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May 15

Send A Limousine Anyway

The Brown Wedge22 comments • 2,851 views

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1978: The Shooting Star

It’s the spider I remember. In The Shooting Star, boy reporter Tintin is investigating an apocalyptic threat, a star on a collision course with our world. He visits an observatory, hoping they can tell him what’s going on. They can: the world is doomed. He is led to the telescope and through it he sees a colossal spider, clinging to the star.

The beast is only on the telescope lens. And the world is not doomed. But I was entranced. By that, by the panic in the streets, by the race to reach a new island formed in the wake of the star’s passing, and by the grotesque exploding mushrooms our hero finds there. Tintin is the first comic I can remember reading, and The Shooting Star is my first memory of Tintin. In many ways, I wish it was almost any of his other adventures.

Tintin had a special status in our family. My Dad and his brothers and sisters grew up in the 50s and early 60s in Switzerland as well as Britain, as their father worked for the UN. Tintin was part of their childhood, followed in his own magazine, and with each new volume a bestseller. Those albums, in their original French, followed my Gran to England when she and Grandad divorced. I learned to read French by following my Dad’s translation of L’Ile Noire and Tintin En Amerique, at his knee. He bought me Tintin in English, the Methuen paperback editions. Some of those sit on our shelves now, creased, faded, and over-loved, supplemented with newer copies.

I am not the only person who holds Tintin in special affection. There are creators who establish the visual grammar and expectations of a whole style – a whole marketplace, in some cases. Kirby, Tezuka, Herge, and so on. To encounter them young is to be taught a language. Comics writer Kieron Gillen described Watchmen (which we’ll be meeting in 1986) as a comic that teaches you how to read it. Tintin, in its discreet, precise way, is a comic that teaches you how to read comics.

It does so almost invisibly. Herge never draws attention to his storytelling decisions: like his famously economical line, they are artefacts of impeccable design. A Tintin book is never flashy, never ambiguous or confusing – it is a gorgeously smooth reading experience, a user interface Apple would envy. It is not, however, cinematic – The Shooting Star is full of two-panel sight gags and payoffs that are utterly comic-y, relying on the sharp division of frames, not the fluidity of film or animation.

Take the first three panels of the book, a slapstick gag about Snowy walking into a lamp-post. In a cartoon, it would be very hard not to introduce the lamp-post before the collision, making the joke one of anticipation. On the page, lamp-post and collision can appear simultaneously, with Snowy’s forward motion suggested by the force of impact. Our eye has been tricked upward by Tintin pointing out the star, so it feels like Snowy paying the price for our misdirection.

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(Meanwhile, for new readers, the panels introduce a lot of information: Snowy can talk, he is the comic foil for the observant Tintin, it is unnaturally hot, and – for the sharp-eyed – there is a huge new star in the middle of the Great Bear. That last is the one thing you might miss, so Herge includes it as exposition next panel while leavening any dryness with another joke – verbal, this time. This guy is tight, basically.)

Two other things stand out about Herge. First, he plays very fair. The vocabulary of adventure comics is one of tight squeezes and narrow escapes. There are lots of ways to convey peril like this – having the characters talk about it, most crudely, but also using foreshortening or dramatic cutting to heighten the imminence and narrowness of the danger while also drawing out its resolution. Herge’s approach is a more honest one: he establishes the physicality of a location precisely and doesn’t amplify it to make peril seem greater, relying on that clarity to make the danger more vivid. For instance, there’s a great scene in The Shooting Star where Snowy is on the deck of a pitching and tilting ship, in danger of being swept away. In quick cuts across half a dozen panels, Herge establishes Snowy’s presence on the deck, then a hole in the deck wall through which water is hurtling, then a surge of water which moves Snowy nearer the wall, then – oh no! – he’s half out of the hole before being grabbed by Tintin. It’s so basic that pointing it out seems insulting. But I will remember reading it for the rest of my life – the solidity of the wall and hole, the force of the spray exploding through it.

