The Secret of the Unicorn

Backstory Key Characters

First edition album (Belgium) published in 1943.

While looking around the Old Street Market, Tintin stumbles across a model ship and buys it as a gift for his friend, Captain Haddock. Little does he realize, the ship will prove to be the key to an exciting (and very dangerous) adventure.

The captain is overjoyed but astonished to receive Tintin’s gift. The ship appears to be a model of a vessel depicted in the background of a painting of the captain’s illustrious ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock. While looking through an old chest found in his attic, Captain Haddock chances upon the diary of his ancestor. It tells the story of Sir Francis’s run-in with a fearsome pirate, Red Rackham, and also describes a priceless treasure.

Strange events begin to unfold. Tintin’s flat is ransacked and a mysterious collector seems determined to buy the model ship. For Tintin and Captain Haddock — as well as a gang of crooks — the treasure hunt is well and truly on!

The Secret of the Unicorn and its sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure, are two of the best-loved Tintin books of all time. The name of the first part of the story is also part of the title of the first Steven Spielberg Tintin movie, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn.

The Secret of the Unicorn

Backstory

As World War II seized Europe, Hergé was under pressure to avoid subjects that might arouse Nazi suspicion; German censors would block publication of anything that could be construed as contrary to the Nazi cause. Hergé instead turned to fantasy, sending his characters on a quest for buried treasure.

Without current events to draw from, he turned to his immediate surroundings for inspiration, basing Captain Haddock’s palatial home, Marlinspike Hall, on a famous castle in France. Hergé left out two wings of the actual château, keeping only the central part. It would be one thing for Tintin’s best friend to inherit a beautiful residence, but quite another for him to become the owner of an entire castle!

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