Tintin

I plan to ramble here. You have fair warning.

I seem to be one of relatively few U.S. citizens who grew up on Tintin. Not the tv series, but the books. For some reason, Tintin didn’t sweep this country as he did many others.

I never have been sure what it is about the stories that draws me in. Hergé somehow created adventures that were, on the surface, dead simple, unapologetically ridiculous, and addictive. He had a gift, and he worked very hard to share it. His gift comforted and inspired people during some of the darkest times in recent history, and continues to do so decades later. But if I wax too serious about Hergé’s work I will do it an injustice. It mocks my seriousness.

Papoose Snowy mocks my seriousness

Papoose Snowy mocks my seriousness

My brother and I used to joke that Tintin has a force-field just beneath his skin because bullets only ever graze him. My friend D, looking over my shoulder on occasion as I have been re-reading some of the books, commented on the fact that he gets hit over the head several times per story and yet he is not brain-dead. Though a pipsqueak, he has a killer punch and knows his way around firearms. He can operate any car, plane, boat, helicopter, tank, motorcycle or moon-rocket and seems to possess unlimited wealth. He sticks to his ethics, is often clever, always wins in the end, and his only vices are an intermittent lack of foresight, and being a nosy-parker.

In short, he is a Mary Sue.  I look at this list and I am amazed that I don’t hate Tintin.

But the fact is, I like him. Haddock and Snowy are my favorites, but the Great Ginger Detective is, without challenge, my favorite bland character of all time. I enjoy seeing him dash through his adventures and I am acutely aware that without him, the other characters would be whirling balls of plotless chaos. I can just see the tragic Adventure of Haddock and Snowy in the Distillery of Doom, and Calculus leading Thompson and Thomson off a cliff like a pair of lemmings.

Serious Captain is serious

Serious Captain is serious

Many stories have a bland central character, an eye of the storm that carries the plot forward, binds the more interesting characters together and acts as a blank screen onto which readers can project their own imaginations. Usually these characters annoy me or I am indifferent to them. So what is different about Tintin? Perhaps it is that Hergé refuses to take his main protagonist too seriously. Tintin is daring one moment, noble the next, and falls flat on his face a panel or two later.

But what I think is most disarming about Tintin is the honesty of his existence. He is a vehicle for the child-like desire for adventure and Hergé knew that and embraced it. Without that, Tintin would set my teeth on edge. With it, I laugh in delight when he takes control of a helicopter, or snaps an enemy’s rifle barrel with a single shot. Apparently, for me, honesty and humor are keys to making a Mary Sue acceptable.

There have been recent developments in the Tintin universe.

DUN Dun dun...

DUN Dun dun…

When I heard that Spielberg and Jackson were collaborating on a Tintin movie, I was worried. I had much the same fears when I heard of the making of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. I wondered, once, how film could do justice to Tolkien and I found myself wondering the same of Hergé’s work. There was a different challenge to creating a Tintin film, too. With LotR, Jackson was up against the imagination of Tolkien’s readers. For the most part, I feel that he met that challenge. With Tintin, he and Spielberg were up against deceptively simplistic and dynamic art that has been iconic for decades.

When I saw the trailers to the new Tintin film, I was even more worried. The animation style looked weird, and the humor just off enough that it might grate on me.

I am happy to say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed “the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn”. The credits at the beginning showed me that the directors and animators had paid attention. They translated the energetic poses of the comics into motion with panache. The mannerisms of the cast were right, their voices did not irritate me and the mix of fast-paced adventure, silly humor and coshing people on the head were right out of the books.

Purists will complain, but oh well. I complained about details from Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” but I love the films anyway and own the extended versions. I have a suspicion that there will be an extended version of  “the Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn” (they need to explain that tank…) and if so, that will one day grace my shelf of films as well.

There are a few things that were not quite right, in my opinion. Something was off about the twins, or maybe I should say that something was more off than usual about them. The captain’s eyes were a bit too piggy. The tank… And I have to wonder what they are going to do in the sequel as they’ve already used the plot twist from the third book. These are all very minor, though, and as with Lord of the Rings, the changes made to the plot all seemed reasonable if not necessary.

I hope that Jackson and Spielberg will do as fine a job on the next one

Iconoclast!… troglodyte!… fresh-water pirate!… slubberdegullion!… mountebank!… nyctalope!… steam-roller!… sea-gherkin!… cannibal! (Seriously, we could learn so much about “swearing” from the good captain and vastly improve our vocabularies all the while.)

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About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

13 responses to “Tintin

  • Colleen

    Love the post.

  • palecorbie

    I have a similar attachment to Lucky Luke and his cast-iron heroisim, but I see what you mean about a relatively bland driving force…the Tintinless adventures you describe sound quite terrible (if briefly hilarious). What did you make of the skin textures and so on? They look bizzarre.

    Oh, and Tintin was regularly chloroformed as well as being bonked over the head, don’t forget that.

    • jubilare

      I am not familiar with Lucky Luke. Enlighten me?
      To be precise, hilariously brief.
      The skin textures bother me when I watch the previews and when I see stills, but when I watch the film I don’t even notice.

      Yes, indeed. I recently re-read one of the books in which he is trapped in a small room with broken bottles of chloroform in a burning building. I’m convinced he isn’t human. It would make his lack of family, job (reporter my foot), and his permanently indeterminate age make sense.

  • David

    I’ve never read any of Herge’s comics, but after loving the movie, I want to seek them out. In fact, hold on —–there. Marked for later.

    • jubilare

      I am glad you loved the film! I had a feeling that the adventure element, at least, would appeal to you. Are you going to review it?

      May I be so bold as to suggest a starting place for reading the books? As with many a long-running series, Tintin has its ups and downs.
      If I were starting someone off on the series, I would point them to King Ottokar’s Scepter as a good pre-Haddock piece, followed by Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s treasure. That should give one a good baseline for the series. There are some other fantastic ones, of course, including the one Herge apparently considered his best: Tintin in Tibet.I would not worry about “spoiling” the next movie for yourself as they have, wisely I think, deviated from the cannon story-line enough to tell a tale that is new even to those familiar with the books while still basing it heavily on the original material.

  • All About the Tuning | jubilare

    […] in on Meadowseld with the strings-heavy Rohan theme playing. The same is true of the new “Tintin” movie, the “Princess Bride,” and the 1995 film […]

  • Eef

    I’m re-reading my Les Aventures de Tintin comic albums, and I’ve always found myself in the minority when I say that there is nothing baffling or ambiguous about Tintin. As a character, he has a definite moral compass; he just lacks the subtlety or substance when it comes to making a character feel realistic. He becomes bland, then. He’s almost flawlesd, be it intellect, skill, or virtue. I agree with what you mentioned, the only things that make him somewhat relatable, would be his inquisitiveness and getting into troublesome situations (eg. Getting hit on the head plenty of times), but then again, he’s often saved by some stroke of luck, and many times, the odds are in his favor. I grew to love Tintin for being the hero figure with a definite set of ethic and principles. There’s nothing uncertain about him, and you feel secure. His adventures almost deal with realistic issues, but he will prevail over the villains in the end – make no mistake about it. That’s what I love about him and the series, the most. Some sort of moral dilema escapade in a real-life atmosphere. At least, that’s how it feels to me. And of course, that he is a genuine character for children: the role model, no doubt, that can help shape their early outlook in life. Also, for the entertainment and adventure.

    Great insight. Cheers!

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