Herge is a creator you trust, then. And the second reason you trust is his attention to detail. A famously scrupulous researcher, his settings and vehicles are created with the precision of an Airfix modeller and then rendered with the satisfying plastic simplicity of a Lego builder. So, reading The Shooting Star, I knew that were I to ever see a seaplane, it would look like a Herge seaplane. (Tintin is full of seaplanes.) I knew that if I ever saw a Norwegian dock in the 1940s, it would look like the dock Captain Haddock stops in to refuel. If I ever clung to a lamp-post to watch rats surge through the streets… well, the lamp-post would be Hergeian too. He was scrupulous about this: apparently he fretted for years afterwards that Tintin’s ship would not in fact be seaworthy. But if I was ever on a ship looking for a crashed meteorite, I would expect it to look like Tintin’s ship, the Aurora.

And if I summon to mind a corrupt financier, surely he would look like the corrupt financier, Bohlwinkel.

bohlwinkel Which is something of a problem. Because Bohlwinkel looks like – well, he is well-fed, balding, dark haired, with a long curved nose, fleshy, smirking lips, and beady, leering eyes. He looks like a caricature Jew, in a comic written and published in Nazi-occupied Belgium, in 1941. The very economy and exactitude, the trustworthiness, of Herge’s cartooning is suborned by a racist stereotype.

It gets worse. Herge uses his command of the techniques of comics to continually remind us that Bohlwinkel is an alien presence, a foreign body within his story of scientific adventure. The rest of The Shooting Star is – as ever with Tintin – a world of detail: streets, docks, and crashed meteorites rendered with beautiful parsimony, always just enough to be real, never a line more. But Bohlwinkel’s panels are empty of background: he sits, leaning eagerly in to hear the radio, in a yellow space whose sharp, sickly vibrancy contrasts with the less jarring palette Herge uses for his outdoor action. He is an interruption in the story, never physically active, listening and manipulating. The heroic characters never meet him. His plots wither on contact with the real world, foiled by the camaraderie of sailors, the derring-do of Tintin, and the decency of the unnamed man on the rival ship who prevents Tintin being shot.

Bohlwinkel is the symbolic spider at the story’s centre, mirroring the physically monstrous spiders on the telescope and later on the meteorite-island. Of course the association, then and now, of Jews with spiders is an anti-Semitic commonplace. But you needn’t buy that parallel to grasp the role Bohlwinkel is playing. He incarnates the ancient prejudice of the Jew as schemer, string-puller, the secret conspiracy behind misfortune. He is considerably more than just a caricature, let alone an accidental one as Herge later hinted – everything about his role in the story and the symbolism it’s associated with is nakedly and purposefully anti-Semitic.

Herge pointed out that there are plenty of comic stereotypes all through Tintin – spoiled Arab brats, drunken Englishmen, nutty professors, and so on. He was, you might say, an “equal opportunities” satirist. He had even spoofed the Nazis themselves, in an earlier book, and deserves credit for that. But only one of his satirical targets was the simultaneous victim of organised state oppression, then genocide. Did the good, worried folk of Charleroi and Liege, presenting their papers and going about their daily lives under the Nazis, understand what was happening to the Jewish-owned businesses in their towns? What speculation reached them? They could, at least, open up Le Soir and escape with Tintin into a world that reassured them that whatever prejudices Europe’s Jewry faced, they had to a degree brought it on themselves. The Mysterious Star ended its run in May 1942, with an expression of comic horror on Bohlwinkel’s flabby face as his schemes are found out and he learns the authorities are on his trail. That same month, the Jews of Belgium were given a star of their own to wear.

Why has the anti-Semitism in The Shooting Star not destroyed its reputation? Tintin In The Congo, the boy reporter’s notoriously racist first adventure, now comes in shrinkwrap, with a stern warning to librarians. The Shooting Star is simply part of the canon. Part of it, I think, is that Herge shields Tintin himself from Herge’s own casual anti-Semitism. Congo is repulsive not just because of Herge’s gross caricatures of black people, but because Tintin is so explicitly the voice and hand of colonial power. Without racism, and the racial horror of Belgium’s Empire, there is no story in Tintin In The Congo. (There’s not much of one in any case.) In The Shooting Star, though, the main plot is of a race between international science and private enterprise for control of knowledge – with Tintin, sympathetically, on the side of science. The story requires a cheating capitalist. It does not require that capitalist to be a Jew.

