The Calculus Affair

The Calculus Affair
The Calculus Affair
(L'Affaire Tournesol)
Tintin cover - The Calculus Affair.jpg

Cover of the English edition
Publisher Casterman
Date 1956
Series The Adventures of Tintin (Les aventures de Tintin)
Creative team
Writer(s) Hergé
Artist(s) Hergé
Original publication
Published in Tintin
Date(s) of publication December 22, 1954 - February 22, 1956
Language French
ISBN 2-203-00117-8
Publisher Methuen
Date 1960
ISBN 0-316-35847-9
Translator(s) Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner
Preceded by Explorers on the Moon, 1954
Followed by The Red Sea Sharks, 1958

The Calculus Affair (French: L'Affaire Tournesol) is the eighteenth 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.

Some, such as Benoit Peeters in his book Tintin and the World of Hergé, have labelled this as the greatest of the series. The Tintin website [1] dubs The Calculus Affair as the most "detective-like" of the whole series.

The story is set in the 1950s, several months after Tintin and his friends have returned from the Moon.



During a thunderstorm, Tintin and Captain Haddock shelter in Marlinspike Hall. During the storm, several items of glass and china within the house break for no apparent reason. An insurance agent, Jolyon Wagg barges into the hall seeking shelter. He claims that all the windows of his car have somehow blown to bits. More mysterious incidents of glass breaking occur. After the storm, gunshots are heard outside. Professor Calculus returns from his laboratory with bullet holes in his hat. Investigating outside, Tintin discovers a wounded man in the grounds. He disappears before he can be questioned.

The next day a preoccupied Calculus leaves to attend a conference on nuclear physics in Geneva, Switzerland. With him gone the glass breaking stops, leading Tintin to suspect Calculus may have been responsible for it. He and the Captain investigate inside his laboratory, finding a strange device and boxes of broken glass. Suddenly they are surprised by a man in trenchcoat and mask, who escapes after punching the Captain and Snowy. He drops a key and a packet of cigarettes with the name of the Hotel Cornavin (where Calculus is staying in Geneva) scrawled onto it. Believing that Calculus is in danger, Tintin and Haddock decide to follow him to Switzerland.

In Geneva, Tintin and Haddock miss Calculus at his hotel by seconds, delayed by two men dressed in the same trenchcoats as the man in the lab. They track Calculus to Nyon, at the home of Professor Topolino, an expert in ultrasonics. On the way to Nyon their taxi is forced into a nearby lake by the same two men from the hotel, but they manage to survive and reach Topolino's house. Calculus's umbrella is there, but he is not. Topolino is found bound and gagged in his own cellar. Topolino claims that it was Calculus's doing but when shown a photograph of the professor he does not recognise him. They deduce that someone impersonated Calculus, imprisoned Topolino in his cellar and then kidnapped the real Calculus upon his arrival. As they come to this conclusion, the same two men who had earlier hampered Tintin and Haddock's efforts to find Calculus in Geneva blow up Topolino's house in an attempt to get rid of them all, but they survive nonetheless.

Tintin and Haddock conclude that Calculus had invented a sonic device capable of destroying glass and china, and potentially converted into a terrible weapon. Concerned of the consequences of his invention, he had decided to talk it over with Topolino. But Topolino's manservant, a Bordurian named Boris, learned of this and informed his country's intelligence service. It soon dawns on them that rival teams of agents from both Syldavia and Borduria are after the device. Abducted at first by Bordurians, Calculus is then snatched by Syldavian agents in spite of Tintin and Haddock's efforts to rescue him. Pursuing the Syldavians in a helicopter across Lake Geneva into France, they chase a boat and then a car carrying Calculus, but the helicopter runs out of fuel and they lose them.

After being pursued by Tintin and Haddock through the French countryside, the Syldavians escape in a plane, with Calculus as their prisoner. However, the plane is forced down over Bordurian territory, meaning Calculus is back in Bordurian hands. Tintin and Haddock set off for Szohôd, Borduria in hope of finding their friend again.

The Bordurians are alerted to their arrival by the two men in Geneva (who were Bordurian secret agents), and they are intercepted at the airport by the Bordurian Secret Police (ZEP). Assigned two minders who take them to a luxury hotel and keep them in bugged rooms, Tintin and Haddock manage to escape and hide in the Szohôd Opera House, where Bianca Castafiore is performing. She invites them into her dressing room but is visited by Colonel Sponsz, chief of ZEP, in her dressing room. Tintin and Haddock hide in Bianca's closet, overhearing the conversation between Sponsz and Castafiore. Sponsz reveals Calculus's location, a gaol in the fortress of Bakhine, and the stress on him to surrender his plans. If he does give them up, then he will be handed over to two officials from the Red Cross, to whom he must swear that he went to the Bordurians of his own accord and gave them his plans voluntarily. Sponsz also reveals that the papers for the officials and Calculus' release are in his overcoat, hanging in the closet in which Tintin and Haddock are hiding.

