“Ten Thousand Thundering Typhoons,” I hear you growl. “Tintin and Theology??? Have you been drinking a crate of Loch Lomond whiskey???” No, I haven’t been indulging in Captain Haddock’s favourite past-time!
I know, I know, the adventures of Tintin are children’s stories. Aside from the excursion to the moon, Hergé’s stories were very much earth-bound. They are not the work of a theologian (John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) or quasi-theologian (like C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Screwtape Letters, That Hideous Strength) entertaining readers with some deep hidden or allegorical message about life.
Yet for all the wit and satire, exhilarating fun, the mysteries that must be solved, and the slap-stick humour, Hergé told illustrated stories that involved a moral universe. Hergé’s boy-scout enthusiasm, which informed the character development of Tintin, carried with it a simple moral code of sorts. Morals of course are not the exclusive province of theologians but invariably dialogue can and does take place between morality and theology.
In the adventures of Tintin, Hergé was plainly and simply telling amusing stories. He was not interested in expounding moral philosophy nor a theological allegory. Hergé had a heart-felt need to “escape” from his guilt-driven strait-jacketed personal experiences of traditional Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, it must be recalled that while Hergé became a lapsed Catholic, his earliest stories appeared as a comic strip for children in a very right-wing Belgian Catholic newspaper in the 1930s. So given the culture, the times, and Hergé’s childhood Catholic background, here and there small theological points can be discerned irrespective of his own adult beliefs.
In Tintin in Tibet (page 45) Snowy, Tintin’s white fox-terrier companion, faces temptation. He has been sent with a written SOS message but along the mountain track stumbles on a bone. In his mind Snowy-the-angel urges moral duty to deliver the SOS message, while Snowy-the-Devil encourages the choice of the pleasure of eating a bone. On this occasion, Snowy listened to the Devil.
In The Broken Ear (page 61) the criminals Ramon Bada and Alonzo Perez are shown drowning and then being hustled off by devils to hell. Just like C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape who advises a younger demon on the art of tempting people using small irritating experiences in life, so one can find parallels in satirical irritating and avoid-at-all-cost characters like the insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg, and the ear-shattering opera singer Bianca Castafiore.
You can see more importantly the moral indignation of Tintin as he becomes inextricably enmeshed in the conspiratorial intrigues surrounding the Japanese military incursion into China in The Blue Lotus. Tintin uncovers conspiracies in the semi-veiled looming threat of Nazism found in the pre-World War Two story King Ottakar’s Sceptre.
Tintin undermined the American mafia (Tintin in America), smugglers and forgers (The Black Island), had stoushes with members of an international drug-cartel (Cigars of the Pharoah), subverted the actions of Arab slave-traders (The Red Sea Sharks), and locked horns with Latin American banana-republic dictators (The Broken Ear, Tintin and the Picaros). In all of this one can see familiar themes of good guys versus bad guys.
Then there is the awful moral dilemma faced by the disgraced scientist-engineer Frank Wolff who chooses in a self-sacrificial act to commit suicide by leaving the rocket so that Tintin and his friends will have more oxygen to breathe in the perilous return flight from the moon to the earth (Explorers on the Moon).
Hergé tapped into the numinous with the paranormal and Von Daniken like theories about extra-terrestrials in Flight 714, skirted around the edges of Tibetan Buddhism (Tintin in Tibet), had Tintin bump into the Islamic world (Land of Black Gold, The Red Sea Sharks), and touched on the “lost” civilisation of the Incas (Prisoners of the Sun).
Tintin and Theology is not a flight of fancy as there is plenty of grist for the mill to grind. As with other literary figures such as Aslan (Narnia), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), and Sherlock Holmes, it is possible to explore a moral universe in the stories and to detect theological themes. This blog will make the attempt to reflect about theology through the adventures of Tintin. I hope you enjoy the blog.