Was Tintin a real boy?

January 4th, 2011


According to Jon Henley's article in the Guardian last month, the popular 20th century cartoon character, Tintin, may have been inspired by a 15-year-old, ginger-haired Danish boy by the name of Palle Huld. Huld became a household name in 1928 when he won a contest  sponsored by the Danish newspaper Politiken to honour the centennial of the venerated author Jules Verne (1828-1905). Verne was best known for his novels Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). As winner of the contest, Huld was directed to retrace the steps of the lead character in Around the World in Eighty Days, except within 46 days rather than 80. Since the pioneering sci-fi novel was penned before the practical aspects of flight had been developed, Huld was limited to all modes of transportation other than flight. And astonishing compared to our culture today, Huld was to make the trip alone. Now we don't even let teens drive until the age of 16 or later. Huld successfully completed his circumnavigation of the world in 44 days, even stopping in some war-torn and inhospitable places at that time, like Moscow. Upon his homecoming to Denmark, he was greeted by a crowd of 20,000 cheering citizens and one very relieved mother.

Though Tintin's physical appearance, dress, and age all resemble the young Huld, there are disputes amongst Tintin historians (yes, they do exist – I guess there is a job for every interest) whether Huld is the true inspiration for the Tintin character created by the Belgian artist Hergé for the January 1929 edition of Le Petit Vingtième, a children's section of a Brussels newspaper. Huld published a book in 1929 about his adventures called A Boy Scout Around the World, which may have given material for Hergé's two dozen illustrated books chronicling the adventures of the teenage, globe-trotting Tintin. However, Hergé has never acknowledged a link between the young Danish celebrity and Tintin. The adventures of the crime-solving young journalist remain popular today, undoubtedly to see a revival with the December 2011 release of Steven Spielberg's, "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn."

Palle Huld died in Copenhagen, Denmark on 26 November 2010, age 98.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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