgewell may be in danger, but the Witch-Doctor says if he tells anybody he will call down the spirits and the man's family will be turned into frogs. He hopes Ridgewell dies so he may regain control over the tribe. He is about to kill the bound Snowy, but Ridgewell and Tintin get to the village in time to stop him. Tintin learns that the idol was offered to a previous explorer called Walker (who also happens to be the author of the book "Travels in the Americas" (London, 1875) Tintin had read earlier) as a token of friendship during his stay with the tribe. But as soon as the explorers left, the Arumbayas discovered that a sacred stone had disappeared, which cured whoever touched it of snake-bite. Lopez, a Mestizo interpreter to the explorers, had stolen it. The Arumbayas were furious and pursued Walker's expedition, massacring almost all the explorers. Walker himself managed to escape with the idol while a wounded Lopez barely got himself out of the jungle. Tintin believes that Lopez hid the diamond in the idol so that he could retrieve the stone later.

Tintin leaves the Arumbayas only to come across Alonzo and Ramon who have deserted from the San Theodoran Army after they were drafted during the war with Nuevo-Rico. Realizing he lied to them before, they again try to force him to reveal the location of the idol. However, Tintin manages to capture them. In Alonzo's wallet he finds a note signed by Lopez which confirms that the diamond is in the idol. The note once belonged to Rodrigo Tortilla, the man who originally stole the idol from the museum and was later murdered by Ramon and Alonzo. How Tortilla is connected to Lopez is not revealed. Alonzo and Ramon later escape from Tintin.

Tintin and Snowy have reached a dead end so they return home, where they hear the news that San Theodoros has made peace with Nuevo-Rico, and the oil companies' machinations went for nothing because there was no oil after all. Then Tintin is surprised to find copies of the idol, with a broken ear, being sold in numerous shops. They go to the factory that produces them and meet Balthazar's brother, who had found the idol among his late brother's affairs. However he has sold the original idol to a wealthy American called Samuel Goldbarr, who has left for America. Ramon and Alonzo have already asked him. Using a plane Tintin manages to catch up with the ship, only to find that Alonzo and Ramon are already aboard and have finally got hold of the idol. During the confrontation the idol falls and breaks, revealing the diamond. All three of them try to save it, but it falls into the ocean and they fall into the ocean after it while fighting. Tintin is saved by the crew. However, Alonzo and Ramon drown (and are subsequently shown in one panel being pulled by little winged devils to Hell. However it is speculated this might be an imaginary sequence by Tintin or a hallucination).

The diamond has been lost to the ocean. Tintin tells Mr Goldbarr the idol is stolen property and he agrees it should be returned. The original idol is glued and tied back together and returned to the museum.


The Broken Ear is set in a fictional South American dictatorship, San Theodoros. However, it uses this setting to depict political issues that were important in the 1930s.

The mutually disastrous conflict between San Theodoros and the neighbouring state of Nuevo-Rico is called the "Gran Chapo War", a reference to the Gran Chaco War of 1932 to 1935 between Bolivia and Paraguay ("Gran Chapo" is a pun on the French term "grand chapeau", meaning "big hat"). Oil companies born from the Standard Oil and the Shell Oil company provoked that war (the Standard-derived companies backing Bolivia, Shell backing Paraguay) in order to get their hands on prospected oil fields. This view is reflected in the shady businessman Trickler who tries to bribe Tintin and, when that fails, resorts to attempted murder and false evidence to get rid of him. In another parallel, the Chapo plains, just like the real Chaco, turn out not to have oil after all.

The arms dealer Basil Bazarov, who sells weapons to both sides, is based on the real life Basil Zaharoff. In the English translation, he works for 'Korrupt Arms', a pun on 'corrupt', but also on Krupp, the German arms manufacturers. When a member of an airport groundcrew remarks that Bazarov has a private plane it is no idle comment. Air travel in the 1930s was in its infancy and extremely expensive and only the very wealthy (such as an arms dealer like Bazarov) could have afforded such a luxury as their own aircraft.

Fictional languages

In the original French edition, Hergé made up an artificial language for the Arumbaya tribe and their sworn enemies, the Rumbabas, based on Marols or Marollien, a Flemish dialect spoken in the city of Brussels. Although Hergé was Francophone, he may have heard this dialect from his grandmother.

