Great Snakes—It's Tintin!
March 13, 2009Posted by andrew |
Since my son's going on six, I figured it was high time to introduce him to one of my childhood favorites: The Adventures of Tintin. For those of you unfamiliar with the subject, The Adventures of Tintin is a series of 20 or so comic books written by Belgian author Hergé (the pen name of Georges Remi). The books, produced from the late 1920s (the satirical Tintin in the Land of the Soviets) through the 1970s (Tintin and the Picaros), follow the adventures of the eponymous Tintin, a youthful reporter, and his faithful dog Snowy (Milou in the original French). In fact Tintin will soon be the subject of a motion-capture animated movie created under the auspices of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. (Don't screw it up guys, OK?)
Tintin's globe-trotting escapades had a pretty profound effect on my childhood. They instilled in me a desire to travel and seek out new things; to learn, explore, and acknowledge that there was a world out there beyond the boundaries of my everyday existence. Tintin himself is something of a blank slate--a perfect medium for a child to project himself onto and get drawn into the story. The other characters in the Tintin universe actually have much more defined personalities: the faux-foul mouthed ("Bashi bazouk! Pithecanthropus! Carpetbagger!") and sometimes irascible sailor Captain Haddock, hard-of-hearing eccentric scientist Professor Calculus, and the clumsy and not-overly-bright detectives Thompson (with a "p") and Thomson (without).
Anyhow, we've been reading through some of the Tintin stories at bedtime. They usually contain a variety of cliffhanger moments, so there are always good places to pause the action and wait to see how our hero gets out of a scrape the next day. Hergé himself claimed that the Tintin stories were more like movies than books, and indeed the action moves along in a rather cinematic way. I'm basically a frustrated actor, so I've taken great pains to develop distinctive voices for each of the characters. Tintin pretty much uses my normal speaking voice, although on the high side; Captain Haddock's is deeper and gruff, as befitting a salty old sea dog; and Thompson and Thomson are based on Graham Chapman's dim "What's all this then?" policeman who populates numerous Monty Python sketches. Occasionally I slip up and juxtapose voices in a panel, or, worse yet, forget what a character is supposed to sound like. Of course I'm firmly reprimanded with a "Daddy! That's the wrong voice!" Kids pay attention to these things.
Of course, on re-reading these stories after many years, you do realize that there are some aspects to them that you managed to overlook as a child. First off, there's the problem of Captain Haddock's alcoholism. There's no real way to get around the fact that he has a drinking problem, as does Snowy the dog, who usually manages to get hammered off a stray bottle of Haddock's Loch Lomond Whisky at least once in each book. Although it doesn't necessarily seem to complicate the characters' lives too much, just how do you explain the concept of drunkenness to the 5-year-old and 3-year-old who are listening to you read the story? I usually just sort of breeze through those parts and hope that not too many questions get asked. Similarly, Tintin spends quite a bit of time foiling drug smugglers during his adventures. Suffice it to say, herion and opium are just stuff that "bad guys have" and we pretty much leave it at that.
Another thing I've noticed is that Tintin and company use a lot of firearms for children's book characters. Tintin and his pals are often packing heat, usually a compact automatic pistol or a rifle of some sort, but in The Red Sea Sharks our young boy reporter manages to take out a de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber with a World War II-era MP-44 assault rifle that someone on his boat just happens to have lying around. Go Tintin! Tintin and Captain Haddock also don't have much of a problem with gunning down a few of God's creatures if the need arises, often blasting away at alligators, boa constrictors, gorillas, or anything else menacing or inconveniently placed. Again, most of these books were put together in their present form in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, so attitudes definitely were different then. Then there are the occasional ethnic insensitivities that crop up in some of the earlier books. Again, a byproduct of the attitudes of their time... We've managed to steer clear of those volumes so far.
Ultimately, it's been a lot of fun being able to introduce Trevor (and his little sister, although her attention span is shorter) to something that I really loved, and still really enjoy. There's enough stuff, including clever puns and wordplay, for adults to enjoy, not to mention the beautiful artwork in most of the books. On our trips to the library I've been known to make a beeline for the comic section and "suggest" a maybe Red Rackham's Treasure or Explorers on the Moon. Most of the time my suggestions are well heeded, and we hurry home to dive into a new set of adventures.
Here's a link to the Official Tintin Website. I've used the link to the English version of the site, but a few areas are in French only. You have been warned.