Steven Spielberg’s 3-D Motion Capture film “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” is due for release in 2011, but already publishers are hurrying to offer books about the Belgian artist Hergé (born Georges Remi in 1907) who created its characters.
The graphic tales of the blank-faced reporter Tintin, his dog Snowy, and friend Captain Haddock, are much beloved around the world. Now that “Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin” by Pierre Assouline (Oxford University Press), a journalistic bio from 1996, and “The Metamorphoses of Tintin: or Tintin for Adults” by Jean-Marie Apostolidès (Stanford University Press) — a revised version of a 1984 psychoanalytic study — are available in English, affection for Hergé as a person may diminish.
Hergé started as an artist for fascist, antisemitic Belgian publications like “Le Soir,” which is, even today, not blameless. In 1941-42, when Belgian Jews, threatened with slave labor, wore the Yellow Star, Hergé’s Tintin adventure, “The Shooting Star,” featured a Jewish villain, Blumenstein the banker, intended, as Assouline explains, to represent the “incarnation of evil.”
Hergé, much criticized by Belgians after the Nazi defeat, revised his most egregious offenses in later editions of his books, but possibly never truly understood why they offended. In 1945, a friend who had been in a German slave labor camp returned and described Jewish concentration camp prisoners, Hergé replied: “You mistook what you saw… First of all, how do you know they were Jews? They must have been common law criminals.” While the antisemitic aura of Tintin has long been known in Europe, the new availability in English of such books will surely raise further questions about what Hergé hath wrought.
Parents anxious to avoid potentially evil writers of children’s books should turn their attention instead to “Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book” co-authored by that endearing French Jew of Polish origin René Goscinny.