Bohlwinkel is, of course, never named as such: when Herge put together the colour volume of The Shooting Star – the one we have now – he cut another anti-Semitic scene and changed his financiers name to Bohlwinkel from the more telling Blumenstein. He felt this defused the issue. But he did not redraw the man – and Bohlwinkel’s Jewishness exists as code, instantly obvious to most readers in Occupied Europe in 1941, blessedly oblivious but potentially insidious to a 5-year old boy in 1978.

Within Tintin fandom you can find all the strands of opinion you might expect – the loyalists who take Herge’s line that the book’s anti-Semitism is accidental; the majority who consider it a regrettable lapse in an otherwise fine book, or simply feel it doesn’t matter and wasn’t it all a long time ago. And a few who think the book is a blot on Herge’s career. (Those who feel it damns the entire Tintin enterprise are presumably not in the fandom in the first place.) How do I feel?

I read the book when I was five. Re-reading it now, its setpieces are as striking and resonant as ever. The comic is an outlier in the Tintin canon, one of the few books where the uncanny – always lurking in Herge’s work at the edges of adventure, in dreams or as implications or as a mystery to be solved – bursts through the skin of the story. The book starts and ends with wonder – a world burning, then flooded; and an island of transformed science which exists only for a few hours. Herge, for all the buttoned-down repression his cool lines suggest, could be the most psychological of cartoonists. His affinity for the quiet comforts of the bourgeois world, struggling with his storyteller’s instinct to breach them, made him unusually good at capturing disquiet and upset. No wonder his wartime books are so strange and strong.

Perhaps my lifelong attraction to the mood of a comic begins here, in the panels set in the glow of the meteor’s approach, where the solidity of Herge’s universe begins to literally melt: faithful Snowy becomes stuck on a road of liquefying tarmac; the light and line becomes starker and sharper, and the characters’ shadows themselves become sticky and treacherous. Comics have so many ways of capturing feeling like this, of conveying interiority through how they show the world’s exterior. The crisis passes, of course: Tintin learns the world is safe in the most comically bourgeois way possible, via the Belgian speaking clock. In the midst of upheaval, order prevails.

But that’s the danger of it. A common twentieth-century British fantasy – perhaps it still is one – was to imagine what we might have done ourselves under Nazi occupation. Nobody chose collaborator. Mostly we imagined ourselves in a heroic role, more or less – if not as an actual resistance fighter, then at least hiding Jews, sneaking messages to the Free British, weighing out butter and boiled sweets to the occupying troops with a very English frost. This last agrees with the grim statistical likelihood of occupation: resenters would have been far more common than dissenters. But what good do resenters do, really?

Herge was not a collaborator. But The Shooting Star is a collaboration: an acceptance – inevitable, its defenders would say – of the realities of occupation, a newly disturbed world. Certain prejudices become more acceptable. Certain ones become less so. Certain dreams endure – both sides loved their scientists, after all. The Shooting Star takes all of this on board – how pragmatic it is – makes a quiet bet on the status quo, and reflects it in its choice of villain.

That is its lesson. It’s a beautiful, exciting, seductive comic, which is also a reminder – because, thank goodness, it lost that bet – of how casual and thoughtless acquiescence is. Because it’s so beautiful and exciting, it isn’t an easy reminder. It’s not a Tintin In The Congo, an evil comic which is also a bad one, hence simple to deplore. The Shooting Star is a splendid comic, its evil a subtle ripple, an answer to a single question, who is my villain, that’s as much lazy as bad. The Nazis are gone. The question – who is my villain? – has not. I gave The Shooting Star to my five year old son to read – he adored it. Why wouldn’t you? Because he adored it, I write this, for him to read later.

NEXT: May 1979. Greed is good, Fleetway hits the Jackpot.

