First off, be forewarned that "The Secret of Unicorn" is only the first half of a two-part Tintin adventure, which is concluded in "Red Rackham's Treausre." So do not get all bent of shape when you get to the end of this 1943 adventure and Tintin looks out and you and tells you to find out what happens next in "Red Rackham's Treasure."
As our story opens, the Thompsons are trying to solve a rash of pockets being picked and Tintin decides to buy on impulse a model of an old galliard ship. But suddenly two other gentleman want to buy the model from Tintin, who refuses because he intends the model to be a gift to his friend, Captain Haddock. Then Tintin finds a small piece of parchment that was hidden in one of the masts talking about a treasure and a ship called the Unicorn. The mystery deepens when it turns out that Sir Francis Haddock, an ancestor of Tintin's good friend, was the captain of the Unicorn. After the captain tells the exciting story of Sir Francis and his glorious victory over the dreaded Barbary buccaneers, Tintin races off to track down the final pieces of the puzzle that will tell where the treasure of the Unicorn can be found.
This is only Captain Haddock's third Tintin adventure but he is already as important to the story as Snowy. Nestor and Marlinspike Hall make their first appearance in "The Secret of the Unicorn" with Professor Calculus making his unforgettable first appearance in the second half of the tale. Herge is obviously staying as far away as he can from what is happening in Europe during World War II, but that does not take away from the fact this is a first rate tale of detective work by our intrepid hero and the second half is an equally fun adventure as Tintin and company race for "Red Rackham's Treasure."
NB - This is a review of the Egmont A4 sized paperback (and will stand for the hardback version too), but most emphatically not the newer, smaller reprint.
For instalments 11 and 12 of the Tintin sagas we get the first proper double bill, and on the classic theme of a treasure hunt. Having acquired a model ship for his pal Capt. Haddock, Tintin and the old sea dog discover that it's a model of the Capt.'s ancestor Sir Francis Haddock's ship. Amidst a spate of pick-pocketing and burglary it soon becomes apparent that more than one model ship exists, and that there are cryptic clues pointing towards possible treasure.
Haddock is on fine form, and the whole lengthy episode, occupying approx. 1/4 of the book, where he relates and enacts his ancestors' tale for Tintin is priceless, full of visual and verbal fun. Part of the humour revolves around Haddock's alcohol consumption during the tale-telling, and Tintin's attempts to rein in his penchant for the bottle, but mostly it's just the action itself. Beautifully scripted and drawn, it's pure pleasure to read. Wonderful stuff.
This is also one of the books where Hergé's diligent research is most apparent: he clearly wanted the historical naval scenes, and especially the Unicorn, to be convincing, and they are. To achieve this he not only did thorough research, but also had a model of the Unicorn built. Studying the frames with this ship reveal it really is a beautifully rendered thing. Capt. Haddock's colourful vocabulary is shown to run in the family, and Hergé's ingenious way of getting around the infamously broad language of sailors is thereby amplified. As a kid I used to love looking up the odd and unusual words in a dictionary.
The villainous antique dealing Bird brothers go to far more dastardly lengths than the average bow-tie wearing fops we see on TV to get what they want. It's thanks to them that we're introduced to Marlinspike Hall and Nestor, where Tintin, as an unwitting and unwilling guest, is forced to do some improvised DIY, whilst Snowy get a few brief cameos as the doting hound sniffing out his abducted master's whereabouts and coming to his rescue.
Running throughout this adventure, the pickpocket theme eventually proves to be more than just a gag, but pivotal to Tintin and Haddock's quest, but I won't give any more away. This is a fabulous fun packed Tintin classic, even the way it ends, with Tintin addressing the reader directly to commend the sequel to them is just charming. I loved this as a young boy, and I love it just as much now, many, many moons (too many, alas!) later.
on 14 October 2013
When Tintin spots an old model ship at a Brussels market, he believes that it will make the perfect birthday gift for his friend Captain Haddock. It quickly becomes apparent though that Tintin is not the only one interested in the ship and he has to avoid the aggressive bargaining of two other would-be purchasers before he is able to get the model safely back to his flat. It doesn't stay safe for long though as Snowy, Tintin's loyal doggy companion, is scampering about the flat and knocks the ship over, breaking one of the masts. However, after a quick bit of repair work, the ship is patched up and duly presented to Captain Haddock.
