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Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin, by Pierre Assouline

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#11 · Posted: 25 Oct 2009 11:32
The French edition is generally free of mistakes (there are, however, a few factual details which needed updating - it will be interesting to see if the English edition takes account of these).
UK Correspondent
#12 · Posted: 25 Oct 2009 11:48
I'm about a quarter of the way through, and picked up on a few of the translation issues. It's not perhaps as bad as those extracts suggest - they are particularly low points - but I can't shake the knowledge that I'm reading a translation.

I also get the impression that the Ruas has worked almost exclusively from Assouline's text, so that the quotes from the albums are direct translations from the French rather than the Lonsdale-Cooper texts we English readers are more used to (the exceptions being the characters names), making cross-referencing difficult.

Oh, and the dust-jacket flap states Hergé died in 1984. Whoops.
#13 · Posted: 30 Oct 2009 11:14
#14 · Posted: 30 Oct 2009 12:38 · Edited by: Balthazar
Thanks for that link, Lunivierge. It's not really a review, is it? More of an unquestioning regurgitation of everything Assouline claims, without any acknowledgement that many of Assouline's claims are highly controversial and have been hotly disputed in the francophone world.

I'm not saying that the reviewer should have necessarily slagged the book off wholesale; there's a place for a book like this to counter all the rather over-protective, uncritical, estate-approved books about Hergé. But surely it's a reviewer's job to at least acknowledge that a book and its claims are controversial in a case like this. If a reviewer simply paraphrases all an author's controversial claims as if they're undisputed facts, without offering any critical analysis, you might as well be reading the book's publisher's catalogue copy or publicity blurb.

The fact that the reviewer, John Carey, doesn't even notice the glaring factual inaccuracies (by Assouline or his translator) concerning the plots of the Tintin books, as spotted by mhoefler earlier in this thread, suggests that reading this biography may be Carey's first and only introduction to Hergé and Tintin.
#15 · Posted: 3 Apr 2010 16:07
Posted: 17 Jan 2010 18:51

I'm just reading this book at the moment (ufortunately only the English version that should be a lot thinner than the French. But I don't speak French).

I think it paints a somewhat bleak picture of Hergé as a man sometimes a little too acceptant of fascist ideology.

On the one hand the book seems quite well documented - for instance the author claims to have had unrestricted access to Hergé's archives.

But on the other hand I also have the feeling it's not always totally flawless (for instance it claims on the dustcover that Hergé passed away in 1984).

Does anyone know how trustworthy this book is?

Moved from a separate thread.

Did anyone read Pierre Assouline's book on Hergé?

It paints a quite bleak picture of Hergé as almost a fascist. Can that really be true?

Except from Soviet and Congo I think it seems quite far away from the morality in the albums.

Is Mr. Assouline just trying to scandalize Hergé? Or does he know what he's talking about?

Moderator Note: Please search for existing threads before starting a new one; you've already commented on this subject here, and there has also been another recently on Hergé's politics, so there isn't a need to start yet another, thanks.

The Tintinologist Team
#16 · Posted: 3 Apr 2010 17:30
It paints a quite bleak picture of Hergé as almost a fascist. Can that really be true?

Well, I think you are going to have to offer some specific points, to illustrate what you mean. To be honest, having read it, I think that the Assouline book is pretty straightforward in its reporting of things, and isn't biased or sensational as far as I can see; I didn't think it was bleak, either.

In retelling the story, the book takes a fairly impartial stance: it allows Hergé's stance that he was biddable and naive in some of his attitudes, but puts forward the extreme antipathy that was shown to him and his fellow journalists who chose to work on the "stolen" press, by his fellow Belgians as being not unreasonable, given that it was felt that people, children especially, might have been lulled into accepting German propaganda because they were drawn into reading the paper by the presence of Tintin.

It may be uncomfortableto read, but I didn't think it was unfair.
#17 · Posted: 3 Apr 2010 19:07
Sorry for messing up the order.

Well yes, I must admit, I did find the Assuouline an uncomfortable read at times.

I also admit that there is a chance that I'm reading too much into it. But a that point I'm probably not alone. The editors at tintin.com published this when the English version was released:

"As the English version of Hergé's biography by Pierre Assouline is about to be published next month, old rumours about
the creator of Tintin have resurfaced. One of them presents Hergé as a racist and anti-Semite..."

Unfortunately I don't remember a lot of specific examples. I do remember one though where Jacques Martin is quoted for telling about an incident where Hergé more or less denied what had been going on in the concentration camps.

Is the book fair or unfair? I don't know. I did feel though that it had a certain agenda and it wasn't totally straightforward. Which of course doesn't mean it's not true.

Do I believe that Hergé was a fascist? Not really.

