Professor Calculus

Professor Cuthbert Calculus (Professeur Tryphon Tournesol, literally Professor Tryphonius Sunflower or Tryphonius Litmus Paper) is a fictional character in the series The Adventures of Tintin. He is a distracted, hard-of-hearing professor, who invents many sophisticated devices used in the series, such as a one-person shark-shaped submarine, the Moon rocket and an ultrasound weapon.

Calculus first appeared in Red Rackham's Treasure, and was the end result of Hergé's long quest to find the archetypal mad scientist or absent-minded professor. Although Hergé had included characters with similar traits in earlier stories, Calculus developed into a much more complex figure as the series progressed.


Although the exact origin of his title is never stated, Calculus demonstrates himself throughout the series to be an expert in many fields of science, making achievements in multiple areas, including nuclear physics, chemistry, mechanics and biology. Many of his inventions precede or mirror similar technological developments in the real world (most notably the Moon rocket, but also his failed attempt at creating a colour television set). He seeks to benefit mankind through his inventions, developing a pill that cures alcoholism by making alcohol unpalatable to the patient, and refusing under great duress to yield his talents to producing weapons of mass destruction. Much of Calculus's more dangerous work is criticized by Captain Haddock, although Calculus usually interprets this the other way round: his deafness often leads him to misinterpret Haddock's words, preventing him from hearing his real opinion.

Calculus's deafness is a frequent source of humour in his interactions with other people, as he often repeats back what he thinks he has heard, usually in the most unlikely words possible. Additionally, he often diverts the subject of a conversation by responding to a misinterpreted remark. For example, "But I never knew you had..." leads Calculus to respond "No, young man, I am not mad!". He is not perturbed by his handicap, even if it is a source of deep frustration to his friends. He himself does not admit to being near-deaf and insists that he is "only a little hard of hearing in one ear."

In the course of the Moon books, however, Calculus leads a team of scientists and engineers working on a major rocket project, motivating him to adopt a hearing aid, and for the duration of the adventure he has near-perfect hearing. This made him a more serious character, even displaying leadership qualities which had not been shown before or since. However, after completing the journey to the Moon, Calculus discarded his hearing aid, forcing his friends to readjust to his hearing impairment (aside from a scene in The Castafiore Emerald when Tintin insists he use it in order to clarify some misunderstanding during the TV broadcast); this restored the humour surrounding him, though it could be that he finds his deafness useful since it enables him to focus on his work.

Although generally a mild-mannered (if somewhat oblivious) figure, Calculus flies into an uncharacteristic rage if he ever hears the Captain (or anyone else) call him a "goat". On one famous occasion in Destination Moon, he displays uncontrollable ire ("Goat, am I?") when an irritated Haddock accuses him of "acting the goat" by attempting to build a Moon rocket. His subsequent tirade and blatant disregard for security rules terrifies the usually ebullient Captain, and shows that despite his gentle nature, Calculus is rather sensitive about his work, and does not appreciate being ridiculed or belittled for his scientific efforts.

In spite of all this, his friends stick by him come what may. Haddock invited him to stay at Marlinspike Hall after Calculus had bought it in his name thanks to money he had earned through selling the patent for his shark-submarine which he had been able to test in the West Indies thanks to Haddock and Tintin who were searching for Red Rackham's treasure. Tintin and Haddock crossed the world on at least two occasions (Prisoners of the Sun and The Calculus Affair) in order to save him from kidnappers.

In contrast to his unquestionable scientific merits, Calculus is a fervent believer in dowsing, and carries a pendulum for that purpose. He occasionally comments that he was a great sportsman in his youth, with a very athletic lifestyle. He is a former practitioner of the French martial art savate, although a demonstration in Flight 714 shows him to be a bit rusty.

