TinTin and First World Readings of the “Non-European”.

A noted educationist of Colonial Ceylon, Louis Edmund Blaze testifies as to how images of colonial Literature inspired him in his idea of “school culture”, at the establishment of a boys’ school in 1891. In a book titled KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy – a memoir of the first twenty five years of that school – Blaze acknowledges the stories he had heard of English public schools (such as Rugby and Eton) as well as tales from Rudyard Kipling of being influential input in visualizing his ambition. Blaze’s emphasis, alongside other available instances, crystallizes the part played by English Literature in not only shaping the aspirations and goals of colonial Ceylonese but, also the extent to which they influenced and moulded a framework for education to operate in.

Blaze’s reference to Kipling is significant, since Kipling’s work is often seen to impart what are considered as “colonial values”, as they superimpose empire and imperialism. Values such as “uprightness”, “chivalry”, “honesty” and “loyalty” become key variables in the colonial map and Kipling’s writing often draw on this selection. As a convenient and random example, if we are to consider Kipling’s celebrated poem If, at its heart is the guide book by which any healthy colonial is to stand. Edward Said, in his Orientalism locates how the imperialist programme of Europe channels the “non-European” world through Euro-centric assumptions and convictions. In the process, Said seems to argue, the land mass and the diverse cultural plurality of the “conquest” get trivialized and undermined in order to appease European imperialist tastebuds. The career of the imperialist, therefore, is to submit the unruly non-European “other” to the benefit of “order”, “method” and “civilization”, which, by default, is the bedrock of the “superior” European culture. The legitimizing of this trajectory is officially documented: a popular instance being Lord Thomas MacCaulay’s Minute on Indian Education, in 1835.

Herge reconstructs a sacrificial ritual of the Incas with our hero TinTin caught in the midst of it all. From the “Prisoners of the Sun”.

The manifestation of “non-Europe” in colonial literature is best seen in adventure novels and stories which deal with travel, where the European protagonist often ventures into the distant and unknown lands and peoples. A series of work which deal with “lesser civilizations” – irrespective of the writers’ sympathies – can be seen in travelogues, adventure novels, colonial histories and such. This corpus extends from the likes of Herman Melville (Moby Dick), William Bligh, Rider Haggard (The Last of the Mohicans, She, King Solomon’s Mines), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), to writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. The diverse range of these writers, the varying concerns they showcase as well as the different backgrounds and baggage they come with only intensifies the extent to which the “colonial image” of the “lesser civilizations” have affected writing as a whole.

The “non-European other” is more graphically represented in comic books which become popular in the early decades of the last century. Among the comics that have stood the test of time – and have later been transcreated into other genres such as film and TV – is TinTin, the adventures of a young reporter with an unmistakable tuft of hair. In the many TinTin adventures, the hero(es) are brought into contact with numerous “non-European” peoples – the list extends from Native Americans to Chinese; and from Central Asians to a hidden civilization of Incas. The configurations of the non-European nationals show much prejudice, reflected in the graphics of the caricatures. The bent, bony, stooped back Arab, for instance, is a recurrent figure in a series of TinTin comics. The chaotic street scenes, maze-like housing arrangements, impoverished, browbeaten inmates of constantly terrorized, tyrannized Arab is forcefully outlined in stories such as The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Red Sea Sharks as well as The Land of the Black Gold.

The contenders for the banana —- Alcazar and Tapioca, the rival Generals who are consistently throwing each other out of office through coups, in Herge’s prototype for a ‘Banana Republic’: San Theodoras.

The Indian in TinTin is either of exotic, extravagant nobility (such as in the Maharajah of The Cigars of the Pharaoh) or of wily, scheming, evil manifestations. The Fakir who shoots darts with Rajaijah poison is a prime example, though not the only one. The evil Mitsuhirato of The Blue Lotus showcases “Japanese cruelty”, while the Chinese of the same book, iconized by the Wang family, are docile, submissive victims. TinTin and the Broken Ear takes us to the Amazonian region, where an oversimplified caricature of the tribal customs is amplified through Herge’s representation of the “Arumbayas”. The dark colour codes used in the Arumbaya episode do not fail to detain the reader’s attention. The dress, the skin tones as well as the preferred colours of these people are the same as the wild jungle that surrounds them. The two men who stand out are the two “white” men, TinTin and Ridgewell; not to mention TinTin’s dog, Snowy (who, true to his name, is white). The Indo-Javanese natives of Flight 714 are seen as primitive in their impulses and clumsy in aptitude. They need to be closely directed, but even then fail to deliver appreciable results. At the height of crisis – when a long passive volcano ignites – they abandon camp before any of the rest.

One of the most memorable TinTin characters is General Alcazar – the General of a South American-like geo-political unit (named San Theodores), who is consistently thrown out of office through militant coups engineered by his counterpart, General Tapioca. San Theodores is the imperialist stereotype of the Banana Republic with an ignorant, chaotic mass with little social or moral enhancement. Mutiny succeeds mutiny, with no room whatsoever for cultural uplift. In a varying career, spinning across four TinTin comics, Alcazar is seen playing a variety of roles, from General (The Broken Ear), rebel leader (TinTin and the Picaros), stage artist cum knife thrower (The Seven Crystal Balls), buyer of fighter planes from black market dealers (The Red Sea Sharks) etc.

The trench coat wearing “agents of dark” in The Calculus Affair represent a strong Central Asian accent, even though the actual crystallization incorporates a series of variables extracted from Fascist or totalitarian forms of government the “liberal West” was irreverent to. The names have a definite Central Asian ring, with germs of Russia’s KGB not absent in Herge’s characterization.

The Picaros from the comic of the same title.

What we see in Herge’s TinTin, therefore, is a conflict of civilizations – where the naturalized value system of the European Imperialist is contested by “non-European” agencies who, for the writer’s purpose, are deemed as “evil” and as “ignoble”. To satiate the end of the comic series, TinTin and Captain Haddock essentially overcome whatever difficulties the “bad ones” throw in their way, while maintaining the European power balance and upholding its values and ethics. These values, in turn, are naturalized into the growing mind and consign in the young reader the need to be like TinTin, being perceptive to the “bent nature” of the non-European world. That, of course, is the double-edge of the text; for, among the readership are those to whom TinTin need not be the greater fascination.


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