Through a glass, darkly.

2014-08-09 22.00.30This week’s prompt from Charli Mills concerns the idea of alternate realities – multiverses. August 6, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) craft a multiverse situation, setting or character(s). Charli gives us some examples thus:

  1. Time travel, back in time or into the future. It can be ancient, or yesterday.
  2. Another dimension which a character can access beyond his own. A world that exists to his simultaneously.
  3. Space travel that enters wormholes and emerges elsewhere.
  4. A child in a living room accessing the North Pol.
  5. An event that already occurred but is now re-animated on the front lawn.
  6. A character discussing the theory, or using it to explain historical events or predict the future.
  7. A character debunking the theory.
  8. Describing a familiar scene or event told as a parallel universe.
  9. Two separate characters from separate worlds colliding.
  10. An unseen world like an army of pickles living in the frig

Her post deals with another interesting idea, namely how her childhood involvement with an imagined world has informed her abilities as a writer to imagine other worlds, other times and other places without the need to feel she has been there.

I wonder, to what extent, that is true of me. What were the childhood stimuli that I still refer to, consciously and, possibly subconsciously? For instance do I have a feeling for prosaic home spun adventures because I loved Enid Blyton?

I know one thing, though. I fell in love, at an early age, with the Adventures of Tintin and have, ever since, loved the worlds created by Hergé. I was lost in those worlds. I can still be lost there.

Georges Remi (Hergé is his pseudonym)  created the Belgium boy reporter and his loyal companion, Milou (or Snowy in the English version) in the late 1920s. Initially his cartoon stories had a political angle – he wrote for a right wing Belgium paper, Le Vingtième Siècle  (the Twentieth Century) – as did his first three book: on the inadequacies of communism (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets); justifying colonialism  (Tintin in Congo); and the stupidities and excesses in prohibition America (Tintin in America).

Then he was posted to Asia and wrote what became the Cigars of the Pharaohs. This, and the subsequent Blue Lotus, had a better plot and more interesting characters but still continued with the political overtones – the description of China in the latter is meant to be particularly acute. However, his stories were becoming more adventures and less a treatise. King Ottokar’s Sceptre came next; it is one of my favourites, having a brilliant plot but in it he still found the time to take a swipe at the Nazi annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia – a clue: the ultimate baddy is Mussler – a corruption of Mussolini and Hitler.

Then the war came to his backdoor when Germany invaded Belgium and Hergé had to concentrate on to pure adventure stories. It is these stories that, I believe, defined him and his legacy, especially his two-book tales: The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure; Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon; the Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.

I wonder if my early love of long words comes from Captain Haddock’s extraordinary swearing. I wanted to visit the castle in Scotland where the gorilla lived (The Black Island); I read the Shooting Star and longed to see Surtsey when it exploded to the surface in 1963; I read about the sun’s eclipse in The Prisoner of the Sun and hoped one day to experience one myself (I’m still waiting).

It wasn’t only the places and the plots. It was the characters. He peoples his books with fabulous characters. The baddies were perfectly pitched: Dr Muller, Colonel Sponz and, especially Roberto Rastapopoulus. His friends came with flaws and were more real as a result:  Captain Haddock, the iconoclast (one of his oaths); Cuthbert Calculus, the eccentric and rather hopeless professor; Chang, the loyal Chinese friend. Probably my favourites were the bumbling detectives – Thompson and Thomson – who, despite being incorrigibly incompetent, never ever gave up. The one character I didn’t really relate to, and that’s because he’s mostly pretty bland, is Tintin himself. I preferred my heroes to have flaws.2014-08-09 21.59.43

Why does this childhood cartoon remain so real? I don’t really know. All I can say is it isn’t only me. I went on a conference once where I discovered that one fellow delegate – a barrister called David – knew more about Tintin than I did and that took about two hours of each of us testing the other before I acknowledged the truth. Said barrister became a judge and he is now the most senior judge in our most senior court, the Supreme Court. David Neuberger is clever, balanced and empathetic and he loves Tintin with a ridiculous passion. That seems to me to be the perfect CV for the country’s top judge. And when France had its first millionaire winner on its version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the Million Euro question was from Tintin: ‘What was the name of the Doctor in The Castafiore Emerald?’

Sorry about the digression.  Charli had her Barbies, defending the Range against Outlaws. I had Tintin, but more specifically his companions, with whom to have adventures. I owe Hergé a debt and this is a small thank you.

Now, I need to post my flash.

Every Mirror tells a Story

Mary hated herself for her indifference to Alison, her late father’s mistress. She wanted to hate her but just felt empty.

In her father’s study she stood in front of the mirror, staring the reflection of his picture. ‘Why?’

Water ran down the mirror, like tears distorting his face. His lips moved. ‘I’m so sorry.’

Peter pushed through the miasma that separated his world from Mary’s, willing her to understand. They’d told him it would take all his courage, all his strength to make the bridge. If only he had had found the courage and strength before he died.


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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23 Responses to Through a glass, darkly.