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 10 May 2015 #

    (I am not quite sure why the three panel strip has come out tiny and the picture of Bohlwinkel ENORMOUS, by the way.)

  2. 2
    batman on 10 May 2015 #

    ”Tintin In The Congo, the boy reporter’s notoriously racist first adventure”

    Surely Tintin In The Land of the Soviets was the boy reporter’s notoriously racist first adventure?

  3. 3
    Tom on 10 May 2015 #

    Doh! I stand corrected. (I’ve also never read it.)

  4. 4
    Steve Mannion on 10 May 2015 #

    Lovely piece! But re #1 Tom it’s the alignment rules in my stylesheet (as ever ;). Left or right-aligned images show as half the width of this column – centred images fill the width. Unaligned images show as they are (but ideally always align images, making sure they’re big enough to fit and not too elongated if portrait).

  5. 5
    IP on 11 May 2015 #

    Great piece Tom. I’m a non-religious Jew. My French relatives wore those stars and tattoos. And yet we’re all big Tintin lovers, and comic book talk was often a part of our family get togethers. (One of us even has a tattoo of the sign of the kih-osk.) I guess it used to be easier to shrug these things off. I wonder, though, in these days of tumblrs and problematic faves, whether new audiences will be so forgiving. I hope so. But I wouldn’t blame them if they weren’t.

  6. 6
    Tom on 11 May 2015 #

    Yeah – I think for a long time stuff that wasn’t completely egregiously how-did-they-get-away-with-this horrible (eg stuff that wasn’t as obviously bad as Tintin Au Congo) got – not a free pass exactly, but a “this is regrettable” paragraph in the middle of otherwise glowing reviews. And now there’s been a swing away from that towards anathematising art for its failures, which is hotly resisted by some but I think is also a necessary phase. But I hope it IS a phase, and what we get out the other side is a criticism that is more comfortable with discussing the bad aspects as part of the work, not as something that either can be safely put to one side or which destroys the whole thing. (If it destroys the whole thing for you as a reader btw you are NOT WRONG AT ALL, any more than you are to say wow, I never noticed, oh well and read happily on, but I think the critic has a different job.)

  7. 7
    IP on 11 May 2015 #

    Absolutely. I took this Mark Twain course at University, where we students wrote earnest essays about Twain’s progressive qualities, and the professor was like, “Yeah, that’s true, but don’t forget he was still a racist and thought racism was super hilarious.” And the fact that the Professor enjoyed the books, but didn’t de-problematise them, was a real eyeopener for young student me.

  8. 8
    zioluc on 12 May 2015 #

    Great piece.
    ” I will remember reading it for the rest of my life”: comics read as a child shaped my imagination in a way that now I think such things very often, and I find myself looking for that strong visual experience every time I read comics.

    As for the Jewish matter, I think that Hergé’s racist “blots” are to be pointed out but cannot obscure his art, and that they are heavily linked to the years the books were conceived.

  9. 9

    Off at a slight tangent, re Tintin in Tibet (which is to be fair one of the books in which Hergé perhaps fights his hardest to counter his bigotries and blunders elsewhere): watching a documentary a couple of days ago about sherpa Norgay Tenzing’s and beekeeper Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Everest, was startled (and yet not so startled) to see a couple of shots that Hergé had pretty much just put tracing paper over (the most vividly obvious being the sequences of pics where a wobbly Capt Haddock is frantically trying to keep his balance on a bridge of twigs across a small but dangerous river: this exact bridge, to the twig, and river, to the eddy, appears in the film footage of the 1953 Everest expedition).

    Years ago, when a friend showed slides of his trip to the Himalayas, we were both surprised (and he was a bit cross) at how much I already knew, having never been anywhere even close — knew about the rhododenrons and the chortens and I forget what else. All cribbed from Tintin in Tibet .

  10. 10
    Tom on 12 May 2015 #

    Yes, Herge’s commitment to representing the world is one of the most enjoyable things about him – and learning to read comics through Herge means I will always have an attraction to that sensibility (which will show up in this series of pieces quite often, I’d guess.)

