On several factors this is one of the most important books, as it introduces three of the most pivotal characters Thompson and Thomson, long-time allies of the boy reporter and Roberto Rastapopoulos, his most frequent enemy.
Beginning with Tintin and his dog Snowy on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea they meet Dr. Sarcophagus, an Egyptologist who owns a papyrus that he believes will lead him to the undiscovered tomb of the Pharaoh Kih-Oskh. He invites Tintin to accompany him. Tintin also has an unpleasant first encounter with Roberto Rastapopoulos, a wealthy film tycoon. Later on the cruise, Tintin first encounters Thomson and Thompson, who accuse him of smuggling opium and cocaine which they have found in his cabin. Locked in the hold of the ship, Tintin craftily escapes and meets Sarcophagus in Port Said, Egypt. Tintin and Sarcophagus set off and discover the tomb of Kih-Oskh. On a nearby sand dune, Tintin finds a cigar bearing the symbol of Kih-Oskh: a circle with a wavy line through it and two dots on it, similar to the yin-yang symbol. When he returns to the tomb, Sarcophagus has disappeared without trace. He then comes across a secret entranceway.
Tintin and Snowy enter the tomb and are startled several times by doors closing behind them. They then come to a room where rows of mummified famous Egyptologists. At the end of the row are empty sarcophagi with notices to designate that they are intended for Tintin, Snowy (and Sarcophagus too in later editions). Following items of Sarcophagus' clothing which have been left lying around, Tintin enters another room where an opium vapor puts him to sleep. At night drug smugglers embark some sarcophagi aboard a ship but they are later cast overboard when coast guards intercept the boat. The sarcophagi, which contain Tintin and Snowy, are lost and therefore they escape mummification. They are saved from a colossal wave by the crew of a sailing ship. On it they first meet Senhor Oliveira de Figueira, a Portuguese salesman who travels the Middle East selling to locals. He persuades Tintin to buy various items, though some are not even remotely required.
Tintin then sets out across the desert and is seized by the men of Sheik Patrash Pasha. He hates Europeans but is then elated to notice that the captive is Tintin, whose exploits he has read of for years, and even shows one of the Tintin books that he has read (the exact book is different depending on the version, but it is always the most recent to have been published. In the first black and white strip, it is Tintin in the Congo; in the second it is Tintin in America; and in the colour version, it is Destination Moon).
After recommencing his journey Tintin sees a woman being chased and beaten by two men and rushes to her aid. The woman turns out to be an actress in the process of filming a movie that Rastapopoulos is making. The director is furious but Rastapopoulos is unruffled. He and Tintin apologize to each other over the ill-mannered occurrences on the cruise ship. When Tintin returns to the boat, he discovers that it has been smuggling guns. The Thompson twins accuse him of being the gun smuggler. They dash away when they think a grenade is due to explode, allowing Tintin to escape from them.
While in the Arabian Desert, Tintin’s water bottle is shot at and punctured by an unidentified gunman. Frantic for water he sets off only to meet Thomson and Thompson again who give chase. Later the two hit an Arab on the head, mistaking him for Tintin who is most annoyed. When Tintin reaches a local city he finds a parade of armed Arabs who claim that one of their sheiks was attacked by two members of a rival tribe, thus providing an excuse for hostilities. Tintin is forcibly conscripted into the military. While cleaning the local colonel's office, he finds a cigar label with the same Kih-Oskh's symbol. He hunts the office for a box of cigars anticipating that they will provide a clue but is caught in the act by the colonel and accused of spying. He is shot by firing squad for treason, but he does not actually die: the firing squad's rifles had been purposely loaded with blank rounds. Positioned in a ventilated grave, Tintin is later dug up by a pair of covert helpers dressed as women in veils.
These 'women' are actually Thomson and Thompson, who were determined to capture Tintin alive and had organised for his death to be faked. Tintin escapes the city in a plane and is chased by air force jets. Fooling the pilots by diving into the clouds, he lands in India. There Tintin finds Sarcophagus who is painting the sign of Kih-Oskh on the trees. He has gone completely insane and thinks that he is another Pharaoh, Rameses II.
Tintin and Sarcophagus are taken by an elephant to a local British colonial station. Later, the mad Sarcophagus escapes and tries to murder Tintin with a knife. It is soon revealed that he was hypnotised by a local Fakir who wants Tintin dealt with. Some remarks by the Fakir lead Tintin to Zloty, a Hungarian writer, who explains to Tintin that an international gang of drug smugglers is out to get rid of him. At gunpoint, Tintin orders Zloty to give him the name of the gang's leader but, before he can, the Fakir blows a dart tipped with Rajaijah Juice at Zloty, from outside the window, causing him to go insane. As a result Tintin escorts Sarcophagus and Zloty to the lunatic asylum with a letter from a local doctor, but the Fakir has substituted the letter and as the result of a consequent misunderstanding Tintin ends up being imprisoned instead, while the two insane men are released. Later he escapes by tipping a bowl of soup on an orderly and then uses an overweight inmate as a fulcrum to jump over the asylum’s outer wall. Snowy is incapable of keeping up with Tintin and is left behind. He is almost sacrificed by angry Indians for frightening their village’s holy cow, but is saved by Thomson and Thompson, acting as Nataraja. They subsequently use Snowy to track his master down, whom they are still pursuing in order to arrest him.
