A piece I did for uni
Levitt in her paper lists many fictional pairs from Holmes and Watson, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. She illustrates the fictional device of playing off one another for dramatic and comedic effect. So with this theme, I would like to introduce a few more examples from fiction who in their own way, have contributed greatly to the absurdist literature canon. At least I think so.
Firstly, there are Hergé’s Thompson Twins – Thompson and Thomson (without a “p” as in Venezuela, as he puts it). This pair of buffoons were introduced in a brief cameo in Tintin in the Congo and more solidly in Cigars of the Pharaoh. Loyal to Tintin to a fault, they serve as the Belgian counterpart to the Keystone Kops of early American comedic cinema. They are utterly inept in their actual day jobs as policemen, completely bumbling as humans – they are forever dropping things, running into things, misspeaking and being general nuisances at times. They serve as a foil to the more dedicated and serious Tintin. An argument could be made that Star Wars’ C3P0 and R2D2 are SF updates of these two.
The absurdist element is their ineptitude juxtaposed with Tintin’s competence, and this is doubled by the fact that they are policemen – career choices that demand competence and ability. They have neither. Their friendship with Tintin survives throughout the series, despite the peril they put themselves and Tintin in. In the final completed volume, Tintin and the Picaros, Tintin travels to a fictional yet stereotypical Latin American nation to rescue them.
More darkly depicted are the pair of Clarice and Cora Groan from Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series. Like the Thompsons, they are twins, though they are neither inept nor as clownish as Hergé’s creations. Instead, they provoke a kind of pity, and their absurdism goes in step with the absurdist allegories that pervade the books they appear in. They have a petty and petulant rivalry with the second book’s protagonist Titus, and while it never approximates friendship, there is a familial sense of loyalty, more forced upon them than anything else. Cora and Clarice are exactly one halves of a whole – they complete each other’s sentences and seem to share each other’s thoughts.
In both cases, there is never any thought of a friendship sundering. Thompson and Thomson remain inseparable throughout the series, though there is a considerable element of oneupmanship and fraternal bickering. Cora and Clarice do not bicker with each other simply, as stated before, each is exactly one half of the other. The Groan twins represents a lost and faded glory, allegedly removed from the direct lineage by Gertrude’s marriage to their older brother Sepulchrave and the birth of their nephew Titus.
Hergé 1971, Cigars of the Pharaoh, Casterman: Paris
Hergé 1946, Tintin in the Congo, Casterman: Paris
Hergé 1976, Tintin and the Picaros, Casterman: Paris
Levitt, J 2000, ‘Odd Couples and Double Acts, or Strange but Not Always Queer: some male pairs and the modern/postmodern subject, Australian Humanities Review, 12:2000.
Peake, M 1946, Titus Groan, Eyre & Spottiswode: London
Peake, M 1950, Gormenghast, Eyre & Spottiswode: London