Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin and Snowy, Tintin's Friends

Herge always relied on coincidences in his stories but in The Secret of the Unicorn, he perhaps relied on them too much.

The Unicorn for Sale

The coincidences start on page one, where Tintin bumps into Thompson & Thomson. The detectives are investigating a pick-pocket who will, by chance, become very important towards the end of book. On page 3 of The Secret of the Unicorn, we have the next two coincidences. Firstly, as Tintin tries to buy the model Ivon Ivanovitch Sakharine also tries to buy the model. Then as those two argue, Barnaby joins in and also tries to purchase the same model.

If having three people (two of them who have been hunting for the model for years) all out shopping in the same place at the same time when the very object they seek happens to be for sale is not coincidence enough, there is more to come. The model is of the Unicorn, the ship of Sir Francis Haddock, Captain Haddock’s ancestors. After this, The Secret of the Unicorn settles down now that Herge has introduced all the characters and established the story line.

The True Unicorn

According to Tintin and the World of Herge, the Unicorn was not based on any specific ship but it was heavily influenced by Le Brillant. This 50 gun warship of the French Navy was built in Le Havre in 1690. A model of the ship can be seen here. Quite why Herge used this ship as the basis for the Unicorn is not clear.

The Secret of the Unicorn makes Captain Haddock unique in Herge’s cast. He is the only character to have any background. There is no mention of Tintin’s ancestry, ancient or modern, or that of any other characters. In fact, it is the only blood relation to a character to feature in the books except the children of various characters (e.g. the Waggs).

It is believed that the pirate Red Rackham in The Secret of the Unicorn was based on the pirate Calico Jack, whose real name was John Rackham. It was Calico Jack’s use of a jolly roger with two crossed swords that popularisied the design of the jolly roger as we know it today. This design was also used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. This was fitting as Calico Jack was captured and hung in giblet. An image that is also referenced in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Pests, Marlinspike and Nestor

As well as having amazing ancestors, Captain Haddock has an amazing vocabulary. Reading his rage induced rants always expands your grasp of language. The Secret of the Unicorn is no exception as Haddock refers to the Thompsons as Phylloxera. This North American aphid like creature was responsible for near destruction of the European wine industry in the late 1800s. Brought across from America by accident, this pest destroyed many of the vines. Only with the introduction of vines crossed with resistant stock from America did European wine production survive.

Marlinspike makes its first appearance in The Secret of the Unicon. Later it is to become Captain Haddock’s and Calculas’ home and base for many Tintin’s adventures. But in the beginning it just a prison that Tintin wakes up in. One of the first things Tintin does in Marlinspike is damage it by combining ingenuity with a convenient wooden beam.

Along with Marlinspike, we also meet Nestor for the first time. Innocently caught up in the nefarious affairs of the Bird brothers, Nestor’s first meeting with Tintin results in a fight and almost ends in Tintin’s murder. Nestor’s saving grace is when, once Tintin is rescued by the Thompsons and Captain Haddock, Nestor replaces the Captain’s bottle of three star brandy. Nestor clearly understands the Captain’s needs and Nestor remains the butler of Marlinspike after it is purchased by Calculus and the Captain.

Links, Tintin and Snowy, Tintin on the Net

It has been a busy week in Tintinland.

Tintin and Snowy, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is our hero’s first appearance and he is barley recognisable in the early part of the book. It is hard to imagine that this crude artwork is by the same man who put such loving detail into his books from The Blue Lotus onwards.

Tintin the Reporter

Though Tintin is always referred to as a reporter in the books, we never see him doing any actual reporting. Such as filing copy or talking to his editor. The only time we see Tintin doing anything like work is at the start of Tintin in the Land of Soviets when what we see Tintin writing copy for his editor. Clearly Herge decided that his readers are not be interested in such mundane things and never featured Tintin’s work again.

Herge, the Hater of Communists?

It is clear from the very start of the Tintin in the Land of the Soviets that this book will be full of a negative images of Russia. In panel 4 of page 1, Snowy is worried that there will be fleas. By page 2, a communist agent is plotting to kill Tintin because he might report the truth about the Soviet Union.

Herge’s attitude to the communist Soviets came about because of his conservative upbringing that involved church schools and partaking in the scouting movement. In 1925 Herge started working for a the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle under the editor Norbert Wallez, a Catholic abbot who kept a photograph of Mussolini in his office.

