Illustration by Suneesh K.
When journalists across the world are being preyed upon using Pegasus, I wonder what one of the great fictional reporters would have made of all this cloak and dagger stuff. Would our forever-young hero with the delectably onomatopoeic name Tintin, have taken it in his stride as just another mystery to solve, using nothing more than his wits? Or would he have found this a menacing new threat to his profession, the one plot that defies unraveling?
The one thing he wouldn’t have had to worry about is his phone being tapped since Tintin never carried one. Created by the Belgian genius Georges Prosper Remi who used the pen name Hergé, for a Catholic paper Le Vingtième Siecle, Tintin began his reporting journeys in Russia, moving on thereafter to places like Congo, China, Tibet and of course the Moon. And what an adventure each of those trips is. There is murder and mystery, sinister machinations by evil men, with comedy thrown in not just for relief but to move the narrative forward. Finally of course, everything turns out well as justice prevails and good triumphs.
Not that the creator wasn't aware of the darker forces of evil. Just that the cast of characters allied against them is much too resilient and resourceful to let them prevail. After all, Captain Haddock, when he could spare a moment from his dipsomaniac urges, could banish those villains with a string of colourful expletives. If Bashy Bazouks, pestilential pachyderm and pachyrhizus wouldn't do the job, there is always his trademark “billions of blue blistering barnacles".
He has support too, even if it is from weirdos who appeared to have little clue about all that is happening around them. There is the brilliant Cuthbert Calculus, answering to every stereotype of the absent-minded professor, bumbling his way through catastrophes that often ended up providing valuable clues to Tintin. And then are the Thompson twins, the perfect eggheads whose clumsiness is so endearing, precisely because they have no pretensions. Those that do, like Bianca Castafiore, the unmelodious Milanese singer, are roundly lampooned and often put in place by the spirited Captain Haddock fortified with vast quantities of his Loch Lomond whiskey.
Tintin's closest ally actually is Snowy who shares amazing chemistry with his intrepid master, often seeming to communicate with him. Snowy is the canine friend we all wish for, all furry and goofy one moment and wise and understanding the next. Together, the teenage journo and his faithful dog take on a world of battling countries and nuclear threats.
To be fair, no matter how grave Tintin's challenges appear at first sight, there is never any doubt about their satisfactory resolution. All's well at the end. Hergé never did intend to bring in anything truly malevolent in the extraordinary tapestry that he sketched. Which is why even though he wrote and drew through all the horrors of World War II, it finds no mention in the comics. Escapist yes, but at least unlike today's comic book heroes like Batman, we are spared the blood and the gore and the twisted tales of human depravity in what is meant to be a light-hearted read.
To appreciate the boy hero, we do need to suspend our cynicism, and given the times we live in, that may appear to be an impossibility. But the childhood resonances that we have carried into our later lives, do remind us of a simpler world where laughter wasn't always loaded with malice and calls to friends didn't need to be guarded for fear of embedded spyware.
In this, Tintin the comic strip newshound and the journalists whose phones were tapped have a common enemy. The snooper of people's private lives, whether they are governments or deviously camouflaged intelligence agencies, are an order of evil that Hergé couldn't have imagined and Tintin couldn't have overpowered.