Tintin goes to the neurologist

The Canadian Medical Association Journal traditionally runs an offbeat research paper in their Christmas edition, for which there is apparently huge competition. This year, Tintin goes to the neurologist. The feedback is fun to read too. (External news coverage here and here.)

My first exposure to Tintin was—of course—in Sweden. (Why "of course"? Because it seems that everything I do ties back to Sweden somehow...)

While browsing through a music store's clearance bin, I found an audio dramatization of Den svarta ön. I recognized "Tintin" as the name of a popular children's character, though I myself had never read any of the stories.

I started listening to the CD and found the story amazingly dull. However, I chalked this up to my bad Swedish listening comprehension, figuring that if only I understood more of it, the story would be more enjoyable.

Some months later, I tested this theory: I went to the library, found a copy of The Black Island in English translation, and read it.

It was an amazingly dull story.

During my most recent trip to Taiwan, the person I was telling this story to couldn't figure out what children's character I was talking about. We happened to be in a bookstore and I stumbled across a copy of the same story in Chinese translation. (The Chinese translation of Tintin's name is - dīng-dīng, in case anybody else finds themselves in the same jam.) Of course, having found the book, I had to buy it; it's sort of become a collection now. Someday I'll try to read it, but not quite yet. My Chinese is barely at phrase-book level right now.

It has been pointed out that even though Tintin is ostensibly a journalist, over his 45-year career he filed but one story. You'd think his editor would be kind of upset by now.

I also have copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in all (but one) of the various languages I know or am trying to learn. And I'm counting the American and British English versions as different. Because they are.

Comments (38)
  1. (6) says:

    In what way are the English and American-English versions different? For general text the languages are not that greatly diverged.

  2. Raymond Chen says:

    Start with the title. English: "Philosopher’s Stone". American English: "Sorceror’s Stone". There are other differences as well ("revising" -> "reviewing" took me a little bit of puzzling) – if you hunt around the web I’m sure you can find many "English-to-American" dictionaries.

  3. Anon Coward says:

    Of course, first having alienated me by the rambling, with me trying to understand the main subject of your post, you puzzled me more by ridiculing an icon which millions of children, myself included, grew up on and enjoyed.

    I don’t know what kind of reaction this post merits or what value it adds.

  4. Raymond Chen says:

    It was meant to be rambling. The recent story about Tintin was just a springboard.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Tintin. I happened not to.

  5. Interesting to hear that there’s someone else who’s trying the Harry Potter language system. :-) I have it in American English, French, German, and – my personal favorite, though I can’t quite get through it yet – Latin. Ironically, I only found the Latin one in a German bookstore in Cologne.

  6. Serge Wautier says:

    Since Tintin is one of my compatriots (he’s belgian), I figured I had to react. In Belgium, the penalty for saying Tintin is dull is no less than death (Well, at least morally…). Tintin is the most famous belgian hero. After all, he diserves it: He is the first man on the moon !

    Can you imagine how horrible my life is: Always hiding, using stolen identities, never going out before the it’s dark… Because I, too, happen not to like Tintin ;-)

  7. Zirakzigil says:

    Great article! How do you find this stuff?

    The Black Island is one of the dullest. You might enjoy The Calculus Affair or The Crab With The Golden Claws more. But, of course, it’s a children’s comic, and I don’t enjoy them as much as I used.

  8. Chris says:

    If you can get your hands on it, the unbelievably racist "Tintin au Congo" (Tintin in the Congo) is hardly dull. Good luck finding it in the US…

  9. Leonardo Brondani Schenkel says:

    This English-American thing happens too in Portuguese: books, software, etc. have to be translated to Brazilian Portuguese and "Portuguese" Portuguese. The language is the same, but the vocabulary is somewhat different. (The computing terms in special are quite different.)

  10. Aarrgghh says:

    Anon Coward is quite right. The happy childhood memories of millions cry out for justice. Is there no justice, no decency? Must pauvre Tintin forever be hunted to extinction by the brutalist Anglo-Saxon anti-Francophone thugarchy? Have they no nuance, no joie-de-vivre? CHEN MUST BE STOPPED!

  11. Raymond Chen says:

    Hey I think Astérix & Obélix are awesome. So I’m not anti-French. Just anti-boring.

