Dr. Kuifje's Travels: Tintin in Egypt

The title Cigars of the Pharaoh suggests a fantastic Egyptian adventure for Tintin. Indeed the story starts with Tintin's arrival by boat in Port Said, Egypt. He goes ashore on page 5. However already on page 10 Tintin leaves Egypt, when he is carried aboard Allan Thompson's ship, packaged in a sarcophagus. Hergé created these first pages in 1933; nine years after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which revived the Egyptomania in Western culture that had started in the early 19th century with Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. Documentation was therefore easy to obtain. The rich Egyptian past provided many possibilities for a Tintin story, making this a missed opportunity. Nevertheless the captivating and haunting scene in the tomb of Pharao Kih-Oskh is a memorable one.

In December 2000, Dr. Kuifje visited Egypt, travelling from Cairo to Thebes, Asswan, and Abu Simbel. Below I show some pictures that match with scenes from Tintin's Egyptian adventure.

Professor Sarcophagus and Tintin leave Cairo in search for Kih-Oskh's tomb. "Later, somewhere near Cairo", the caption reads. In the background two pyramids are visible (only in the coloured version). Considering the two well-preserved pyramids near each other, the pyramids depicted must be two of the three pyramids at Giza.

Pyramids at Giza Tintin with pyramids in background

Top: From left to right pyramid of Khufu, pyramid of Khafre, pyramid of Menkaure. Bottom: Cigars of the Pharaoh, p. 6.

Kih-Oskh's tomb is of course fictitious. Or is it? Dr. Kuifje made an amazing discovery: South-West of the pyramid of Menkaure, at a location from where only two pyramids are visible, lies a stone structure mostly covered by sand. Could this be the entrance? Since there were too many people around, I was not able to dig for the door.

Kih-Oskh's real tomb? Outside the tomb Replica of the tomb

Left: Kih-Oskh's real tomb? Right: Cigars of the Pharaoh, p. 6. Below: Replica at the Tintin exibition 'Tout Hergé' (1991)

The flat roof of Kih-Oskh's tomb suggests it is a mastaba, which is an underground tomb. Dr Kuifje visited a mastaba in Saqqara, the tomb of Ka-Gmni (6th dynasty, 2340 BC). Its walls are covered with beautiful mural paintings. See Farr (2001; p. 43) for two images that Hergé used for the backgrounds of page 7 (colour version).

Ka-Gmni's tomb Tintin enters the tomb

Left: Ka-Gmni's tomb. Right: Cigars of the Pharaoh, p. 7.

Several details can be found at other places in Egypt; for example the column with a papyriform base can be seen in many temples.

Karnak column Kih-Oskh column

Left: Column at Karnak. Right: Cigars of the Pharaoh, p. 7.

The scene inside the tomb is my favourite part of the album. The fumes of opium intoxicate Tintin after which he is overcome by a hallicunating dream, with a duration of four panels. The third panel is very well documented: it is inspired by a depiction on the throne of Tutankhamen. Hergé carefully copied the chair, stool, necklesses, and arm positions from Tutankamen and his spouse Nefertiti to Thomson and Thompson.

Throne of Tutankhamen Tintin dreams

Left: Depiction on the throne of Tutankhamen. (a better photo) Right: Cigars of the Pharaoh, p. 9.

When he adapted the black and white version to the colour version Hergé made quite a few changes to the scene:

Tintin dreams B&W Tintin dreams colour

Left: 1934 black and white version, p. 16. Right: Colour version, p. 9.

One page later, Tintin is smuggled out of Egypt. Was Hergé already fed up with Egypt? Actually the title Les Cigares du Pharaon (Cigars of the Pharaoh) stems from the first book publication in 1934. The title under which the story was first published in Le Petit Vingtième was Les Aventures de Tintin, reporter en orient: The adventures of Tintin, reporter in the orient. That explains why Hergé was in a hurry: there were still lots of countries to be covered!

This concludes my observations regarding the Egyptian part of the Cigars of the Pharao; I plan to address the Arabic and the Indian parts in two other installments.


M. Farr (2001). Tintin: The Complete Companion. Editions Moulinsart.

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