For the 1947 English-language edition, the translators made use of an accurate phonetic transcription of the London Cockney dialect, transmogrified into a Native South American-looking language by an exotic-looking orthography and scattered apostrophes. Ridgewell is the only living white man who is able to speak this lingo, and he acts as an interpreter. When one of the Rumbabas shows them three shrunken heads on sticks, the native comments, "Ahw wada lu'vali bahn chaco conats!" (p. 50 of the English-language edition), which means "Oh, what a lovely bunch of coconuts!" a reference to the popular 1944 song "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts".

When the chief is asked about the Walker expedition he says: "Dabrah naidul? Oi, oi! Slaika toljah. Datrai b'giv dabrah naidul ta'Walker. Ewaz anaizgi. Buttiz'h felaz tukahr presh usdjuel. Enefda Arumbayas ketchimdai lavis gutsfer gah'taz! Nomess in'h!" (The brown idol? Oy, oy! It's like i told ya. The tribe gave the brown idol to Walker. 'E was a nice guy. But 'is fellas took our precious jewel. And if the tribe catches 'im they'll 'ave 's guts for garters! No messin'!)

When Tintin is hit by a golf ball, Ridgewell shouts "Ai tolja tahitta ferlip inbaul intada oh'l! Andatdohn meenis ferlip ineer oh'l!" which means "I told ya to hit the flippin' ball into the 'ole! And that don't [sic] mean 'is flippin' ear-'ole!" (p. 52).

When the tribes are talking among themselves or addressing Snowy, they're translated into proper English.

The dialect makes a brief reappearance in Tintin and the Picaros.

1930s edition versus 1940s

Although the original black-and-white edition published in the 1930s and the colour version of 1943 are very similar in many ways, there are some scenes from the original that were not included in the one most available today, especially in the first half of the adventure:

Scene 1930s edition 1940s edition
Tintin takes a bath while listening to the news on the radio. The news begins with a report on the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. The newscaster reads out two conflicting reports in which the Italians and the Abyssinians both claim a major victory over each other. The newscaster goes straight on to the theft of the idol from the museum
Tintin reads about the idol in a book which includes an illustration of an Arumbaya. He then sees that Snowy has fallen asleep and decides to retire himself. That night Tintin dreams that an Arumbaya slips into his bedroom and fires a dart at him through a blow-pipe. Tintin wakes up to find that he was bitten by a mosquito. Tintin's sleep is peaceful, but the nightmare of a South American native stalking a Westerner in a bedroom was reused in The Seven Crystal Balls.
After Perez and Ramon are arrested on board the ship and taken ashore, Tintin receives a letter asking him to come ashore as well. When the steward of the Ville de Lyon brings Tintin the message he is more drunk than usual, though he denies it to the captain. He feels guilty over the fact that it was he who unwittingly provided Perez and Ramon with the clue they needed to find and murder Tortilla. He's even shown drinking straight from the bottle. The steward appears to be quite sober, in spite of his red nose.
Trickler decides to have Tintin killed and contacts a man who arranges for a third party to carry out the murder. Pablo is the name of the contact while the hitman is named as Juan Paolino, the "Terror of Las Dopicos" and the best shot in the country. The contact is renamed Rodriguez and it is the hitman who is called Pablo.
Trickler's hitman and Ramon both simultaneously try, and fail, to kill Tintin. Tintin captures the hitman who begs for mercy. Paolino denies knowing anything on who hired him. This, it has to be said, is the rule in such a business. Pablo confirms that he was hired by Rodriguez who works for Trickler.
When Tintin is framed for espionage and jailed, Trickler's former hitman and his gang break him out and give him a car with which to reach the border. Tintin, on being told that his rescuer Paolino is staying in the city, insists on staying as well, but is talked out of it on the basis that he'd be recaptured the next day. Pablo simply tells Tintin that he has taken his precautions and Tintin does not argue.

Alternative versions and adaptations

When serialized in the French magazine Cœurs Vaillants, the story was retitled Tintin chez les Arumbayas (Tintin meets the Arumbayas).

In the animated series, Rodrigo Tortilla is removed, and replaced with Lopez, who is a former cellmate of Ramon and Alonso. Tintin saves Ramon and Alonso — while they drown in the comic (and are depicted as being taken to Hell by little winged devils). Also the whole sub-plot involving the war between San Theodoros and Nuevo Rico over the oil fields is absent. In the original, the Arumbuya artifact was referred to as the "fetish", but because of the sexual connotations of the word 'fetish', it is replaced with 'idol'.


The struggle for power between Generals Alcazar and Tapioca was referred to in other stories like The Seven Crystal Balls and The Red Sea Sharks. Tintin himself would return to San Theodoros for another instalment of the feud in Tintin and the Picaros.

External links

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