Tintin's escape from the asylum is reported and he is recaptured at a nearby train station. The ambulance driving him back to the asylum crashes en route into a car driven by Sarcophagus and Zloty. Tintin escapes and later meets the Maharaja of Gaipajama. Over dinner they hear music which the Maharajah believes is a warning that he will be driven insane like his preceding relatives as a result of their opposition to the drug cartel operations in his lands and the oppression of the local farmers that results. Tintin places a dummy in the Maharajah's bed for his protection. That night the dummy is hit by a poison dart fired by the Fakir. Tintin trails the fakir to the cartel's lair. The members within are dressed up in outfits that bear the symbol of Kih-Oskh and make them look rather like the Ku Klux Klan (as Tintin comments in the English edition).
He manages to capture the gang which includes the Fakir, the Arab colonel and several others he met in the course of the adventure. He is later joined by the Maharajah, Snowy and the Thompson twins who tell Tintin that all charges have been dropped: the tomb of Kih-Oskh was found by the Egyptian police and contained evidence of Tintin's innocence and a map showing them to the hideout. The Fakir succeeds in escaping, however, and later he and the cartel's Grand Master kidnap the Maharajah's son, the Crown Prince. Tintin chases them into the Himalayas, recovers the Crown Prince and captures the Fakir. The cartel leader falls off a cliff and his body is never recovered. Later on, the Maharajah informs Tintin that one of the captured members of the cartel was a servant of his. In examining cigars found in his room, Tintin discovers that cigars bearing the "Kih-Oskh" label contain heroin, revealing the means by which the cartel smuggled the drugs.
- This book introduced Roberto Rastapopoulos, the most recurring leading antagonist of the series. Prior, a visual prototype for him appeared in the previous adventure Tintin in America. He later returned in The Blue Lotus, The Red Sea Sharks and Flight 714.
- This book also introduced Thompson and Thomson, who later became pivotal characters of later installments and the franchise in general.
- When Hergé redrew the book for the 1950's, he included Allan Thompson as a supporting antagonist, a recurring foe of Tintin who was not present in the previous editions. His technical first appearance was in The Crab with the Golden Claws, and returned in The Red Sea Sharks and in Flight 714.
- Tom, a close accomplice of Allan would eventually return in The Crab with the Golden Claws.
- Oliveira de Figueira would eventually return in Land of Black Gold and in The Red Sea Sharks. He was also featured in The Castafiore Emerald but not seen in-person.
- Patrash Pasha has portraits based on Tintin's second and third adventures, Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in America (Note: In the 1955 version, he has one portrait based on Destination Moon, but for that version's case it is likely meant to be interpreted as a fourth-wall joke).
- Patrash Pasha would eventually be mentioned in The Red Sea Sharks. While he does not appear physically, his influence strongly affects the book's story.
- A trailer of the movie that Rastapopoulos was filming at the desert of Arabia was seen later in The Blue Lotus.
- The authorities of Arabia would eventually make more appearances in Land of the Black Gold and in The Red Sea Sharks.
- Although The Fakir was imprisoned at the end of this book, it is described that he escaped in The Blue Lotus. It is possible to emphasize that after facing it, Snowy began to have mania to the fakirs.
- The Maharaja of Gaipajama and the Crown Prince of Gaipajama would immediately return in The Blue Lotus
- The story of this book was continued subsequently in The Blue Lotus which continued the conspiracy of Rastapopoulos' criminal drug cartel.
- Thompson and Thomson
- Sophocles Sarcophagus
- Patrash Pasha
- Oliveira de Figueira
- Roberto Rastapopoulos
- Allan Thompson (redrawn version)
- Corporal Abu-Bin-Dun
- Colonel Fuad
- Maharaja of Gaipajama
- Crown Prince of Gaipajama
- The Maharaja's Secretary
- The Fakir
- Reverend Peacock
- Mr. Snowball
- Mrs. Snowball
- Dr. Finney
- Kih-Oskh Brotherhood
- Cosmos Pictures
- This is the first book to include profanity. On page 27, when Thomson and Thompson trip on the ground while pursuing Tintin, one of them says the word "d**k" to curse his partner.
- This swear word is used again on page 49.
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