  12. AnonymousCoward says:

    For all things Tintin, I guess:


  13. Cooney says:

    Thanks, Chris, now i’m curious, though not enough to spend significant effort on the matter.

  14. Dominic Self says:

    "Start with the title. English: "Philosopher’s Stone". American English: "Sorceror’s Stone"."

    This has to be one of the most subtle underhand swipes at Americans ever, and never seems to have been fully picked up on. ;-)

  15. Tina says:

    Somehow, I always thought I was the only Belgian reading this blog. I’m happy that isn’t the case. And yes, Tintin (known as Kuifje in my part of the country) is dull.

  16. Insert name here says:

    What all you silly adults forget to consider is that Tintin is meant for children. Let’s try that one more time:

    Tintin is meant for children.

    Y’all with me? Good. You find it dull because a children’s book cannot have the complexity of a book for an adult because — hey, you guessed it — it’s for children.

  17. Kent says:

    Billions of billious, blue, blistering barnacles! You don’t like Tintin? I’m a big fan – I even have the DVD boxset. Maybe I’ll get around to watching it one day.

    I must admit it would be hard to get into Tintin if you weren’t exposed to it in your childhood. Same with Astroboy. Possibly the same with Asterix but I wouldn’t know because I’ve been reading that since prep school . . .

  18. Chris Walker says:

    Along simliar silly lines, the "New England Journal of Medicine" in Nov. 1985 ran an article titled "Effect of ‘Coke’ on Sperm Motility" which concluded "Classic Coke is it" See Snopes for more http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/sperm.asp

  19. Raymond Chen says:

    Curious George, Asterix, and Harry Potter are also meant for children, but I still find them enjoyable. The problem with Tintin seems to be that there’s no real story flow. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens. You can change the order of events and the story would hardly suffer.

    How come I can enter Chinese characters? Them’s the perks of being the blog article. Notice that the blog article can use <IMG> tags but comments can’t. Comments can’t do much – for security reasons.

  20. Jens says:

    I’m yet one more Belgian reading this blog, and I too find Tintin a bit dull. Lucky Luke and Jommeke (I’m sorry, I realy don’t know how they are called abroad) were much more amusing …

  21. Tim Dawson says:

    I enjoyed Tintin as a child, and other fans might enjoy this great compilation of Captain Haddock’s curses:


  22. Tintin tråkig? Men..din obildade hedning! :)

    Seriously, that particular episode isn’t one of the best by a long shot, try "Tintin åker till månen", eller "Krabban med Guldklorna" or my personal favourite, the double episode of "Enhörningens Hemlighet / Rackam den Rödes skatt".

    I would be happy to arrange for you to get hold of the Swedish versions of the CDs in digital format if you want?

  23. Hey, how did you get Chinese characters in your posting when my inputs of Chinese/Japanese characters turn into garbage?

    Meanwhile, 12/13/2004 2:46 PM Kent

    > Same with Astroboy.

    You talking about Tetsuwan Atom? How come the Chinese version of Tintin’s name sounds somewhat like the original French, but the American version of Tetsuwan Atom’s name sounds nothing like the original half-JapaneseChinese[*] half-Greek?

    [* I think both "tetsu" and "wan" are onyomi, meaning that these pronunciations of the characters are corrupted from Chinese pronunciations that were imported together with the characters, rather than kunyomi which means the original Japanese words which existed before characters were imported. Meanwhile of course "atomu" has to be rendered in phonetics corrupting the original Greek pronunciation.]

  24. Chris Weiss says:

    That’s funny … when I was on holiday in Scotland this summer I found a copy of The Black Island at one B&B. Having been at a distillery that grows its crops at the Black Isle, I read the story and … it was an utterly dull story ;)

  25. Paul says:

    Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s "childrens" books are also interesting for both children and adults to read. The idea that a book has to be dull for adults because it’s aimed at kids is a strange one, which I suspect is based on authors with limited skills.

    (And yes, I too dislike Tintin.)

  26. Moi says:

    Is it true that the covers of the American Harry Potter books are more adult[1] than the UK ones, or is that just an urban foot?

    [1] I don’t mean they contain nudity or violence, I just mean, I don’t know, more sober perhaps.

