A Boy in Tintin’s World

When I was 12 years old, I was a big reader. My Mum, a librarian, would bring home piles of books from the school she worked at:

“Try these. Let me know what you think.”

I’d like to say that some of these novels have stuck in my head. But the stories melted away into that maelstrom of forgotten tales we all have. At this young age a Tintin adventure book slid into my small hands.

These books I did not forget. Because I’m talking about the 1960’s, Tintin books were being republished in hardback (and possibly being colourised), and in big format English editions in the late ‘50’s.

The first Tintin adventure I read was Desination Moon. The book was so striking in its detail, so incredibly funny; with Prof Calculus, Captain Haddock, and the useless Thompson twins, plus Tintin himself, trying to get a huge red and white rocketship built that would inevitably take them all the way to the moon. Because of the time and living at the bottom of Australia, I had to wait an ETERNITY to receive, by mail, the second book – Explorers on the Moon. That was a very exciting day – I can almost see and feel the slim package being handed to me.

Over the years since I have read and reread those volumes on innumerable occasions. As a teen, if I didn’t have a book to hand that grabbed me, I could always fall back on Tintin, invariably finding new things with each reread, in the beautiful coloured line drawings. I didn’t think too much about Hergé’s abilities to tell his stories with pictures. Only later did I look at how he represented people, their actions, and the landscapes they inhabited within each story.

In my teens I probably acquired almost a full set of Tintin books. These were stories set in the most exotic locations – Prisoners of the Sun; or unforgiving climes – Tintin in Tibet; on a treasure hunt – The Secret of the Unicorn; and fighting pirates and diving under the sea – Red Rackhams’s Treasure. The plethora of storylines and characters across the length and breadth of the collection was a boy’s ideal of fun reading. Calculus, with his deafness, Haddock his buffoonery, the Twins – always off the scent, Marlinspike Hall – the scene of many slapstick moments on its polished marble floors and oversized chandeliers. And the oddball individuals that drifted in and out of the stories (never forget Nestor, the butler). Tintin the boy reporter, and his smart dog Snowy, are left to pick up the pieces, follow the trail, wrest Haddock back onto the wagon, rescue Calculus from kidnapping (twice), and solve the unsolvable puzzles.

I think I could write a thesis on Destination Moon alone. I know Hergé was meticulous in his recreations of all manner of machines: cargo ships, cars, planes, and in this case a rocket. As rockets go, this was a particularly handsome version. The struggle as the bad guys try to take over control of the rocket technology was reminiscent of the Cold War. But most of the book’s action takes place in the secretive rocket facility where the bungling Haddock goes toe to toe with the extremely stressed out Calculus. Full of action and humour, I’m glad this is the story I read first. That is not to say that the other adventures are not as good. I’ll probably go on for life, occasionally plucking out a Tintin book (sadly reduced to paperback), an island of zaniness and beauty in our instant info world.