Steven Spielberg’s latest film, has turned the spotlight once again on the character created in 1929 by Belgian artist, Hergé
A catholic hero
According to the Dictionnaire amoureux du catholicsime, Tintin is knight without a stain, exalted by the taste for mystery and the imperative to protect the weak
For an introduction to the real Tintin, we
publish below the entry on him from the Dictionnaire amoureux du
catholicsime (Paris, Plon, 2011, pp 640, 24 euro.
Tintin is not a Catholic identifiable as such: he never prays to God during his brushes with death and you never see him in a Church. A brief allusion to St. John the Evangelist hints at a residue of the Catechism. The guardian angels of Captain Haddock and Snowy, at war with an imaginary devil, make you smile. Religion – Incas, sun cults, Buddhists, Muslims – is that of others, to be respected as it perpetuates a culture. On this level, Hergé is something of a relativist. The treasure of the Incas (The Temple of the Sun) or the burial of pharaohs (The Cigars of the Pharaoh) should not be the object of Western curiosity. Only twice does Tintin utter, “May God have his soul!” when he learns of the death of a evil Japanese man (The Blue Lotus) and of the two scoundrels on the high seas (Red Rackham’s Treasure). As for millenarianism, it got what it deserved from the enlightened one in The Shooting Star, who announces the end of time by striking his gong.
Yet Tintin is a hero of Catholicism, imbued with the ideal of the scouts, which was important in Hergé’s formation and which is seen in his first works, Jo, Zette and Jocko and Popol Out West. He is ageless, does not even really have a sex or ordinary yearning, he has a job which allows him to wander around and an art of disguise which hides his identity: he is an angel, or almost one. Curious, adventurous, helpful, like Chesterton’s priest detective Brown, he seems to have come to earth to defend widows and orphans. He is Roland crossed with Mermoz and Saint-Exupèry, who has, like Durendal, a dog that speaks and reasons. He challenges the arrogance of the powerful, the veniality of colonizers, protects the weak and the oppressed. A firm anti-communist from the time of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, when the Belgian journalist has not yet become the comic superhero, Hergé separates without mercy the Yankee capitalists and arms dealers from their money. Alcazar is less cruel than Tapioca, but Tintin makes them promise to not shoot anymore as if it were no big deal. The monarchy of Ottokar is better than the red dictatorship of Plekszy-Gladz, because the king prefers to abdicate to avoid the shedding of blood, while among the Bordures, shots are fired without mercy. But human gullibility, greed and stupidity have no ideological borders. There is only one truly kind character in Tintin in America: the ethnologist who adopts the customs of the “good savage.” There is only one character with values in Tintin in the Congo: the missionary with the soutane and white hood who cures the ill. The indigenous character is never the evil one, but is the target of the voracity of the evil moneymakers of multinationals (oil or arms). Even if it falls into the paternalistic clichés of the time when Belgium exploited the Congo. Tintin is a supernatural hero who moves amongst realistic scenes, albeit poeticized and caricatured. Those closest to him are subject to temptations: whisky for Haddock, bones for Snowy, applied science for Prof. Calculus. But just in time, they correct themselves and arm themselves with courage. Their honesty saves them, as in the case of Prof. Caluculus, intransigent on “human rights” (Tintin and the Picaros), who gives up his inventions because they risk being used for wrong ends (The Calculus Affair). This scientist is part of the confraternity of the just, whose princes are two children: the Indian Zorrino (Prisoners of the Sun) and the Chinese Chang (The Blue Lotus). Tintin reserves particular tenderness for them; they are evangelical figures, sublime in their trust. They are pure, like Tintin, who has the gift of tears and who becomes a child again when clowning around, to express his joy. Grace protects him from desperate situations, like the heroes of medieval epics. Tintin is a Western knight of modern times, an unstained heart in an invulnerable body. He crosses through common humanity like a meteor – his geography, his psychology – doubly exalted by his profane taste for mystery and a sacred moral imperative: save the innocent, defeat evil. He loves life too much to be a saint, his curiosity ties him to humanity, sometimes he awards himself with a cruise or a beach to rest in the bucolic refuge of Marlinspike Hall, from where, around the corner, you can see the bell tower of the village. This double for the castle of Cheverny, seat of Haddock’s ancestors, reclaimed (with its treasure) thanks to the generosity of Prof. Calculus, is more or less the time of a Grail. If paradise existed in this world, Marlinspike Hall would be its headquarters. But he needs to leave it to go rout out evil, to gather the crumbs of exoticism here and there like the crusades that Tintin revives (without their warmongering) and like the missionaries (without their proselytism). He is the guardian angel of Christian values that the West denies or constantly denigrates. Without fear, without blame, Hergé’s creation unites with candor the virtues which they tried to teach me in the Catechism. It is of little importance if Hergé was aware of it when lovingly drawing a Creature whose monsters (the gorilla in The Black Island and the yeti in Tintin in Tibet) were less harmful than the human race. Even if, in daily life, man is not so despicable: the man on the street sins mostly out of inertia. It is pride, the attractiveness of money and the taste for power which ruins everything, that is to say, Caesar and Mammon. Tintin drives them out, assaults them and then brings them back to the fold (more or less Old Europe) to the applause of good people. But evil is never entirely disarmed and society has only incompetent Thompsons to oppose it. They incarnate the law, with a small “l”, and make it ridiculous. When I was young, there was a missal for Sunday and the works of Tintin for the weekdays. They went together in our initiation. Since the missal is no longer in use, Tintin is now all alone in initiating the kids into the values of chivalry.
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