Dom Joly: How do you tell a six-year-old that Tintin was a bit dodgy?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

News travels slowly here in the Canadian wilderness. There are only a couple of "cottages" that have the decadent luxury of the internet. I'm forced to navigate my boat slowly past dock after dock like some aqueous kerb-crawler hoping that someone will have an open connection. Through this naval "piggy-backing" I finally managed to get some news of the outside world. "Newspapers" in the Canadian tundra speak only of bears breaking into bars at night and getting sozzled on beer.

So as I scoured the BBC website headlines, desperately worried about whether Posh Spice was fitting into Los Angeles, I spotted a story about the Commission for Racial Equality calling for booksellers to ban the sale of 'Tintin in the Congo'. They were obviously objecting to the awful depictions of the Congolese in the book – paternalistic, racist views that were fairly common in colonial powers such as Belgium and, I'm sure, Great Britain at the time.

I adore Tintin and grew up on Hergé's books and now read them to my six-year-old daughter, Parker, who has also become a fan. 'Tintin in the Congo', however, has always been a difficult one to read to her as it's not easy to explain that Tintin, whom she adores and who is normally so obviously on the side of good, had such dodgy views. Mind you, it's not just the racism in the book that I find a problem – Tintin's treatment of the animals he encounters in Africa resembles a Prince Philip "away day".

In one scene, having failed to get a couple of bullets through a rhinoceros's armour, he climbs up a tree, hangs down and drills a hole into the rhino's back before inserting a stick of dynamite into the poor beast and blowing it to smithereens. The trigger-happy reporter also slaughters herds of impala, monkeys, lions, crocodiles and elephants, and kicks a cheetah up the arse. I'm pretty sure the WWF won't be making him a roving ambassador for its cause any time soon.

Women don't get much of a look-in to Tintin's world either. This is a perpetually youthful man-boy who often makes friends with young boys (the orange-seller in Peru, his good friend Chang, whom he met in China and saves from the Yeti in Nepal) and whose best friend is an alcoholic sea captain with whom he shares a huge country estate. Almost the only women who show up in any of the stories are appalling divas such as the opera singer Bianca Castafiore, or else the odd nagging wife.

He travels the world with his dog Milou and the Captain, filing stories for a newspaper with a seemingly bottomless fund and no apparent commissioning system. The boy sure had it good.

Hergé never travelled to any of the countries that he drew. He was an obsessive hoarder of photographs, drawings and articles and he used these when drawing cars, houses, landscapes etc. Whenever I travel I'm constantly reminded that my first awareness of many countries and their people was through his drawings. Fortunately, most of his other books are far less controversial and many countries still see it as a badge of importance that Tintin visited them. I was in Vietnam recently and someone had produced a fake Tintin cover depicting 'Tintin in Vietnam' which was selling like hot cakes.

Sadly, he never made it to Canada, but I can imagine the adventure. He would have made friends with a young, handsome Mountie and together they would have canoed up into the wilderness where they would have wrestled (drunk) bears, massacred beavers, chipmunks, deer, geese and salmon before meeting the big baddy. In Hergé's world these would have been the eco-hippies chained to trees and trying to stop the glorious march of progress as epitomised by the brave and industrious logging industry. Tintin and his Mountie friend would have arrested the smelly hippies, but not before being hurled off the Niagara Falls in a barrel.

I bet when Spielberg makes the movie Tintin will be a totally politically correct entity – an opponent of global warming, accompanied by his good friend Capitaine Harlotte, a beautiful blonde played by Kirsten Dunst. I'm pretty sure that he won't be picking the 'Congo' story for adaptation any time soon either.

Comments