Wednesday May 24, 2006
Cartoon character Tintin is to join the illustrious company of Václav Havel, Elie Wiesel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and, um… Richard Gere, in being awarded a Light of Truth award by the Dalai Lama at a ceremony this June 1st in Brussels.
The Light of Truth awards are given by the International Campaign for Tibet and are said to honour “individuals and institutions that have made significant contributions to the public understanding of Tibet.” The award, strictly speaking, will not to go to Tintin but to the Hergé Foundation, a non-profit organisation responsible for maintaining the legacy of the boy reporter and his motley collection of companions. There is a political edge to the award: when in 2002 the Chinese translation was released, the Chinese publisher changed the title to Tintin in Chinese Tibet. A protest from the Hergé foundation led to this version being withdrawn, and China agreed to relaunch the book under its original title.
It has been suggested that Tintin in Tibet may be the all-time biggest selling book about Tibet (see Donald Lopez’s Prisoners of Shangri-La p. 212), and it was the book of which its Belgian creator, Hergé, was most proud. Rightly so. By any standards, it is a beautifully crafted piece of work. I can remember spending hours as a child gazing at the white expanses of the landscape and at the monks in their yellow hats and red robes: Tintin in Tibet was one of my first introductions to the Buddhist world, albeit a somewhat fanciful one (I mean, how many Buddhists do you know who can levitate like the monk Blessed Lightning in Hergé’s story?)
In attempting to sum up the reasons behind the unique appeal of the book, the Hergé Foundation website offers us the following gem:
In all the previous albums, the creation of images and text was pretty natural. For this adventure, so personal, Hergé stumbles over many obstacles. It is the maieutics of the writing: it’s about revealing the deepest intimacy. This is certainly why Tintin in Tibet remains Hergé’s favourite, “because this is the story in which I invested myself most” (translated from Entretiens avec Hergé, N. Sadoul, 1971).
The maieutics of writing? Heck! I don’t know much about maieutics (whether of writing or of any other variety), but I know a damn good story when I see one. Desmond Tutu and Václav Havel should be proud to be in such company.
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