Tintin on a string

Dossier ~ Friday 21st August 2009
The Crab with the Golden Claws - First animation (1947)]

While puppets may not feature a lot in Tintin, it's not that hard to find puppets of Tintin. Ask any of the visitors to the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve. So without further ado, let the show begin!

What is a puppet ?

It may seem a little odd that we're making a link between Tintin and puppets, as we barely see any in Hergé's work. The closest thing to puppets we find in Tintin are the Jolly Follies, who appear at the end of Tintin and the Picaros. According to some specialists, giants can be categorised alongside puppets, in as much as they are known throughout the whole world and in all cultures. Here's another thing in common between puppets and Tintin : they are both worldwide phenomena ! Among the wide variety of puppets and Punch and Judy shows out there, we are mainly going to look at the ones inspired by Tintin. Tintin-themed puppet shows have already been held in Belgium, France, Holland and Quebec.

Visitors froma dim and distant past

Firstly, it's interesting to note the words used for " puppet " in other languages : in German it's " pupe "; Dutch " pop "; Italian " burattini ", " fantoccini " and " magatelli "; Spanish " titeres "; Portuguese " titires" , and in French the word for puppet is " marionnette ". In old French the term used was " marotte ", which comes from the name Marion, derived from Mary, mother of Jesus. Puppets can be mainly traced back to religious mythology. Stories from the primary Hindu texts and epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, are still acted out in puppet shows today. Epic sagas, such as The Song of Roland, are a popular source of material for portable puppet theatres, with their cast of wood and cloth actors.

Animated statuettes

Religious stories were the subject of plays in Mesopotamia in the fourth century BC. Archaeologists have discovered jointed statuettes, which are the long-lost ancestors of today's puppets. In the Middle Ages, this same type of spectacle could be seen at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, where they put on the mystery play, the Descent of the Spirit. Boxley Abbey still has a Christ-on-springs, which was animated by puppeteers for an audience who were hungry for miracles. From the fifteenth century, puppet theatres, sometimes in permanent buildings, were founded in Paris, Brussels and Berlin. Here they put on plays with sacred themes, such as Samson and Delilah, and The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Puppet shows were not everybody's cup of tea : religious fundamentalists even managed to get them outlawed. They saw them as the work of the devil, and as types of magic and witchcraft.

Famous puppets

The ban on puppets imposed by the church had a beneficial effect on the world of puppeteering, leading to a wide variety of shows based on new secular themes. The nineteenth century would see puppet theatres multiply, either in permanent venues or during fairs. In Brussels, the Toone puppet theatre still attracts visitors from all over the world. Toone is the birthplace of Woltje (" the little Walloon " in Brussels dialect), who shares the limelight with his counterpart Tchantches (" the Frenchman " in Liège dialect). France used to have its own permanent theatres : the Champs-Elysées theatre, the Jardin des Plantes theatre (as seen in the film La Grande Vadrouille), the Bouffes-Picard theatre, and so on. But it was in Lyon that the most famous puppet to date was born, under the name of Guignol in 1808. His creator was Laurent Mourguet, a textile worker who lost his job when the local industry disappeared. Guignol became so famous that his name became a byword for puppet theatre.

Tintin and puppets

At the start of the 1940s, Brussels was the location of several puppet theatres for children. One of them, Le Péruchet, was founded by Carlo Speder, who would become a friend of Hergé. Hergé gave Speder permission to create puppets of Tintin and Snowy. On 14 November 1940, before the play with real actors, the curtain rose on the first Tintin show, Tintin en Indes (Tintin in the Indies), which would become the star attraction during the holidays at the end of the year. Hergé designed the heading Nous irons voir (We shall see), in a " puppet theatre " style for one of the columns in the events calendar section of Le Soir newspaper.

Tintin puppets all over the world

Carlo Speder and Le Péruchet were still around at the launch of Tintin magazine in 1946. From school to school and beach to beach, the " Tintin caravan " featuring Tintin puppets brought joy to children all over the country, today's grandfathers ! Thanks to the success of these shows, rubber puppets were now sold in shops, and we can see some of them at the Hergé Museum. In Québec, between 1964 and 1974, Micheline Legendre led a team who put on their own versions of Prisoners of the Sun, Tintin in Tibet and Red Rackham's Treasure, with over 1,000 shows in an aptly named location called Le Jardin des Merveilles (The Garden of Marvels). These were a great success. We should also remember that the first full-length Tintin film, The Crab with the Golden Claws, filmed in 1946, was made using puppet animation. Puppets have always taken the lead when it comes to putting on The Adventures of Tintin in the world of multimedia. In 2004 a Snowy marionette starred alongside the cast of actors in the marvellous stage adaptation of The Castafiore Emerald produced by Am Stram Gram, the Swiss children's theatre company based in Geneva. The man controlling this marionette was visible on stage alongside Snowy. This production has been staged in Switzerland and France. Coincidentally it was also staged in Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium, which is where the Hergé Museum is located, and where you can now see some of the aforementioned rubber puppets.

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