The Adventures of Tintin
translated from French
I have had too much fun these past few months revisiting a series I first read when I was 10 or 11. At that time my brother had stumbled across the series in the library and I didn’t hesitate to borrow them from him, even if they bordered rather close to picture books, albeit longer and more narratively complex. When a movie version adapting several of the stories made its appearance last winter, a wave of nostalgia prompted me to request every single adventure from the library and embark on my own adventure.
Apparently, Tintin isn’t as well known in the US as he is in other countries (although perhaps the movie has changed that?), although I’m not sure why American children shouldn’t enjoy his adventures as much as others. Perhaps we have too many other distractions to entertain us? Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the stories, the hero is boy-reporter Tintin, always accompanied by his white fox terrier, known as Snowy in the English translations (Milou in the original), who finds himself on a series of adventures all over the world. Tintin was introduced in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a weekly children’s supplement to the Belgium paper Le Vingtième Siècle, and his popularity soon led to a series of books. Over the years, other regular characters make their appearances, including detectives Thompson and Thomson, Captain Haddock, and Professor Calculus, all of whom find themselves involved, wittingly or un-, in a number of Tintin’s adventures.
For this rereading I made a particular effort to read the titles in the order they were created, excepting The Adventures of Tintin Reporter for “Le Petit Vingtième” In the Land of the Soviets, which I was unable to acquire until later in my reading. For the most part, the stories could be read in any order (although some later stories make reference to earlier adventures), but by reading them in the order they were written, it allowed me to see how Hergé’s skill as a story teller developed over time. The earliest titles were more slapstick and stereotyped, in the manner of their era. The first title I read in particular, Tintin in America, seemed to suggest that Hergé’s knowledge of the U.S. in general and Native Americans in particular came only via cinematic westerns. Unfortunately, I don’t know that even American writers of the 1930s would have done any better in their portrayal of Native Americans; after all those westerns came from Hollywood studios. It’s just a bit jarring to read it now. On the other hand, Hergé used the same broad strokes for white Americans, so perhaps he was just equal-opportunity stereotyping. It should also be noted that the second title in the series, Tintin in the Congo, isn’t available in the U.S. due to concerns over its portrayal of the Congolese and its portrayal of big-game hunting. (According to the Wikipedia article, Hergé himself would later regret these portrayals.) Later titles, on the other hand, seemed more nuanced and better researched, and the story-lines themselves grew more complex. Actually, in this sense reading In the Land of the Soviets out of order really brought this point home as it is much simpler than the later works. It is also the only story which didn’t make the transition from black-and-white to color.
Something else I noticed this time that I don’t recall paying attention to before was the shortage of female characters. Outside of occasional appearances by “Milanese Nightingale” Bianca Castafiore, there are very few named female characters and they have almost no bearing on the plot. Perhaps this indicates that the Tintin adventures were meant for boys, perhaps it just represents a different era. Regardless, it didn’t spoil my amusement with the stories, it was just something I noticed this time around. (Although, given my childhood love for stories with strong female characters, I’m surprised I didn’t notice before.)
One of the fun things about reading good children’s books or watching good children’s movies as an adult is finding things that you wouldn’t notice as a child. Here, for instance, there were times when characters spoke in another language that hadn’t been translated into English. While I still can’t say if they were all accurate or real languages, this time around I could understand Bianca’s Italian. Then there’s Captain Haddock’s varied vocabulary: no doubt meant to convey the idea of a sailor’s salty language while staying kid-safe, his expressions of “gibbering,” “iconoclast,” “cercopithecus,” and “anacoluthon” provided me much amusement. He knows words my spell-check doesn’t know!
I don’t think I can pick an absolute favorite Tintin story. My least favorite were the paired Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, which were less adventure story (especially the first) and more episodic. The group that were included in volumes 3 and 4 of the collections I read were probably some of my favorite, in part because of the introduction of the drunken, irrepressible Captain Haddock and the half-deaf mad-genius Professor Calculus. Somehow, the Tintin stories don’t feel right without these two along for the ride. But all-in-all, it was fun to revisit these stories from childhood, including some that were new to me (I had not previously read In the Land of the Soviets, nor some of the later volumes).
Tintin Books Read:
- The Adventures of Tintin Reporter for “Le Petit Vingtième” In the Land of the Soviets – Hergé (1929-30, Belgium)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 1 – Hergé (Belgium)
- Tintin in America (1931-32, 1945)
- Cigars of the Pharaoh (1932-34, 1955)
- The Blue Lotus (1934-35, 1946)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 2– Hergé (Belgium)
- The Broken Ear (1935-37, 1943)
- The Black Island (1937-38, 1943)
- King Ottokar’s Sceptre (1938-39, 1947)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 3 – Hergé (Belgium)
- The Crab with the Golden Claws (1940-41, 1943)
- The Shooting Star (1941-42, 1942)
- The Secret of the Unicorn (1942-43, 1943)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 4 – Hergé (Belgium)
- Red Rackham’s Treasure (1943, 1944)
- The Seven Crystal Balls (1943-46, 1948)
- Prisoners of the Sun (1946-48, 1949)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 5 – Hergé (Belgium)
- Land of Black Gold (1948–1950, 1950)
- Destination Moon (1950–1953, 1953)
- Explorers on the Moon (1950–1953, 1954)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 6 – Hergé (Belgium)
- The Calculus Affair (1954-56, 1956)
- The Red Sea Sharks (1956-58, 1958)
- Tintin in Tibet (1958-59, 1960)
- The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 7 – Hergé (Belgium)
- The Castafiore Emerald (1961-62, 1963)
- Flight 714 (1966-67, 1968)
- Tintin and the Picaros (1975-76, 1976)