But since I don't speak French there are several extensive books on the subject that I can't read (unfortunately)and that's what I'd like to discuss the subject and the specific book with people who have a bigger knowledge than myself.
#18 · Posted: 4 Apr 2010 00:16 · Edited by: jock123
old rumours about the creator of Tintin have resurfaced. One of them presents Hergé as a racist and anti-Semite..."

Yes, but in that case (if the reference is to the Assouline book) it is Tintin.com who may be perhaps inadvertently adding a sensational twist to things, by giving no context.
The biography presents allegations, for sure, but as made to Hergé in his life-time, and then gives his position on the accusations in quotes from the man.

The biography doesn’t decry him for what he did, it doesn’t castigate his work, or brand him an anti-Semite or a Fascist. Nor does it white-wash him, canonize him, or absolve him of anything.

It also is at pains to try and present the complicated political structure of a country which exists in a state of struggle even to this day, dividing on racial, religious, linguistic and political lines which have lead to all sorts of compromises and coalitions between people who might otherwise have nothing in common.

It does hold some of his assertions up to the light - for example, he apparently latterly suggested that because Black Island had not been re-printed during the war, it had been banned by the Nazis, when in fact it was paper shortages which caused this, and that Raymond De Becker (editor of Le Soir) had always been an anti-Rexist (Rex was the Belgian Fascist Party), when De Becker had spoken at one of their rallies, before later breaking off relations.

But it also makes clear that Hergé was not part of the exodus of staff who joined Léon Degrelle (formerly a colleague of Hergé’s at the Petit Vigtième, later founder and leader of the Rexists) when he set up a rival publication, and records that in spite of engaging in banter over the rights and wrongs of the right wing, Henri Lemaire, a printer who opposed the occupation, considered Hergé a good guy who got involved with the wrong people.

Generally it suggests that while with hindsight some of his ideas and associations were perhaps not the best, he was not actively pursuing any political agenda by working for the “stolen” press, his ambitions were purely for the success of his strip. It also takes time to point out that Hergé resolutely adhered to the position of not excusing his actions, but explaining them, which is quite an admirable stand in itself, if not always meaning that we can agree with them. He didn’t try to cover up his activities, or make light of them, but offered them in the context of his age and society.

This is much in the same way that Sean Connery has lived with the statements he made in his early years that it was okay for a man to beat his wife: he doesn’t deny he said it, and he speaks of it as having been the way he was brought up. He is prepared to say that he doesn’t agree with the statement now, and I wonder should we hold such things against him after all these years?

As I said earlier, I think that this book is quite even-handed, as it places Hergé’s actions in a much wider picture, gives a flavour of how Hergé’s life was affected by what happened, talks about just how long it took for Belgium to accept him back, but doesn’t hide the fact that in the long run, he was accepted back.

On the question of the veracity of the book, well he seems to have made clear attributions of his sources, so you could always check them out that way; like any scholar he will have sifted and filtered the material, but it’s up to us to judge in the end.

My thought would be that if there are question marks over this book, that the archives he used should be opened up to other independent scholars, without any influence from the estate, and let them produce further works. One writer is bound to bring their own slant to things. Several people looking would lead to a point at which their works could be compared to each other, allowing a clearer picture to emerge.
#19 · Posted: 4 Apr 2010 17:39
My thought would be that if there are question marks over this book, that the archives he used should be opened up to other independent scholars, without any influence from the estate, and let them produce further works. One writer is bound to bring their own slant to things. Several people looking would lead to a point at which their works could be compared to each other, allowing a clearer picture to emerge.

Exactly my point.

Sure the book seems very well documented and the author is very precise in specifying his sources. But since a lot of the background information comes from letters and interviews not accessible to the public, it's pretty difficult to verify. That doesn't mean it's not correct, of course.

Any piece of information can be interpreted in many different ways. For instance Pierre Assouline's analysis of Ottokar's Sceptre is mainly focusing on the conservative, pro-royal aspects used as part of the argument that Hergé belonged to the conservative right-wing. most other analyses I've read on the album focus on the anti fascist/nazi aspects. It's the same story and both interpretations are probably right. My point is just that even though everything you write is academically done the right way and therefor "true", it's still just one interpretation out of many.

I generally agree in everything you write except for the even-handedness of the book. I definitely feel the author has an agenda in choosing to present a majority of negative aspects (right-wing sympathies, drinking-problems, disliking children to mention some). That is of course the author's prerogative to choose his angle. But Tintin is also big business and I'd suppose there could be quite big money involved in writing something that would create some attention.

Again, I don't claim the book is not true, I just want to deconstruct and discuss it a bit to gain a bigger understanding of the subject myself.

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