    I never warmed to Tintin In Tibet as a child – it and The Castafiore Emerald (which I never even READ as a boy) are the books where Herge’s own desires and issues show most clearly, and I suppose as a young reader I realised something was up, even though Tibet is also the most exciting of the late books. I should re-read it, as sequences like the bridge one are so vivid.

  11. 11
    Rory on 12 May 2015 #

    A great piece, Tom, on what is certainly the strangest of the Tintin books. I read Harry Thompson’s bio of Hergé a few years ago, and he’s a bit more forgiving of The Shooting Star and its depiction of Bohlwinkel; claims that it was an innocent attempt to depict an American businessman stereotype which friends then pointed out could be construed as anti-Semitic. Yes, well, hmm.

    Destination Moon was always my favourite – the best cliffhanger of all. Tintin in Tibet second, for its wonderful portrait of friendship. But I love all the middle-period volumes. Land of Black Gold was another great one. Dodgy racial portraits in that, too, no doubt (it’s quite a while since I last looked at it).

    You’re not missing much with Land of the Soviets: a trainee work, never updated and redrawn for colour. Still fascinating to a fan, though. I wish I could afford to buy all the French reprints of the original B&W volumes, having pored over them in FNAC: a totally different line, with few of the detailed backgrounds he later developed – quite a different (visual) read.

  12. 12
    Rory on 12 May 2015 #

    For a moment there I was wondering whether I’d spelled Thompson’s surname properly, or if it was actually Thomson.

  13. 13
    Tom on 12 May 2015 #

    Thompson’s book is excellent, but I agree that he’s too soft on his cartooning hero (an easy thing to be): that line of argument crumbled quite a lot when the original newspaper version of The Shooting Star surfaced a few years ago, with a pair of caricature Jews cackling over how much money the apocalypse would make them. The fairest thing you can say – also the most damning, in many ways – is that Herge knew his audience.

  14. 14
    Rory on 13 May 2015 #

    Sounds irrefutable to me.

    I’m fascinated by your question of why Congo was looked down upon and not The Shooting Star. Congo was given the cold shoulder by English publishers all along, certainly in the 1960s/70s when most of the translation was taking place; it was something we kids (might have) heard about, but couldn’t read. It didn’t come out in English until the late 2000s, for an adult audience of people who grew up with Tintin. Yet in Belgium it was always there, a constant reminder of their former empire. I picked it up in Dutch and French in Brussels in the early 2000s, with no shrink-wrap or warning page.

    This urge to wrap the past in caveats and footnotes intrigues me. I’ve been doing it myself this year, while posting a book of century-old travel yarns to my website section by section, complete with footnotes to explain the author’s dated references. This particular chap was a good egg, and remarkably enlightened in many ways, but there are still one or two unfortunate words that have needed explaining. Or have they? Why do I feel the need to say that a word acceptable then is unacceptable now, when everyone already knows that? It’s a kind of performance, really: an explicit statement that, yes, I have posted this word on my website, but it isn’t me saying it in 2015, it’s this author saying it in 1924, and today it would be a Bad Thing – not that he was a Bad Man, just a man of his time. It’s partly a preemptive strike against marauding web crusaders who take online transgressions out of context and use them to destroy authors, commenters, tweeters (cf Jon Ronson’s latest book), but partly something more positive, less defensive: a way of saying, look, I know that this word and the attitudes it suggests are jarring today, and you know that I know, but I’m posting this book anyway because it’s much, much more than this one word or this short passage, and I think you’d get a lot from it.

    I can see why publishers of books aimed at children sidestep that, though, by sanitising the works themselves (Noddy, Richard Scarry, etc) or just not republishing them. Reading between the lines is a bit much to expect of a young child. In a way, then, the appearance of Tintin in the Congo in English with these caveats is a sad sign that Tintin’s day has passed, that the audience are now middle-aged readers buying the books for themselves, or buying them to share with kids, but not really the kids saving up their pocket money, as I once did, to buy a precious new (“new”) volume.

