It is not possible for the meek human brain to conceptualize that World War II caused, from 1939 to 1945, the deaths of 66 million human beings - 66,000,000 ...
Francisco Goya "The Disasters of War, Plate 18: Enterrar y callar (Bury them and keep quiet)"

... 20 million soldiers and 46 million civilians. White ranks World War II at the top of his list of “The One Hundred Deadliest Multicides” in world history (529). So first, Herge and Chang had, each separately, to survive the horrors of global cataclysm. When I try to imagine the magnitude of suffering in Europe and China respectively, it makes clear that any person, lasting through this, would lose a big part of his or her soul, just by having experienced such trauma.

Chinese propaganda poster "Destroy the old world; build a new world" c. 1967, designer unknown
Once Herge made it through WWII, he had “only” the vicissitudes of personal fate with which to struggle. Chang was not as fortunate. Mao Zedong took over a war ravaged China and, from 1949 to 1976, reduced the population by another 40 million murders. White awards Mao Zedong’s rule the number 2 spot on his list and writes, “Mao is almost certainly the deadliest individual in history to have wreaked havoc inside a single country.” (429) Actually, Mao’s claim to the number 2 spot is a tie with Gengis Khan, but the Khan killed over a much wider area.

Mao’s horrors were creative. He collectivized China’s farms, which resulted in the most ghastly famine of world history. White admits he doesn’t know if 30 million deaths from starvation make Mao “among the ten most evil people of history, or merely among the ten most incompetent.” (433) Those victims he didn’t starve to death, were tortured and killed in various purges and work camps. Chang hid as a street sweeper, to avoid the terrible Red Guard who sought to eliminate exactly the sort of person he was, an educated, Westernized intellectual.

Albrecht Altdorfer Navitivity of the Virgin detail.jpg
Albrecht Altdorfer "Nativity of the Virgin" detail
Chang’s survival is a bona fide miracle. A person of faith might say that his reunion with Herge was a supernatural event staged by God. My take is that it is an astounding trick of probability, infinitely mysterious and charged with wonder because of its randomness. I believe all events of life have this numinous charge, but we are jaded. We tend to notice those phenomena that are outliers.

Tintin, child hero, is the opposite of jaded. If I will tear myself away from that mirror where I’m preening, maybe I can enjoy Tintin as a cartoon-Buddha, detached from the eight worldly concerns of gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disgrace, happiness and suffering. It may be the closest I get to Enlightenment.

Herge's personal story is as well-plotted as his fiction. In 1942 a fragment of The Falling Star crashes and burns and sinks into the ocean. In 1960, Herge recovers a piece of that same star from the frozen heights of Tintin in Tibet. Herge fixes the star back in his personal sky and in 1982 seals it in place with the help of his re-discovered friend. Like the circle of angels above, the circle of his life is complete. Here I go again, needing to question things. Real life is not supposed to be that tidy. Herge and his dumb-founded Tintin will always be a mystery.


... continue with Fallen Star stories