  27. Petr Kadlec says:

    "In what way are the English and American-English versions different? For general text the languages are not that greatly diverged."

    You should take a look at some clashes over that topic on Wikipedia to appreciate the differences. :-)

    (And, in order not to cause Wikipedia some bad reputation, I should also mention some factual article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_differences ;-) )

  28. Michael J. says:

    What all you silly adults forget to consider is

    > that Tintin is meant for children. Let’s try

    > that one more time:


    > Tintin is meant for children.


    > Y’all with me? Good. You find it dull because a

    > children’s book cannot have the complexity of a

    > book for an adult because — hey, you guessed

    > it — it’s for children.

    If a childred’s book does not have complexity in it, it is boring stupid good-for-nothing molasses for the brain. The books which I liked at age three still amuse me and make me laugh (umm, what does it say about me? I am still a kid? Maybe…) A good book has a whole bunch of different layers, which can be uncovered while growing up. Have you read Karlsson-On-the-Roof by Astrid Lindgren? The book is hilarious for kids as well for their parents. Or Winnie-the-Pooh? Still funny. And of course, Alice in Wonderland. There are lots of books which are funny, witty and have so many aspects that they can appeal to all ages. The recent example, though a visual one: Shrek. Well, not so many layers but still. ;-)

  29. JamesW says:


    I don’t know about the US editions but there are cover variants in the UK editions. Some are designed to appeal to children: quite cartoony, wizards, dragons and a close up of Harry. Then there are the adult version designed not to look like a child’s book at all so people can read them without embarassment in public.

  30. Tintin and the acquired growth hormone deficiency and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism

  31. Raymond: You have read *one* of the Tintin books, and then you conclude that all of Tintin is dull?

    I agree that Tintin the character is rather dull, but i think just Captain Haddock’s curses make the stories worth reading.

    "Månen tur och retur" ("Destination Moon") was one of my favorite books when i was a child.

  32. I enjoy "Tim und Struppi" (as it’s called in German), but I fully understand if someone else doesn’t.

    A list of differences between the British and American versions of the first HP book can be found here:


    The HP lexicon also documents the differences between the other versions.

    You can also view the covers of many countries here:


    > This has to be one of the most subtle underhand swipes at Americans ever, and never seems to have been fully picked up on.

    Whoa, that just made me fall off my chair! ROFL, literally.

  33. James Schend says:

    Without visiting any of the links on the preceeding post or having any factual data whatever… I’d always heard that the US title "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" is the ‘correct’ title, and the British title "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" was a comprimise with the publisher’s legal department who thought that the book shouldn’t be titled as to encourage paganism and sorcery. Or something like that… I’ll visit the site now.

  34. Paul says:

    James: whereas from my perspective in the UK, I’d always heard the name change was because the US publishers thought many Americans wouldn’t be aware of the Philosopher’s Stone myths and legends.

    In general, the UK isn’t anywhere near as bothered by "paganism and sorcery" (in quotes for various reasons) as the US is, with the various strident fundamentalists you have… :)

  35. Steve Smith says:

    See http://www.hp-lexicon.org/about/books/ss/differences-ss.html for a complete list of the 90 or so differences between English and American versions. The later books seem to have much fewer American translations. I think they’re trying to push us back to the mother tongue.

  36. Re: "The problem with Tintin seems to be that there’s no real story flow."

    That’s truer than you know. The original stories were actually created as smaller adventures that were published in children’s magazines. It was only later that they were published as full books. So each section of the story had to have it’s own plot and climax in order to work in the magazine format.

  37. The original version of Harry Potter was British, and Philosopher’s Stone is the original title. I have heard two reasons why Scholastic wanted a different title, and I don’t know which one is true:

    1) "Sorcerer" sounds more appealing to children than "Philosopher".

    2) "Philosopher’s Stone" is one of the many names of crack cocaine and Scholastic wanted to avoid any associations with drugs.

    Both seem likely. Both are nonsense.

  38. mimime says:

    Tintin, Lucky Luke, Asterix & Obelix who can forget them. At least we grew up with some decent cartoon books. The stories are never as good as when you read them as kids (ok with the exception of Astrid Lindgren’s stories).

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