    But that’s just in English. I wish I knew how French/Dutch speakers have grappled with this, with Congo always available, and Tintin looming so much larger in their bandes desinee landscape. Maybe it’s like The Shooting Star has been for us: the racist elements have been invisible to them, or waved away as being incidental to the story. Maybe they’ll have a collective epiphany and start shrink-wrapping them too. Or maybe there have been objections all along?

    Connections to make here, too, to non-French-speaking and/or non-comic-readers’ responses to Charlie Hebdo this year, but this comment is too long already, so I’ll spare you those.

  15. 15
    Mark M on 13 May 2015 #

    We had Tintin In The Congo in the house back in the day (late ’70s) – I’m guessing it must have been a Spanish translation, if it wasn’t available in English (we had a bunch of Tintin books in both languages, probably Asterix too. Comics would seem to be a good way of learning languages). I have no clear memory of how I would have reacted to it age nine, other than presuming I wouldn’t have taken it very seriously – it was clearly odds with both the world we knew around us and everything else we were reading. It had no effect, anymore than the World War II-set comics I was also reading were at all likely to make me think of German friends of mine as ‘the Hun’.

    As an adult, there are certainly plenty of times I’ve found myself taken aback by unexpected bursts of prejudice in books – for instance, the treatment of Jewish characters in the early Graham Greene novels.

    Especially when it comes to 20th century stuff, it becomes harder to maintain the ‘well, that’s the way most people felt’ line when balanced against the thought that, well, by then quite a lot of people didn’t. Do we end up making arbitrary cut-offs? Anti-semitism after the ’30s? Racism after the ’50s? Homophobia after the ’70s? I certainly don’t want to impose some huge purge on the writing of the past, but it’s definitely a tricky business.

  16. 16

    Belgium’s crimes in the Congo were well known and much-discussed in the UK in the early part of the 20th century: part of a narrative arguing that the British knew how to run an world-spanning empire in a way that was beneficial and indeed kindly for everyone concerned (unlike the Belgians — or worse, the Germans — who were mere sociopathic bandits and despoilers by comparison). This was self-serving stuff, of course — but perhaps enough to make Congo seem beyond the pale for British kids even in the 30s? (By which I mean, a British publisher would have no qualms putting out such stuff about the British Empire, but would baulk at same for so manifestly disgraced a rival?)

    (My dad was always very disapproving of Tintin when I was small — I never quite found out why, I think when I asked he just said he didn’t like the way it was drawn, but he was a child during WW2, and wondering about it lately it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d formed a disapproval early on, based on things like Congo and knowledge of Hergé’s collaboration garnered from his parents, who were certainly culturally and politically well informed enough to know about such things, and never slow to declare strong opinions on them.)

    [Adding: actually not sure if they’d have known about Congo if it wasn’t published in the UK, though both read good French. But the collaboration would have been anathema.]

  17. 17
    swanstep on 13 May 2015 #

    “part of a narrative arguing that the British knew how to run an world-spanning empire in a way that was beneficial”
    That feels a little cynical to me. At least as the story is told in Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, the Congo reform movement in England was made up of people with pretty high ideals across the board and with roots going back to abolitionism in the 18C. IIRC, even though the administration of the Congo was their main target, the main pamphleteers and letter-writers dished out criticism to all-comers, including to administrators of English territories where rights of Africans were ignored.

    I should look all this up I suppose! But the key figures at least, ‘Morel’ being the only name I’ve committed to memory, held no special brief for the British Empire (I’m not sure if they were actually anti-Imperial in the 1890s and 1900s, but they were heading in that direction…). Maybe the slant you give is right for the anti-Belgian legislation that ended up being passed now I think about it, but the broader movement was pretty inspiring.

  18. 18

    Well, I’m suggesting that displeased discussion of what had happened in the Belgian Congo probably went some way beyond the explicitly anti-imperial milieu in Britain — and that once it did, a kind of good-empire-bad-empire idea would have kicked in. (Kipling, for example, was seemingly a supporter of the Congo Reform movement… )

    (Caveat update: I found the fact in brackets on a list of the movement’s supporters on the internet, so pinch of salt advised — but I would not actually be surprised if he was. He thought the British Empire was a good thing, but was very scornful of the others.)

