The Broken Ear

The Broken Ear

The Broken Ear starts off with an unidentified man walking into the Museum of Ethnology. The museum’s name is odd and gives some clues as to where the book is set, or at least on what city Herge based his setting.

Herge’s Inspiration

The world’s very first Museum of Ethnology was in the Dutch city of Leiden. For the first time, a museum set out to explore the culture of other ethnic groups rather than displaying artifacts as mere curiosities or stolen treasures. The museum started out as a museum of Japan but soon developed a broader base. The museum was only 50 miles from Herge’s Brussels home so it was very likely he knew about and visited it at some point.

However a far more likely candidate is the Africa Museum in Brussels itself. As the name suggests, it is focused on African cultures and does not include South American artifacts but it might not be a coincidence that the first two exhibits portrayed in The Broken Ear are both African.

Another clue may be the very idea of Fetish. They are man made objects that are worshiped or treated with great respect because they are believed to have power. Though all cultures have fetishes, the term can be applied to any religious object, African and North American indians are those most associated with the term fetish. This may be another clue that The Broken Ear was inspired by the Africa Museum in Brussels, especially as the North American fetishes were almost always animals rather than humans.

Tintin By Air and Sea

EDIT: See Carsten’s comments below. He has found some great info / corrections on the planes and ships in The Broken Ear

On page 12 of The Broken Ear, Ramon and Perez plot their route to San Theodoros via Le Havre, a port in the North West of France. The port was home to S/S Normandie, the greatest of all French passenger liners. On her maiden voyage in 1935, the year The Broken Ear was written, the Normandie set a record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. As a starting point for a trip to the Americas, Le Havre is an obvious choice for anyone in north eastern France or in the low countries.

The plane the villians are seen boarding in frame 14 is very similar to a Junkers JU 52. Most famous for its role as a troop and cargo transported for Germany’s Luftwaffe during WWII, it was also used by civilian lines including the Belgium national airline Sabena. The first JU 52 to be seen in Belgium was one used by Lufthansa in 1932, but in 1936 the first of Sabena’s aircraft was delivered. No doubt, the arrival of these striking airplanes would of been reported in the papers, giving Herge plenty of source material just as he was writing The Broken Ear.

As can been seen below, Herge was pretty accurate with his drawings. The image from The Broken Ear has similar markings to the two photos of the actual Sabena JU 52s.

The Broken Ear Page 12 JU 52Sabena ju 52

The liner that Tintin travels on to San Theodoros, the Ville de Lyon, does not seem to be modeled on any particular liner of the day. Though the of the SS Normandie must of been in the back of Herge’s mind.

Los Dopicos, San Theodoros

As Tintin’s adventures continue in Los Dopicos, one of the running jokes about San Theodoros becomes apparent. Anyone in the army or Government is a Colonel. By page 31 of The Broken Ear, Tintin is a close confident of the General and takes a meeting with R. W. Trickler of General American Oil who tries to bribe him to start a war. This is event is based on fact. In 1932 Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the Gran Chaco region in an attempt to seize land thought to be rich in oil. The Standard Oil company backed Bolivia whilst the Shell Oil company backed Paraguay.

The role of arms dealers in the real war is mimiced by Herge in The Broken Ear. Both sides tried to buy modern military equipment despite trade-bands ordered by the League of Nations. The arms dealer Basil Bazarov, who sells weapons to both sides, is based on the real life Basil Zaharoff. This renown arms dealer’s death in 1936 would of been widely reported, just in time for Herge to place him into the story. Though he was not involved in South American politics, he bribery and influence led to several wars and prior to the first world war, he was selling arms to both sides.

Home to Brussels, or is it Le Havre

After his adventures in San Theodoros and his visit to the Arumbayas, Tintin returns home but by home we must assume he means Europe in general rather than Brussels. Almost immediately after getting of the boat, Tintin finds that the real fetish is on its way to America on the SS Washington. However Tintin is not to be out-foxed and catches up with the liner via a seaplane before disposing of the two villains. With everything wrapped up, The Broken Ear ends with the severely damaged fetish back in the Museum of Ethnology.

Sources: Junkers Ju 52/3mge W Nr 5670 6309, An upright and locked position: early aviation, SABENA World Airlines


  1. stephen

    I’m sorry,I really am not trying to correct you or anything.Please don’t take this as rude. You did an absolutely astonishing job on the Tintin map. Its awesome! I just noticed that the port in France on the map says ”Le Harve” instead of ”Le Havre”. In case you hadn’t seen this mistake,I thought you might want to know. I have no idea if you can change it. Doesn’t really matter if not. But I thought I would point it out.
    Most people probably don’t notice it.But I did because I got to visit Le Havre for one day on vacation this year and noticed it.

  2. admin

    Stephen – Thanks examining the map so closely that you noticed this. The mistake was spotted before the final version so it is correct on the printed version. However I haven’t had time to regenerate the online versions of the map.

    I’m glad you like the map.


  3. Carsten Soenderup

    Great website
    About the aircraft of the Broken Ear – page 12 – I actually think the model for this may be the Wibault-Penhoet 282. Link:
    the wheel covers and the markings on the aircraft is much closer to this than the Junkers 52. Another possiblity could be the Dewoitine 332 that featured in King Ottokars Sceptre but it doesn’t feature the markings on the fuselage.

    Best regards

  4. @Carsten

    Thanks for the kind words about the site.

    I think you are right about the plane. I’ve never heard of the Wibault-Penhoet 282 before but it does seem closer fit. Particularly the steep angle of the fuselage caused by the high front landing gear.

    Well spotted.


  5. Carsten Soenderup

    Onto it again. 🙂
    Couldn’t help looking for the ship and found this
    that does resemble the picture on page 17 when at anchor at Las Dopicos. Though the fore and aft are the opposite of the Ville de Lyon the funnels are close in colours as is the position of ladder and masts.
    Quite interesting cigarette pictures – Herge could have had some of those to look at and get inspiration!

    Best regards

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