Well, I’ve pretty flat-out failed at my promise to produce 2-3 reviews of the books and series I grew up with per week here at the Chi Files… other commitments have practically been clawing at my windows and doors, keeping me occupied with other things since then.
But, enough excuses. I’m back to it, and it’s time to roll out the next review.
In early 20th century Europe (or Belgium, “to be precise”), a young reporter and his little dog Snowy began a series of adventures that would take them to faraway deserts, lush jungles, miles under the sea, and to the moon itself. Along the way they are joined by a colorful cast of characters which includes the salty Captain Haddock, two bumbling but sincere detectives Thomson and Thompson, incessantly self-obsessed singer Bianca Castafiore, absent-minded professor Calculus, and a host of others.
Set in a comic format more akin to that of a newspaper than the latest MARVEL release, the pictures served to help carry the action in a way that words could not have. Further, since so much of Tintin’s vernacular was foreign to a young boy’s vocabulary, the pictures also aided as an interpretive tool when the dialogue was unfamiliar. The colorful illustrations brought the characters to life and involved the reader in the story.
Early in each book, Tintin would be thrust into a far-reaching quest for truth, justice, or some combination of the two. Often events would begin to unfold after Tintin noticed something suspicious which had evaded the authorities (or other relevant parties) and decided to do his own investigating. Other times he would be swept away by coincidence, such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a case of mistaken identity.
Inevitably, Tintin would end up being the deciding factor in a struggle between opposing factions, which could range from the simple and petty national rivalries of the time, to the truly good and evil.
What made it great
Of all the things that could be mentioned here, several stand out as worthy of discussion.
First, the boy reporter himself. Tintin was a tenacious fellow with a penchant for adventure. What little boy doesn’t respect that? A levelheaded, clear-thinking protagonist makes for a fantastic read – much better than the muddled and conflicted personalities that I more favored in my teenage reading days; more on that as the review series progresses.
Of course, as luck would have it, one of the things that made “The Adventures of Tintin” great WAS in fact the more muddle-headed and conflicted personality of Captain Archibald Haddock.
Captain Haddock was a serial-drinking and quintessentially foul mouthed old sailor (no worries, sailor-language was presented in the form of daggers, lightning bolts, and similar non-explicit manners)
encountered by Tintin as an enemy on one of his adventures. After his initial run-in with Tintin, however, he was rehabilitated and became the young reporter’s best friend and confidant – to the point that he joined Tintin on virtually all the rest of his adventures from that time on, even proving to be a key asset in more than one pinch.
The reason I was a fan of Captain Haddock boils down to the fact that he was the perfect foil for Tintin himself. Whereas early in the series Tintin had a good bit of a silly side to him (never so much as to rival Haddock, of course), once the captain joined up with him he progressively became more serious and thoughtful. The character of Captain Haddock, I think, allowed Herge to fashion Tintin into more of a logical, sequential, and level-headed person while still maintaining the necessary level of tension-breaking humor to keep the story from becoming more gritty.
What it taught me
Essentially, “The Adventures of Tintin” taught me the beauty of rational thinking. For Tintin, putting clues together and following a trail of evidence in a logical progression of ideas was second-nature. This as opposed to Captain Haddock, whose drinking led him to function in a more strictly reactive way to events, as opposed to Tintin’s proactive approach which was what always finally ended up leading to the story’s resolution.
Through Tintin, I very early on developed a penchant for taking the facts over the speculation, developing a reasonable synthesis of those facts, and following ideas through to their logical conclusions. Tintin proved over and over again, especially as juxtaposed with and seen in contrast to Captain Haddock, that being mentally prepared for action in a sober-minded way is an admirable thing.
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:13
In the final analysis, I would staunchly recommend these books to anyone from the ages of 8 and up. Be aware: there are some violent situations that the characters find themselves in from time to time, however it is a bloodless violence and for the most part deathless as well. Also, there is not a hint of sexual innuendo throughout – in an hour of reading Tintin your kids will come across less mature content than the same time spent in front of a television on almost any channel.
(note: I mean mature content in the sense of sex, language, and violence – the books are certainly filled with mature ideas about the world, but these are the kind you would find in an encyclopedia or a history textbook, not the stuff that passes for entertainment in our culture)
Bottom line: Tintin is certainly the type of character I encourage folks to emulate. Calm, reasonable interaction with the facts wins every time; and that’s why, in the end, so does Tintin.
In passing, I will mention: my favorite book of “The Adventures of Tintin” series is coming to a theater near you this December courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.
Jurassic Park + Lord of the Rings for the win!