  19. 19
    Tom on 13 May 2015 #

    #14 There’s some stuff that I enjoyed enormously as a child that, while I wouldn’t actively remove from the hands of my kids, I wouldn’t put in their path either. But ultimately reading (listening, etc.) in a historical context is just far too important and useful a skill to jeopardise by painting over the mistakes of the past. I am very unsympathetic to the view that any of these books should be discreetly updated to appeal to “a new generation of kids” or whatever. No story has that right. If something great falls into disdain because of one flaw, then that’s just how it is. If something flawed survives, ditto.

    (Obviously, one of the issues with Shooting Star and Congo is that reading within the historical context can make them look WORSE.)

    Tintin has a poorer reputation in the US than in Europe in general – he’s never had a mass audience. So the shrinkwrapping of Congo (which may only be a US, and possibly UK, thing) comes in the context of Herge’s books never having been a living part of the kid-lit corpus: it’s a difficult early work by one of the medium’s great auteurs.

  20. 20
    Phil on 13 May 2015 #

    #18 – Kipling was… complicated. There’s a weirdly recursive, self-questioning quality to his imperialism: empire-builders are bad when they’re cruel and exploitative, good when they’re civilised and progressive; British imperialism is good because it is civilised and progressive, but it’s bad when it fails to live up to its own ideal – but it’s good because mostly it does live up to that ideal, but that makes it even worse when it fails… and so on. I wouldn’t overstate this – the coin always lands on Heads in the end – but he is an curiously honest and troubled writer; there are depths there, and horrors, which I think would be alien to somebody like WE Henty (he of “Play up! Play up, and play the game!”). The very poem that made Kipling’s reputation as a racist – “Recessional“, with its reference to “lesser breeds without the Law” – sums a lot of this up. And, if you don’t know it, do have a read of The Young British Soldier.

  21. 21
    Rory on 13 May 2015 #

    #19 I should have followed the train of thought and said that although I can see why publishers do it, it isn’t very satisfying for readers, and I agree that I’d rather ditch a book than buy a bowdlerised version. I have a shelf of Tintins and don’t mind whether my kids end up reading them – it’s up to them. If and when they do, I’ll be happy to have conversations with them about why certain characters and dialogue are dodgy; it won’t be any worse than having to explain to my small son that he was going to die someday.

    With very small children who can’t yet read books for themselves, it’s harder to have those conversations, which (as I said before) is no doubt why publishers are tempted to sanitise; but there are so many great picture books around today that I can’t see why they or book-buyers bother with the dodgy stuff, if they’re genuinely aiming it at kids. If it’s for nostalgic reasons, or for their place in comics or children’s books history, just market it directly to adults rather than pretend it’s for 21st-century kids. Which is pretty much what’s been done with the English translation of Tintin in the Congo.

  22. 22
    Tommy Mack on 14 May 2015 #

    I adored Tintin as a kid. Like most boys, my brother and I fiercely protested bedtime but would elect to go to bed TWO HOURS early, teeth brushed and all, if my dad promised to read one of Tintin’s two part adventures such as Destination Moon/On The Moon back to back. Funnily enough, Moon was the first one I read so I struggled to keep up with Professor Calculus’ deafness as a running joke.

    Even as a kid I knew the way Herge drew black Africans was racist though. I wasn’t really aware of Jewish or other ethnic stereotypes so they passed me by. I tend to agree with the concensus: don’t wave away the ugly aspects of great art but don’t bin the books either. Or worse update them. Only goes so far though, I was thinking about this, I’ll read HP Lovecraft, vile racism and all (and it is full on, way beyond what could be dismissed as merely of its time) and I’ll listen to NWA, Guns’N’Roses or Eminem even though all frequently voice ugly views in their music but I’d never, say, listen to early Skrewdriver even though it was a different line-up of the band before any of the NF thugs joined and apparently rather good. Needless to say I’m also happy listening to all manner of vile people who generally keep their personal unpleasantness out of their music.

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