Haddock is delighted with the gift, quickly realising that the ship is a model of the Unicorn, a 17th century warship that was captained by his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock. His delight is short lived though as the ship is subsequently stolen but, with the aid of an old diary detailing the exploits of Sir Francis Haddock and a mysterious parchment that had been hidden in the broken mast, Tintin is soon on the trail of the thieves and, accompanied by the wonderfully bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson [no relation], the dynamic trio of Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock set off to uncover the secret of the Unicorn.
Together with its sequel Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn is arguably Tintin's greatest adventure and so it is no surprise that these two books were chosen as the basis for Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin film [due out in the UK on 26th October]. There are two mysteries central to The Secret of the Unicorn - most obviously that surrounding the model ship and the history of Sir Francis Haddock, but also that of a serial pickpocket being ineptly pursued by Thomson and Thompson. These co-existing mysteries that eventually twist together in a very convincing fashion ensure that The Secret of the Unicorn involves plenty of thrills and spills as well as plenty of humour and intrigue.
Although Hergé had to make some changes to the world of Tintin in order to accommodate the time in which The Secret of the Unicorn was written [Belgium being occupied by the Nazis in 1943], the ethos of the series and its sense of adventure is preserved. In keeping with the political climate of the time, Tintin is no longer officially a reporter on the hunt for political intrigue but he is still a skilled investigator. Although aided by his friends, it is Tintin who is first on the trail of the stolen model ship and who throws himself into danger at every turn. He is also, fortunately, in a position to assist Thomson and Thompson with their pickpocket investigation and to help Captain Haddock unravel the secrets of his ancestor.
As well as providing background information on Captain Haddock's famous ancestor, The Secret of the Unicorn is perhaps the book that best establishes the Captain's own heroic character. Although he was introduced in The Crab with the Golden Claws and featured in The Shooting Star, it is in this book that [a relatively sober] Captain Haddock is established as an attention worthy character in himself as well as a firm friend and loyal adventuring companion of Tintin. This book is also notable for the introduction of Nestor the butler and of Marlinspike Hall, both of which play important roles in Captain Haddock's future.
Something for everyone! That's the secret.
And Hergé's "Secret of the Unicorn" fulfils that promise, launching readers of all ages on a whale of a great pirate adventure and treasure hunt with the intrepid Tintin. Accompanying our boy-reporter on his quest are the rumbustious Captain Haddock (who has never met a bottle of rum that he didn't like); and the defective detectives, Thompson and (to be precise) Thomson (identical twins whose names are NOT); their attempts to foil the notorious Bird Brothers are wildly inept, demanding the prompt interventions of Tintin and his incredibly thinking dog, Snowy, who not only save the day but also find the treasure. The story, which focuses on maps and secret cyphers, is told with flashbacks, which introduce us to Haddock's ancestor, Sir Francis, and (Blue Blistering Barnacles!) his adversary, the notorious pirate Red Rackham, scourge of at least 5 of the 7 seas.
Happily, the publishers have not modernised the dialogue (or the currency), which contributes to the old-world charm of the series. The dialogue is literate and full of benign double entendres. The narrative moves at such a fast pace that one has to slow down to savour the story, so that the 63 pages don't fly by. But, even if they should, there is always the sequel, "Red Rackham's Treasure" to look forward to.
I bought three of these books so that my grandson would become acquainted with these delightful tales, which I discovered back in the fifties. I first met Tintin in the Netherlands, in the guise of Kuifje (Cowlick, because of his upstanding shock of ginger hair); I subsequently encountered him in French, German, and Italian. Tintin, in fact, serves as an ideal aid to learning a foreign language, since all the translations from the original French are so conversational and colloquial.
"The Secret of the Unicorn" may have originated in the 'forties, but its themes of the young hero's persistence on behalf of a friend in his quest for pirate's treasure--of good triumphing over evil--are timeless. Furthermore, the running jokes are just as funny as when I first read them. They still cause me to burst into laughter. And who could not use a little laughter during turbulent times, whether then or now?
on 17 April 2012
This book was a present for my granddaughter - who, has always had a penchant for unicorns - a collector to boot! I was unsure that perhaps this interest may have diminished now that she is 14 years old. However, I read both the books myself before I sent them on and had great fun - and I am what might be said to be in my dotage. I hope to see or at least hear from her pretty soon and hope she didn't think - oh Grannie I've moved on long ago from unicorns. Well, I haven't. Neither will I ever move on from Tintin.