  1. Archaeologist says:

    Tintin was a world my brother introduced me to, rather than the other way round, so thanks for that. And as for Captain Haddock’s incomparable oaths – who cannot enjoy words like anthracite and vegetarian being used as swear words. True, some make a sort of sense, like pithecanthropus {now for the archaeologist’s bit – Pithecanthropus, a word coined by Haeckel to describe a theoretical missing link between men and apes, it literally means monkey-man. Then when Dubois discovered his fossil man in Java he called it Pithecanthropus erectus, to the delight of schoolchildren of all ages this early hominid has been re-classified as Homo erectus.}


  2. somemaid says:

    I love Tintin, sadly I didn’t have all the books but used to regularly reread the ones I did have. Explorers of the Moon was a particular favourite especially with Thompson and Thomson, and the special potion. I never realised before the political overtones in the books and will have to re-examine them. I love the fact that Tintin landed on the moon before the Neil Armstrong!


    • TanGental says:

      I think I enjoyed the space cartoons more than any other. Did yous ee the Speilberg film? I sort of liked it well enough but nothing really beats the books. And have you read the Land of Black Gold where the Thomson/Thompson swallow the tablets that recur on the space ship? t’s a great story!


      • somemaid says:

        yes I have read that one. Having just refreshed myself of the titles. (and reliving the times I poured over the back cover working out which ones we had.) I also enjoyed the Cigars of the Pharaoh, Black Lotus and the Shooting Star. I remember being a bit confused and underwhelmed by some of the later ones. Will have to reread when my boy is old enough to be introduced to them.


      • TanGental says:

        Excellent. Another potential fan!


  3. Norah says:

    Nice! I love the way you are continuing to explore extra dimensions of these characters through your flash. I never did get into Tintin, but enjoy reading about how it appeals to you. 🙂


  4. Annecdotist says:

    Enjoyed reading about your enthusiasm for Tintin and learning a bit more about his creator. I never read the books but did enjoy the televised version – don’t remember how old I was when that was shown. Interesting how you point out that Tintin himself was the blandest character and it was the minor characters who had the interesting quirks. I’m wondering if that was intentional and if there are any novels for adults that work on that basis.
    I did enjoy your flash, especially the intense effort Peter had to make to get through the crack to appear in the mirror. This story goes on and on – like a proper family saga!


    • TanGental says:

      I have a memory of the TV versions appeared as five minute slots after the children’s programmes and just before the six o’clock news. The same slot where the Magic Roundabout, Captain Pugwash and the Herb Garden appeared. It was definitely in the 1960s I’m sure.


  5. willowdot21 says:

    I really enjoyed this post thank you.


  6. Charli Mills says:

    So…while you had Tintin, I grew up on Rin Tin Tin! The latter was a German Shepherd that belonged to an orphan boy being raised on the western frontier by the cavalrymen at Fort Apache. Less literary, less global, and definitely western! They sound like great books for the next generation of readers in my family, though.

    Love how you pushed the worlds in this prompt, then hit us with the ultimate regret. Makes for a stunning flash. It stands on its own, but knowing the development of Mary in subsequent flashes makes it all the more poignant. In some ways, we see her struggle inwardly as her father must have. Well done!


    • Archaeologist says:

      At one point Rin Tin Tin was the most popular actor in Hollywood. When the Oscar’s were first introduced it was thought that the public should vote for their favourite actor, and they chose Rin Tin Tin! As a result animals were excluded from Oscar nominations, this caused controversy when the film ‘The Artist’ came out, as many people thought that the dog deserved an Oscar for his performance.


      • Charli Mills says:

        Of course the Oscar should go to the dog! I’m not sure if the Adventures of Rin Tin Tin was an award-worthy show, but it was great fun. And Lassie, of Lassie! Whatever happened to great dog actors? Oh, yes–animation–went to the dogs.


    • TanGental says:

      Ah ha Rin tin tin. A name from my past often mentioned by my mum.


      • Archaeologist says:

        Just wait until you hear the story of Lassie, though I should keep that until the hundredth anniversary of the real Lassie which comes up on new years day 2015.


      • I grew up on Rin Tin Tin also but we cannot forget the dog actor who has done much to repair the reputations of German Shepherds – Inspector Rex.


      • TanGental says:

        I’ve never heard of Inspector Rex! Seems it was aired on Channel Five (all you need to know about Five is when it was launched it had trampoling dwarves reading the weather) so it has never been a channel I’ve watched out for. Well, until it bought the cricket highlights that is. But that’s it. It even revived Big Brother in the UK. That’s a longwinded way of excusing my ignorance!


      • Forgiven. Chanel 5 sounds like our commercial channels which I don’t watch. Inspector Rex came out on SBS our multicultural channel (it was from Belgium) and was so popular despite the language and sub-titles that it moved to the ABC (our equivalent of BBC).

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Fascinating post Geoff. My nephews in Switzerland are growing up with Tintin and I thought it must be a French character. I didn’t see him appear in Australia until quite recently but have never known what it was about. You have enthused me to read one when I next have an opportunity to do so.
    A great flash also and a good message to be taken from it.


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