Of course Tintin's gay. Ask Snowy
By Matthew Parris
for The Times, January 2009
His adventures have sold more than 200 million copies and been translated into 50 languages, and this weekend he celebrates his 80th birthday. But how well do we really know Tintin? One thing's for certain...
Billions of blue blistering barnacles, isn't it staring us in the face? Sometimes a thing's so obvious it's hard to see where the debate could start. What debate can there be when the evidence is so overwhelmingly one-way? A callow, androgynous blonde-quiffed youth in funny trousers and a scarf moving into the country mansion of his best friend, a middle-aged sailor? A sweet-faced lad devoted to a fluffy white toy terrier, whose other closest pals are an inseparable couple of detectives in bowler hats, and whose only serious female friend is an opera diva...
. . . And you're telling me Tintin isn't gay?
And Liberace was a red-blooded heterosexual. And Peter M... oops - steer clear - burnt fingers once there already. But really, what next? Lawrence of Arabia a ladies' man? Richard the Lionheart straight? And I suppose the Village People were a band of off-duty police officers, YMCA was a song about youth-hostelling, and Noddy and Big Ears are just good friends.
But I'd better make the case because, astonishingly (and though when I googled “Tintin” and “gay” I got 526,000 references), there are still Tintin aficionados who remain in denial about this.
Times Archive, 1983: Tintin in 'racist' trouble
Complaints have been made by librarians about Herge's use of highly offensive stereotypes
Last year, as part of my BBC radio Great Lives series, my guest, the international photojournalist Nick Danziger (who had nominated the life of Tintin), and my expert Tintinologist, Michael Farr (author of Tintin: The Complete Companion and numerous other Tintin-related works), stunned me by not only denying hotly that their hero could have been gay, but even insisting that the thought had never occurred to them. Don't you find, though, that it's often the people closest to someone who never tumble to it?
The argument I set out was straightforward. These are the facts: what we know of Tintin's life:
Background and origins:
A total mystery. Tintin never talks about his parents or family, as though trying to block out the very existence of a father or mother. As psychologists will confirm, this is common among young gay men, some of whom find it hard to believe that they really are their parents' child. The “changeling” syndrome is a well-known gay fantasy.
Other sources on background:
His Belgian creator, Hergé, whose only and enigmatic reference to Tintin's origins was to describe him as having recently come out of the Boy Scouts.
On January 10, 1929, Tintin first appears, spreading Catholic propaganda in the church newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, where in his comic strip he visits Russia (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets) to describe the horrors of Bolshevism. Early entanglements with High Church religion are, I fear, all too common among young gay men.
Claiming to be a journalist, Tintin's only recorded remark to his editor (on departing for Moscow) is “I'll send you some postcards and vodka and caviar”. For a cub reporter on his first assignment, a curious remark.
Appearing sometimes as a reporter and sometimes as a detective journalist, Tintin's baffling failure to show any evidence of dispatching copy to a newspaper (except once) or any sense of deadlines in his life has always puzzled his fans. It is possible to dismiss him as a mere dilettante but more likely that he was some kind of spy. As the remotest acquaintance with (for instance) British espionage will confirm, secret intelligence has always attracted gay men.
I myself applied for and was offered a post in MI6.
Tintin does not, in fact, move in with his sailor-friend, Captain Haddock, until 1940 (The Crab With The Golden Claws). As is so often the case with male homosexual couples, a veil is drawn over how and where the couple met, but Tintin and his mincing toy dog Snowy are invited to share Haddock's country home, Marlinspike Hall. The relationship, however, is plainly two-way, for although when Haddock first meets Tintin (before the sea captain's retirement) he is drinking heavily and emotionally unstable, he is calmed over the years, settles down and is finally ennobled by his younger friend's companionship when, in Tintin in Tibet, he offers to lay down his life for him.
Almost all male - as are their friends in turn. Indeed, only Professor Calculus displays any attraction (though frequently confused) towards the opposite sex. However, he never marries.
Thomson and Thompson:
Tintin first meets the flamboyantly moustachioed couple on a cruise in 1932 (Cigars of the Pharaoh), learning to distinguish between them by their different moustaches. The Thomson and Thompson life is a fancy-dress party: the pair love dressing up in exotic costumes and are once mobbed in the street for their Chinese opera costumes (The Blue Lotus). On other occasions they are seen (often with their signature bowlers still on) in striped swimming costumes, and a variety of folkloric garbs, always absurdly over-the-top. There is no evidence that either has ever had an eye for women, let alone a girlfriend.
Even Tintin's evil arch-enemy, a cigar-smoking movie impresario and drug dealer (alias: Marquis di Gorgonzola) who is first encountered at a banquet in Chicago (Tintin in America), is never given the blonde on his arm or villain's moll that one would expect.
He remains solitary.
The only unambiguously heterosexual male mammal in Tintin's entire universe. We know that because of Snowy's tendency to be distracted by lady dogs: a tendency in which he is consistently foiled by his master and by Hergé's plot. Pity this dog, wretchedly straight and trapped in a ghastly web of gay human males.
“The Milanese nightingale” is the only strong recurring female character in Tintin's life, and his only identifiable female friend. A fag-hag if ever there was one.
