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Tintin and the Secret of Literature

List Price: $15.95

March 3, 2008 | Paperback | 5.5 x 8.25, 224 Pages | ISBN 9781582434056
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"So detailed are McCarthy’s references that I found myself reading this slim volume a handful of pages at a time... He sends you back to the books with renewed enjoyment and refreshed eye." —Time Out

Hergé’s Tintin cartoon adventures have been translated into more than fifty languages and read by tens of millions of children aged, as their publishers like to say, “from 7 to 77.” Arguing that their characters are as strong and their plots as complex as any dreamed up by the great novelists, Tom McCarthy asks a simple question: is Tintin literature?

McCarthy takes a cue from Tintin himself, who spends much of his time tracking down illicit radio signals, entering crypts, and decoding puzzles and suggests that we too need to ‘tune in’ and decode if we want to capture what’s going on in Hergé’s work. What emerges is a remarkable story of illegitimacy and deceit, in both Hergé’s work and his own family history. McCarthy shows how the themes this story generates—expulsion from home, violation of the sacred, the host-guest relationship turned sour, and anxieties around questions of forgery and fakeness—are the same that have fuelled and troubled writers from the classical era to the present day.

McCarthy offers an exceptional, and very up-close, reading of Hergé’s texts, characters, and plots, finding that they conceal layer after layer of coded messages and signifiers, of thicknesses and densities, of crosscurrents, hidden meanings, and sublimated desires. Here is a fascinating, and sometimes disturbing work of deconstruction—one section is entitled “Castafiore’s Clit,” referring to the opera singer Mme Castafiore, whose voice can, as McCarthy puts it, “blow away all other discourse,” and seeing Captain Haddock’s broken pipe as an emasculation.

His provocative conclusion is that Tintin’s ultimate ‘secret’ is that of literature itself—as such Tintin and the Secret of Literature should be avidly consumed by not only Tintin lovers but also by anyone with an interest in literature, philosophy, or art.

TOM MCCARTHY is an artist and writer, and has written several books, articles and essays, including Remainder (Vintage, 2007) and Men in Space (Vintage, 2008).


“[P]layful, insightful… It’s a cause for celebration when a book like this comes along… written with such freedom and verve that it’s hard not to start looking at all books in the same way.” —The Independent on Sunday

“Tintin has been the subject of an amusingly arcane treatise, Tom McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature which looks at the books from a literary standpoint and finds comparisons with Austen, James and Dickens. Yes, really.” —The Times

“No matter how much you want to disagree with McCarthy. . .his chatty style is so forcefully confident and his argument so tightly constructed and so well-supported, that by the end you’re throwing your arms up in surrender… It’s brilliant.” —The Daily Telegraph

“So detailed are McCarthy’s references that I found myself reading this slim volume a handful of pages at a time… He sends you back to the books with renewed enjoyment and refreshed eye.” —Time Out

“He follows a brilliant literary debut with a work that challenges the status of literature by asking whether it can encompass a comic strip… To anyone interested in exploring literary theory, the book offers an accessible introduction, with the bonus of entertaining insights into one of the most celebrated of all comic strips.” —The Independent

“McCarthy has spotted a gap in the market, and headed straight for the intellectual high ground.” —Literary Review

“You may be unconvinced, but the passion with which the case is presented will affect all but the most cynical reader.” —New Statesman

“[A] high-spirited double riff on the comic books and the theory alike.” —Evening Standard

“The pleasure of reading it derives precisely from its author’s obsessive approach, his breath-taking grasp of the oeuvre and the sheer exuberance with which he tackles his subject, showing us how rich with detail and complexity Hergé painted his world.” —The Observer

“Tintin fans will either be thrilled that someone is taking Herge’s oeuvre seriously at last, or feel appalled at such an unapologetically high-brow approach–-however playful. Still, you can’t deny either McCarthy’s verve of gumption.” —Daily Mail

“McCarthy deconstructs Herge’s oeuvre with disarming confidence, finding more signs and symbols than you can shake a stick at. It feels like a tongue-in-cheek exercise, but it’s none the less entertaining.” —Sunday Telegraph

“McCarthy dives straight into the depths of Remi’s work, pulling together biographical, political, formal and psychoanalytical approaches to reveal fascinating subtexts and unfamiliar themes… McCarthy picks up such potentially dry notions with uncommon flair and humour, weaving them through the books with highly un-academic glee… McCarthy’s book is so successful because he wastes no time fretting over his own journey in connecting the conceptual brilliance of a cartoon strip to the key ideas of 20th century art… All the best literature deserves such imaginative investigation. McCarthy’s ingenious attempt to decode Herge’s work unlocks old doors to understandings and presents new pathways for further exploration. That, in essence, is what literature has to offer. No answers, but endless possibilities.” —Sunday Herald 

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