Belgium's most prolific man of letters -- indeed one of the most prolific authors of all time -- is Georges Simenon (1903-89), whose prodigious output very nearly defies belief. The Liège-born author wrote some 200 novels and 150 novellas, along with many other works, from autobiographical books to magazine and newspaper articles, and still found time to produce dozens more novels under a variety of pseudonyms. He is undoubtedly best known for the 75 novels and dozens of short stories in the Inspector Maigret detective series, most of them set in Paris.

The two best-known Belgian novels would likely be Het Verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium; 1983) by Hugo Claus, which deals with the Nazi occupation; and Bruges-la-Morte (Dead Bruges; 1892) by Georges Rodenbach, which deals with themes of love and loss, but is perhaps best known for having put Bruges on the European map as a tourist destination.


I think it's fair to say that Belgium is not one of the world's great movie powers. It's a rare Belgian film that's seen by more than about 10 people outside of the cast and the crew and their relatives. Then again, Belgium has given Hollywood a star in Jean-Claude "the Muscles from Brussels" Van Damme, and Agatha Christie's ageless fictional detective Hercule Poirot has often graced the silver screen.

Dominique Deruddere's Everybody Famous was nominated in 2000 for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but didn't win. Bruges starred alongside Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, and Brendan Gleeson in the 2008 hit movie (literally) In Bruges, about two hitmen who take refuge in Bruges after a whack goes wrong.


Where would jazz be today if it weren't for Belgium? If you are scratching your head trying to come up with the name of a great Belgian jazz musician, don't bother (though harmonica-player Toots Thielemans would be a decent answer). But if it hadn't been for Adolphe Sax (1814-94), nobody would have invented the saxophone -- and then where would jazz be today?

Singer/songwriter Jacques Brel (1929-78) brought unequalled passion to his performances of songs of love, comedy, low life, and more. His discography includes Quand On n'a que l'Amour (When You Only Have Love), Le Plat Pays (The Flat Country), Amsterdam, Ne Me Quitte Pas (often covered in English as If You Go Away), and many more.

And then there's the still very much alive schmaltzy singer Helmut Lotti.


Belgium produces 30 million comic-strip books annually, and exports 75% of them. The Tintin books alone have sold more than 200 million copies since the youthful adventurer first appeared in 1929, created by the Belgian Georges Rémi, better known as Hergé (the initials of his name reversed and written as they would be pronounced in French). Like all good comic-strip characters, Tintin and his companions, the dog Snowy, short-fused Captain Haddock, the dopey near-look-alike detectives Thomson and Thompson, and absent-minded Professor Calculus, are ageless.

Lucky Luke, the cowpoke who beats his shadow to the draw and whose horse, Jolly Jumper, plays a mean hand at poker, stars in more than 80 adventures -- each of which ends with the hero riding into the sunset singing "I'm a poor lonesome cowboy," and it has been adapted for television and computer games. His creator, illustrator Morris (real name Maurice de Bevere), a native of Kortrijk, died at age 77 in 2001.

Themes of displacement and anomie run through the stories in Thorgal, a Belgian series with an international following, though the attractions of a good fight are not passed up. Thorgal Aegirsson, born in space and sent to earth by his mother after his father and grandfather quarreled over whether to invade the planet, lives during the Viking era and knows how to use a broadsword and battle-ax to defend himself; his beautiful wife, Aarcia; and their two children. He has the Norse gods on his case and must contend against them along with a gallery of cruel human enemies.

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