Tintin and the Secret of Literature
by Tom McCarthy
I have not read a lot of Tintin, in fact I would be surprised if I have read any of them cover to cover. Along with Asterix they were the kind of book I was likely to find in a friend's house or lying around the library somewhere, things were all a bit more classical and British in my house. Nor have I studied literary theory. So what on earth was I doing reading this book then? Well, a good question. It's all down to Tom McCarthy really, as I have said here before, his novel Remainder is probably my favourite book of recent years and I also found lots to admire in his latest, Men in Space (see review here). So I had to have a look at this non-fiction book which was his first published work.
The basic question is whether Hergé's adventures of Tintin can be considered literature. McCarthy argues that contained within the comic strips of Georges Remi are all of the 'keys' that we would expect to find in a novel. He argues with an energy and enthusiasm which means that even when he is stretching the boundaries of credibility you can't help but go along for the ride. I can't pretend to have understood all of it, due to the gaps in my knowledge I pointed out earlier but it is book filled with persuasive ideas and above all written with a genuine love of the subject matter. There are fantastic sections where McCarthy explores the ancestry of Captain Haddock, the comedy of pratfalls, and the shifting politics of Hergé himself.
What is really interesting is to see how many of the themes contained in McCarthy's fiction are prefigured in the panels of Tintin. The idea of authenticity so rigorously tested by the protagonist in Remainder is a recurring theme in Tintin. And just as we follow the attempts to crack the visual codes and signs contained within the icon painting in Men in Space, McCarthy in this book is using the same tools to find the hidden meaning of Hergé's work. We even have an artist making two copies of the painting he has been asked to forge, just as Manásek does in Men In Space.
After all the code-breaking, crypt entering, puzzle solving, boys own adventure, it does make me want to stumble across a copy of Tintin once again and see if I can spot any more of these hidden clues. I wonder if the library's still open...