By 1929, the Communist Government in Russia had been in power for over ten years. In the meantime, Belgium’s neighbour Germany was in a state of near anarchy as the fascists under Adolf Hitler fought the communist for control. In all the major european countries, socialist parties were attracting a lot of support. The idea that communism could spread across the whole of europe was seen as a very real threat. Against this backdrop, Herge’s youthful ignorance was focused into an anti-communist comic for children by Norbert Wallez and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is the result.

Signposts to the Future

Whilst the artwork is crude and the storyline chaotic, even by Tintin’s standards, there are clear indications in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets of what Tintin would become. There is plenty of slapstick humour with people running into things and falling down stairs. As is Tintin’s ability to beat armed enemies with a few simple punches. Snowy’s roll as occasional saviour of Tintin and supplier of sarcastic remarks is firmly established.

The first signs of Herge’s love of the accuracy can be seen. On page 53, Tintin is being chased in a speedboat. The boats and the machine gun his pursuers are armed with are well drawn and accurate (if simple) depictions of those in use at the time. These hints in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets would become full blown obsessions in later books where Herge would create models of boats and follow the latest scientific develops in an attempt to be as realistic as possible.

One aspect of Tintin’s personality hasn’t yet become fixed. Towards the end of the book (page 121) we see Tintin get drunk. Though Tintin does occasionally get drunk in the latest books, it is normally the result of an accident. In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin chooses to drink and wakes up with a hangover.

Returning from the Land of the Soviets

After a long sequence where Tintin appears to travels around unnamed parts of Russia, Tintin ends up in control of a plane. By luck, he finds himself in Tempelhof, Germany and from there he starts his return journey. Though this being Tintin, the return leg of the journey it is not without its own adventures.

As he rides the train in the final stage of the journey, Herge once again starts providing exact details of our hero’s location as he identifies the towns the train passes through. It is possible that the nature of how Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was written dictated this sequence. Herge supplied two pages every week but never had an overall plan. Each week’s adventure would go wherever Herge felt like at the time. But having decided to finish the adventure, Herge had to pace the story out over the final pages. Tintin’s identification of the towns and Snowy’s comment on the sugar producing region of Tienen might just be there to fill up space.

Tintin, The Beginning

Unlike all his other works, including the heavily criticised Tintin in the Congo, Herge never redrew Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Why? Was he embarrassed by the anti-communist, stereotypes he portrayed in the book? Or was it just that the story was so weak that it was not worth revisiting? Herge would of have had to rewrite and redraw the whole book. Moving on and doing something new would of been far more attractive.

Reading Tintin in the Land of the Soviets for the first time has been an interesting experience. I’ve been reading Tintin for over thirty years and I’m now about twice the age of Herge when he start the book. Before starting it I was worried it would be too crude and too anti-communist to be a proper Tintin book but I have been surprised. Whilst flawed and primitive, it is certainly a Tintin book. The same humour and attention to detail can be seen whilst the adventures are as wild and exciting as any later books.

Herge, The Broken Ear, Tintin and Snowy, Tintin and the Picaros

Continuing my work on updating the Tintin Map, I’m looking into San Theodoros. This fictional country appeared in Tintin and the Picaros (TatP) and The Broken Ear. It is described as a Latin American country and Castafiore stops there after visiting Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela. However, the temple Tintin visits in TatP clearly looks Mayan, compare the photo of the Chichen Itza temple with the one on page 25 of Tintin and the Picaros. This ancient culture was dominant in present day Mexico but did extend into Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras.

Chichen Itza Mayan Temple Tintin Picaros

In The Broken Ear, the countryside, dress and general look of San Theodoros has a predominately Mexican feel. The use of spanish prefixes in both the county’s name, the capital (Los Dopicos) and the capital its neighbours Nuevo-Rican (San Facion) suggest Mexico or another Central American such as Costa Rica.

Tintin sails to Los Dopicos from Le Harve. There is no mention of the Panama canal so San Theodoros’ capital must be on the east coast of central or south America.

As with all of Herge’s fictional places, he did not tie himself down to specifics but instead took what he need from different places. Locations are further confused by differences between the originals and their translations and between different editions as Herge habitually made many changes when updating albums. Herge lacked consistency in his own work as well. Los Dopicos is a port city in The Broken Ear but by Tintin and the Picaros it seems to be inland.

Putting the different clues together – Mayan pyramids, styles of dress and buildings, coastal location and the strong Spanish influence on names, I think the east coast of the Mexico including the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize and Honduras is the best fitting region.