With her plump neck and beauty spot, this vain, self-dramatising diva with an ear-splitting voice is genuinely fond of Tintin. Significantly, Bianca refuses to remember Captain Haddock's name, calling him variously Maggot, Hammock and Havoc. Equally significantly, Haddock detests the very sight of her. Perhaps most significantly of all, Tintin's creator, Hergé, hated opera.
So apart from a diva fag-hag, the only other remotely significant woman in Tintin's life is a curler-wearing virago. Peggy Alcazar, the butch, bitchy, bullying, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking, flame-haired wife of General Alcazar, may well have been lesbian.
In fact I can count only eight figures identifiable as women (about 2 per cent) from the complete list of some 350 characters among whom Tintin moves in his life. There are no young women at all, and no attractive women, in any of his adventures.
Oh please, what more could Hergé do to flag up the subtext? Well, you say, how about a real affair of the heart, a proper gay relationship, rather than a convenient domestic arrangement with an old sailor?
Step forward Chang Chong-Cheng, the Chinese boy whom Tintin meets in The Blue Lotus when he rescues him from drowning, who later appears in his dreams, and for whom he is prepared to lay down his life, and finally rescues, in Tintin in Tibet. In this story Tintin hears of a plane crash and dreams that his friend Chang was on board but has survived. He sets out on an odyssey to Asia to find him.
Only three times in his life is Tintin seen to cry: most affectingly when he is temporarily persuaded that his friend Chang has died. But Chang is alive, as Tintin suspects when he finds Chang's teddy bear mislaid in the snow. Chang has been trapped by the Abominable Snowman. Tintin rescues him. This, written after Hergé had had a nervous breakdown and split from his wife, and the story of which he was most proud, completes a change in Tintin's outlook which begins in The Blue Lotus. Over time Tintin's attitude alters from that of a Belgian chauvinist and narrow-minded young Catholic adventure-seeker to being a tolerant, almost peace-loving, teddy-bear-hugging seeker after truth.
In The Blue Lotus he sympathises with the lonely Yeti, now deprived of Chang's (enforced) company, and even refuses to call the Snowman abominable. Tintin has seen the folly of prejudice. In Hergé's last (unfinished) story, Tintin and Alph-Art, the youth is even seen as a motorbiking peacenik, wearing a CND badge on his helmet.
The time-sweep of these stories, 1929 to 1983, may have altered Tintin's attitudes but never his appearance. He remains about 16 throughout. But then, as we all know, gay men don't age as others do.
We'll never know. Tell yourself, if you like, that it was just that Tintin hasn't yet met the right girl. Or maybe that it's only a stage he's going through. But if you expect a Belgian Catholic born in 1907 to have unmasked the hero of his blockbuster series of comic adventures as an out-gay activist and homosexual icon, you expect too much. Hergé was no Andy Warhol (Hergé's great admirer). But Snowy saw everything; Snowy knows all. And Snowy never tells.
- - - -
Could it be true? (writes Hugo Rifkind)
Were Asterix and Obelix also gay?
Almost certainly not. True, the formidable Gallic warriors spent an awful lot of time together - and true, Obelix did seem to sleep over at Asterix's house quite a lot, despite having a nearby house of his own. Nonetheless, they each had frequent and intense crushes on various long-limbed beauties (Asterix principally with Panacea; Obelix with Mrs Geriatrix) and in one later work (see Asterix and the Class Act), Obelix is also revealed to have eventually sired a long line of warriors.
Was Dylan on drugs?
Probably. There was surely an unspoken pusher/addict dimension to the relationship between Florence and Dougal vis-à-vis the provision of sugar lumps, but Dylan, unquestionably, was the real stoner in The Magic Roundabout. He was a hippy rabbit, he was always far too out of it to understand anything, and he played the guitar. And, well, he was called Dylan. In 1965. Carrots, indeed.
Was George from the Famous Five a lesbian?
Tricky. As one of the two girls in the Famous Five stories, George wore boy's clothes, had boy's hair and wandered around saying “I want to be a boy”. Still, any sort of subsequent homosexual or transgender adulthood seems unlikely. For one thing, in the 2008 television series Famous 5: On the Case the adult George is happily married to a car mechanic called Ravi. For another, this is Enid Blyton we are talking about, and she was about as socially progressive as Bernard Manning.
Was Aslan a white supremacist?
Totally. Or at least, C.S. Lewis was. Throughout the Chronicles of Narnia Aslan's avowed enemies are the Calormemes of Calormen, a country that is in the desert and full of people who wear turbans, baggy trousers and pointy shoes. They have arranged marriages, put the symbol of the crescent on their money, fight with scimitars and, in The Last Battle, are referred to as “darkies”. Let's face it, they're not from Norway, are they?
Was there anything dodgy about Captain Pugwash?
Absolutely not, aside from the way that it put a rather favourable gloss on the whole “pirate” thing. In fact, at the beginning of the 1990s, the creator of Captain Pugwash, John Ryan, successfully sued two newspapers that had fallen for the urban myth that there was. In truth there was no Master Bates, no Seaman Staines, and the cabin boy was called Tom. There was a character called Pirate Willy, mind, but that was probably an oversight.