Calculus and his peers

Before Calculus appeared in Red Rackham's Treasure, Hergé had featured other highly-educated but eccentric scholars and scientists, such as:

  • Dr. Sarcophagus of Cigars of the Pharaoh who showed signs of being clumsy and forgetful before going completely mad due to being poisoned by gangsters.
  • The absent-minded professor who appeared in The Broken Ear and who forgot his glasses, wore his cleaning-lady's overcoat, held his cane upside-down as if it were an umbrella, mistook a parrot for a man and left his briefcase next to a lamp post. (In the original edition published in 1935 his name is given as Professor Euclide, after the Greek mathematician known as the "Father of Geometry".)
  • Professor Hector Alembick in King Ottokar's Sceptre, who had a bad habit of throwing his cigarettes on the floor.
  • Two astronomers from The Shooting Star also showed unusual and, in one case, mad behaviour: Philippulus the Prophet represented the dilemmas some face over religious belief and scientific research. In his case the conflict took a toll on his mind when the end-of-the-world appeared to be imminent. He then went around wearing bedsheets and beating a gong to warn of the event and later disrupted the eve of departure of the expedition sent to find a meteorite.
  • His colleague, Professor Decimus Phostle, though not mad, looked forward to the end of the world whose prediction he thought would make him famous. In contrast, he showed signs of maturity during the expedition when he called off the search for the meteorite in order to help a ship in distress.

Calculus's introduction appears to have supplied Hergé with the bizarre nature he wished to portray in a man of science. Other figures of high education were shown as more stable and level-headed. The members of the archaeological expedition who fall victim to The Seven Crystal Balls show no apparent signs of eccentricity. The most prominent member of this group is Calculus's friend Hercules Tarragon, with whom he attended university. Tarragon is a large, ebullient man, possessing a jovial nature.

While he sometimes appears aloof when absorbed in his work, Calculus corresponds with other scientists and also collaborates with many of them on his projects. Notably, he works with Baxter and Frank Wolff on the Moon rocket and corresponds with ultrasonics expert Alfredo Topolino of Nyon in The Calculus Affair.

Calculus maintains a laboratory at Marlinspike Hall, in which he conducts various experiments. He is fairly protective of his work, on occasion hiding his scientific endeavours from Tintin and Haddock (which gets him into trouble in The Calculus Affair). His lab is also stripped of all its apparatus in the same book. On an earlier occasion, during his efforts to find an antidote to Formula Fourteen in Land of Black Gold, Calculus almost destroyed half of Marlinspike in an explosion.

Relationship to women

Calculus is the only regular character in the Tintin series to display signs of attraction to women. This is notably evident in his interactions with Bianca Castafiore, with whom he is smitten during her long stay at Marlinspike Hall in The Castafiore Emerald. During her stay, his botanic experiments lead him to create a new variety of rose, which he names in her honour. Nonetheless, he happily congratulates Captain Haddock on his "engagement" to Castafiore (in fact a media hoax which he unwittingly fuelled).

Calculus is also distressed by Castafiore's imprisonment in Tintin and the Picaros, and is adamant on going to her defence. In the same book, he is charmed by the unattractive Peggy Alcazar (wife of General Alcazar) and kisses her hand after she bluntly criticizes Tintin and Haddock (a remark which Calculus mistakes for a warm greeting).

In other media

Calculus' original French name was "Tournesol" which is the French term for sunflower.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he starred in a series of cartoon television commercials for Fruit d'or products which included cooking oil and mayonnaise made from sunflower oil. Some of the ads would conclude with him floating up into the air to demonstrate how they kept a good healthy balance. Other characters from the books were also included

His name was used in naming an album by Stephen Duffy and the group Tin Tin, which was called "Dr. Calculus".

The real Calculus: Auguste Piccard

In The Castafiore Emerald, Bianca Castafiore perhaps mistakes Calculus for Auguste Piccard (1884–1962) in claiming that Calculus is "famous for his balloon ascensions." This connection was confirmed by Hergé in an interview with Numa Sadoul: "Calculus is a reduced scale Piccard, as the real chap was very tall. He had an interminable neck that sprouted from a collar that was much too large... I made Calculus a mini-Piccard, otherwise I would have had to enlarge the frames of the cartoon strip." The Swiss physics professor held a teaching appointment in Brussels when Hergé spotted his unmistakable figure in the street.

In other languages

  • Arabic: Professor Bergel
  • Catalan: Silvestre Tornassol
  • Danish: Professor Tournesol
  • Dutch: Professor Zonnebloem
  • Finnish: Teophilus Tuhatkauno
  • German: Balduin Bienlein
  • Greek: Καθηγητής Τουρνεσόλ
  • Icelandic: Prófessor Vilhjálmur Vandráður
  • Indonesia: Profesor Lionel Lakmus (New Edition)
  • Italian: Professor Girasole
  • Portuguese: Trifólio Girassol
  • Spanish: Silvestre Tornasol
  • Swedish: Karl Kalkyl
  • Turkish: Profesör Turnusol


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