So - all I can say is let's hope!
on 7 August 2015
In my humble opinion, “The Secret of the Unicorn” is one of the best Tintin adventures. It has the right balance between slapstick-type humor, Captain Haddock's outbursts, suspenseful action and an interesting plot. “The Secret of the Unicorn” and its sequel, “Red Rackham's Treasure”, also answer some in-universe questions, such as how Tintin met the distracted scientist Calculus, or how Haddock acquired Marlinspike Hall and his perennial butler Nestor.
Personally, I feel that the Tintin concept goes seriously out of hand when the slapstick and the Haddock-esque elements are allowed to dominate. But that's me. Most other people consider the good ol' skipper to be most lovable character in the entire Tintin universe! I admit that his “blistering barnacles” feel somewhat less out of place in this particular story, than in many others. But then, the secret of the unicorn runs in Haddock's family…
Classic Tintin adventure with lovely traditional drawing and bright colours.
If you are a fan this is a must have.
Gentle and rather old fashioned it takes you back to a different time and place.
on 5 January 2010
If you like TinTin you will like this book! It is as good or as bad as all the others! For me, I love those comics - they are simple, easy to read and have a clean sense of humor! Fantastic!
The Secret of the Unicorn marks the beginning of Tintin's adventures in their prime and Hergé at the top of his craft, and as such, it seems like as good a place as any to start Steven Spielberg's long cherished ambition to bring the young investigator to the screen. There are certainly strong and thrilling Tintin adventures prior to this - Cigars of the Pharaoh, The Broken Ear and King Ottokar's Sceptre - but they are patchy and episodic, only really looking their best when the artwork was redrawn years later by Hergé studios for the new 62-page album format. The purest Tintin adventures, and the best, are the mid-period double-length features, The Secret of the Unicorn & Red Rackham's Treasure, The Seven Crystal Balls & Prisoners of the Sun and Destination Moon & Explorers on the Moon.
Like the other double-length adventures, The Secret of the Unicorn would appear to have the disadvantage of being the set-up album, but Hergé uses the extra length afforded by the increased page-count to give the story more room to breathe, achieving a good mix of action and intrigue, interweaving several complementary plotlines in a sophisticated manner, while playing with the usual slapstick and humour. The Secret of the Unicorn is a wonderfully balanced Tintin adventure in this respect, with a good traditional buried treasure storyline.
It starts off typically enough with a coincidental find that Snowy is observant enough to remark has all the hallmarks of leading to a new adventure. Tintin buys a model of an ancient sailing ship at a market as a present for Captain Haddock, just in front of two other customers who are also eager to buy it. It turns out that the model is actually a replica of the Unicorn, the ship sailed by the Captain's ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, sunk in 1676 after an encounter with the pirate Red Rackham, taking the pirate's treasure with her to Davy Jones' locker. Haddock doesn't receive his gift however, as the model is stolen from Tintin's apartment, but not before Tintin has discovered a parchment hidden inside the main mast, one of three parchments hidden in other replica models, together pointing to the location of the sunken Unicorn and Red Rackham's treasure.
The sea-faring and piracy exploits out of the way, The Secret of the Unicorn settles down to the familiar Tintin adventure and mystery. The artwork isn't quite as polished here as in later Hergé studio work, but it's impressive in its openness, simplicity and expressiveness. It's uncommon for there to be any back history provided on the characters in Tintin books, so the adventures of Captain Haddock's ancestor fighting pirates off the Barbary Coast are an unusual feature, but wonderfully drawn in large detailed panels that integrate well into the Captain's storytelling. A similar sophisticated interweaving is achieved in the Thomsons' wallet thief investigation, each of the three threads, like the three pieces of parchment, coming together to form a perfect whole and admirably lead the way towards Red Rackham's Treasure.
on 7 January 2016
Never a problem re-reading Tintin's books. Always entertaining even though Captain Haddock's language is less colourful in English than in French.
Brilliant to get it in hardback as it can be passed from one generation to the next.