After watching the dreadful Smurfs movie, I decided that I would cleanse my palate by revisiting the original Smurfs, or Schtroumpfs, books that I read when I was a kid.
The first appearance of the Smurfs was in the Johan et Pirlouit strips that Peyo penned in Spirou magazine – in this case, in an adventure called ‘La flûte à six trous’. These multipage segments were later collected in the book ‘La Flûte à six schtroumpfs’, as was tradition with all Johan et Pirlouit adventures. The story was so popular that it was also brought to the silver screen in 1975 – the only time that Johan et Pirlouit were given such a lavish treatment.
I remember seeing the movie when I was a kid, having only recently been introduced to the Smurfs through the collected comic strips and the collectible figurines. I remember the whole class falling in love with ‘La Flûte à six schtroumpfs’. We wanted more. Thankfully, very soon thereafter, the Hannah Barbera cartoons came along and fulfilled our wishes. In the meantime, though, we all read and re-read the Smurfs’ amusing adventures – and, if our school library didn’t have it, we’d seek them out at the municipal one.
I recall the film to be a faithful adaptation of the original strips, but I could be wrong. All I know is that, reading ‘La Flûte à six schtroumpfs’ now was an effortless and familiar journey; I recalled most of its developments, and what I didn’t remember fit perfectly in the big picture. Overall, it was a fun story that is well-written, perfectly-paced and has an agreeable visual style that works really well in this context (and one that is specific to Belgian cartoonists, I think).
I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I’ve read or seen this story too often at this point in my life, or if it’s strictly due to the focus on Johan et Pirlouit, but I wasn’t as enamoured with the book as I could have been. Even as a kid, I found Johan too bland for me and Pirlouit far too irritating to endure. I know that the latter is meant to be the comic relief, but I never enjoyed him. As for Johan, I don’t know why he even exists; you can’t possibly get a more white bread character.
But the Smurfs are fun as all get out – even though they are only shadows of what would, ultimately, be Peyo’s most popular and enduring creation. It’s amusing to see how sketchy they are at first, their design unrefined and imperfect; it would take a couple of years for their look to be rendered as we know them now. Still, our first glimpse of the Smurfs gives a taste of the overwhelming madness that a hundred little blue people who all look alike and who all replace verbs and nouns with “schtroumpf” can bring to the proceedings.
The adventure itself is unique and enjoyable as well: when a musical instrument salesman stops by the castle to peddle his wares, he unknowingly leaves behind a flute, which so happens to have magical properties. Pirlouit finds it and his exploits with it catch the ear of a criminal, Torchesac, who decides to get his hands on the flute so that he can use its powers to become rich. Johan and Pirlouit must stop him before he causes more carnage, but they discover that only the Smurfs can help them…
Honestly, if I had a copy of the movie, I would watch it immediately – if not for nostalgic reasons, then to compare the two works. But I don’t. For now, I will have to stick with the original material, which, is chock full of goodness as is. And I have no doubt that other readers probably get more out of it than I do – especially if they actually like the Johan et Pirlouit characters. Without my own personal reservations, I would thoroughly enjoy this adventure. It’s no wonder that it’s a classic.