Overhearing all this, Tintin and Haddock steal the papers and, disguising themselves as the two Red Cross officials, acquire Calculus' release. When Sponsz is told of this, he quickly raises the alarm, but the three friends manage to escape to the border in a car and later, a tank. When they arrive back in Marlinspike, they find that Jolyon Wagg's family is staying there and has nearly wrecked the house. Realising the destructive potential of his invention, Calculus burns his lighting them with Haddock's pipe while it is placed in Haddock's mouth. Haddock is incensed, calling Calculus a "jack-in-a-box". The hard-of-hearing Calculus thinks that Haddock has said "chicken pox", and tells Jolyon Wagg that Haddock is suffering from this disease. While Wagg at first interprets it as a joke, he then remembers that chicken pox is infectious, and Wagg doesn't want to be infected, so he and his family leave Marlinspike.

Notable features

  • The Calculus Affair introduces the character of Jolyon Wagg, who reappears in several later adventures.
  • This is also the first story to feature Cutts the Butcher. All calls to him end up at Marlinspike Hall where Nestor and Haddock are plagued with endless orders for lamb chops and sausages. The irony is that when he tries to make a call, from whichever location, it is Haddock who gets put through to Cutts first. The driver of Cutts' van also plays an important part in the story: giving Calculus a lift to the village and unknowingly thwarting a kidnapping attempt.
  • In the crowd of day trippers camped outside the gates of Marlinspike, a caricature of Hergé himself can be spotted.
  • The graphics include accurate renditions of Geneva, the Hotel Cornavin, the railway station and Geneva Cointrin International Airport. Many Tintin fans in later years, when at the Hotel Cornavin, would ask to stay in "Professor Calculus's room" (Room 122, fourth floor), which did not actually exist. To clarify the matter, Hergé sent the Hotel a cut-out of Tintin, explaining that it was not possible to stay in the Professor's room.
  • The uniforms of the Bordurian police appear to be based on those of Hungarian police of the time, which they closely resemble. (The Hungarian Uprising took place eight months after the serialisation of the strip ended.)
  • A famous sight gag from this album involves Haddock trying to get rid of a piece of sticking plaster that keeps returning to him. This gag was repeated in Flight 714, but it is limited to only three panels.
  • Another famous scene involves a car chase with a mad Italian driver in a Lancia Aurelia GT. When a gendarme eventually stops them and asks for his name, he recites it in full: Arturo Benedetto Giovanni Giuseppe Pietro Arcangelo Alfredo Cartoffoli da Milano. Rather confused by this, the gendarme weakly releases him. It is worth noting that "Archangelo" in Italian would probably be spelled "Arcangelo", as "ch" does not precede A, O or U in Italian. Also, "Cartoffoli" sounds like "potato" in German.


The political background of The Calculus Affair is the Cold War and the measures that both sides would go to in order to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Professor Calculus mentioned about going to Geneva to take part in a congress on nuclear physics. Geneva, of course, is the location of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The first edition of The Calculus Affair was published in 1956, while CERN was established in 1954.

The book in Professor Topolino's house, German Research in World War II by Leslie E. Simon, really existed and was published in 1947. Simon was a retired Major General in the U.S. Army. This explains why the red-and-white rocket on the dust-jacket of the book is remarkably similar to the Moon Rocket from Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon; that design was based on the German V-2 Rocket.

The physical appearance of Colonel Sponsz is based on Hergé's brother, Paul Remi, a career soldier.[2] Paul had been the original inspiration for Tintin himself back in 1929. Dubbed "Major Tintin", he took on a new appearance in an attempt to get away from the image. This new look was to serve as the model for Sponsz, who would reappear in Tintin and the Picaros.

It seems possible that the research interests of Professor Calculus as portrayed in The Calculus Affair, were based upon those of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich who in his later life became convinced of the existence of a form of energy which he called "orgone." Among the devices constructed by Reich to capture or manipulate "orgone" was the Cloudbuster which he claimed could be used to induce rain by forcing clouds to form and disperse - a device similar to that portrayed within 'The Calculus Affair' intended to destroy buildings by using focused rays of energy.[citation needed] Albert Einstein engaged in some correspondence with Reich which was later published as The Einstein Affair - a probable inspiration for the title of 'The Calculus Affair'.

The cover of the album has the main illustration surrounded by a shattered piece of glass.

The Calculus Case

'The Calculus Case' was a film adaptation of The Calculus Affair (L'affaire Tournesol). It was produced in 1959 by the company Belvision. Originally it was a television series made up of several short segments shown but presented by the English television into a full length film. In the 1980s it was released on VHS across the UK. In the early 2000s it was released on DVD only in English. See The Calculus Case at the Internet Movie Database

See also


External links

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