The Secret of the Unicorn

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the film adaptation, see The Adventures of Tintin (film).
The Secret of the Unicorn
(Le Secret de la Licorne)
Cover of the English edition
Date 1943
Series The Adventures of Tintin
Publisher Casterman
Creative team
Creators Hergé
Original publication
Published in Le Soir Jeunesse
Date(s) of publication
11 June 1942 – 14 January 1943
Language French
ISBN 2-203-00110-0
Publisher Methuen
Date 1959
ISBN 1-4052-0622-5
  • Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper
  • Michael Turner
Preceded by The Shooting Star, 1942
Followed by Red Rackham's Treasure, 1944

The Secret of the Unicorn (French: Le Secret de la Licorne) is the eleventh volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Young reporter Tintin, his dog Snowy, and his friend Captain Haddock discover a riddle left by Haddock's ancestor, the 17th century Sir Francis Haddock, which could lead them to the hidden treasure of Red Rackham, the pirate. To unravel the riddle, Tintin and Haddock must obtain three identical models of Sir Francis's ship, the Unicorn, but they discover that criminals are also after these model ships, and are willing to kill in order to obtain them.

The story was first serialized in Le Soir Jeunesse, children's supplement to Belgium's leading newspaper Le Soir, from 11 June 1942 to 14 January 1943 before being published in book form later that year. The Secret of the Unicorn is the first volume in a two-part adventure concluded in Red Rackham's Treasure (1944).

Written while Belgium was occupied by Germany during World War II, The Secret of the Unicorn is the first book in the series to avoid political themes, instead focusing purely on an adventure story, and has been described as being the first book in Hergé's middle period. It is also known for being one of only two books in the series set entirely in Belgium.[1]

Hergé heavily researched the background to his story, ensuring that the various ships, buildings, and other features illustrated in it were based upon real life counterparts. The Secret of the Unicorn was Hergé's favourite Tintin adventure until he made Tintin in Tibet (1960).[1][2] The story has had adaptations including a radio series (1992), two animated television series, Hergé's Adventures of Tintin (1959–63) and The Adventures of Tintin (1991), and the Hollywood movie The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011).


Captain Haddock reenacting the adventures of his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock

Whilst browsing in a market in Brussels, Tintin purchases an old model ship which he wishes to give to his friend Captain Haddock as a gift. Two strangers, the model ship collector Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine and a mysterious figure known as Barnaby, then unsuccessfully try to independently convince Tintin to sell the model to them. Returning with the model to his flat, Snowy knocks it over and its mainmast is broken. Repairing it, and showing the ship to Haddock, the latter is amazed that it is actually a model of the Unicorn, a 17th-century warship captained by his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock. The model ship is subsequently stolen, and it is revealed that Sakharine owns an identical model of the Unicorn, although this was soon stolen. Returning to his flat, Tintin discovers a rolled-up parchment hidden under furniture, on which is a part of a riddle that points to the location of treasure, and he realises that this must have been hidden in the mast of the model which Snowy had broken.

Informing Haddock about the riddle, the captain tells him of how Sir Francis Haddock battled with the pirate Red Rackham somewhere in the West Indies, before killing him in single combat and blowing up his ship. Haddock gets somewhat carried away in his telling of the story: destroying his flat while re-enacting the battle scenes. He also reveals that three models exist in total.

Barnaby then turns up at Tintin's doorstep but is shot down by unknown assailants. Later Tintin is kidnapped by the perpetrators of the shooting. They are revealed to be the Bird brothers, two unscrupulous antique dealers who own a third model of the Unicorn. They are behind the theft of Tintin's model and Sakharine's parchment, knowing that only with all three parchments can the location of the treasure be found for the following book Red Rackham's treasure. Tintin escapes from the Bird brothers' country estate, Marlinspike Hall, whilst the Captain arrives with the police officers Thomson and Thompson to arrest them. However, it is found that they do not have two of the parchments. These are found to have been stolen by Aristides Silk, a kleptomaniac specialising in wallet-snatching. As the pickpocket is cornered, his cache of stolen wallets is found, amongst which are the Bird Brothers' wallets containing the missing two parchments. By combining the three parchments, Tintin and Haddock discover the coordinates of the hidden treasure, and begin to plan for an expedition to find it. The story ends where it started, leading Tintin to the rest of the treasure.



Sir Francis Haddock fighting Red Rackham's pirates.

To produce the varied backgrounds and other illustrations for The Secret of the Unicorn, Hergé drew on a much wider variety of pictorial sources, such as newspaper clippings, than he had done for any of the earlier Tintin adventures.[3] He went to particular effort in order to depict the Unicorn as a historically accurate 17th century warship, studying the plans of naval vessels from that period which were found in the Naval Museum in Paris. As his primary influence for the fictional craft, he chose a ship named Le Brillant which had been constructed in Le Havre in 1690 by the shipwright Salicon and then decorated by Jean Bérain the Elder. He also however studied other vessels from the period, such as the Le Soleil Royal, La Couronne, La Royale and Le Reale de France, in order to better understand 17th-century ship design. It was from the latter vessel that he gained a basis for his design for the Unicorn's jollyboat.[2][4] No ship named the Unicorn had ever been listed in the annals of the French navy, so Hergé instead took the name, and also figurehead, for Sir Francis Haddock's fictional vessel from a British frigate which had been active in the mid-18th century.[2][4]

Red Rackham and Sir Francis Haddock[edit]

There was a historic pirate with a similar name to Red Rackham, John Rackham, best known as the captain of the ship on which sailed the women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. John Rackham was also known for his bright clothes.[citation needed]

A 17th-century engraving of Sir Richard Haddock.

Michael Farr believed that the introduction of Sir Francis Haddock (François de Haddoque in the original French) was what made the book "most remarkable" due to the fact that both visually and in his mannerisms, he is "scarcely distinguishable from the captain".[5] By introducing the character, Hergé made Captain Haddock the only character in the series (with the exception of Jolyon Wagg, who would be introduced later) to have a family and an ancestry.[2][6]

After publishing the book, Hergé learned that there had actually been an Admiral Haddock who had served in the British navy during the late 17th and early 18th centuries: Sir Richard Haddock (1629–1715). This Haddock was in charge of the Royal James, the flagship of the Earl of Sandwich during the Battle of Solebay of 1672, the first naval battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. During the fighting, the Royal James was set alight, and Haddock escaped with his life but had to be rescued from the sea, following which his bravery was recognised by the British monarch, King Charles II. He subsequently took command of another ship, the Royal Charles, before becoming a naval administrator in later life.[4] Coincidentally, Admiral Haddock's grandfather, also called Richard, commanded the ship of the line HMS Unicorn during the reign of Charles I.[7][8]

Historians have also highlighted the existence of another Captain Haddock who lived in this period, one who had commanded a fire-ship, the Anne and Christopher. It was recorded by David Ogg that this captain and his ship had got separated from their squadron whilst out at sea and so docked at Malaga to purchase goods that could be taken back to Britain and sold for a profit. For this action, Haddock was brought before an admiralty tribunal in 1674, where he was ordered to forfeit all profits from the transaction and suspended from his command for six months.[4]

Marlinspike Hall[edit]

The name Moulinsart was an anagram of the real village of Sart-Moulin.[9]


Le Secret de La Licorne was initially serialised on a daily basis in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir from 11 June 1942, whilst the French newspaper Cœurs Vaillants began to subsequently serialise it from 19 March 1944. In Belgium, it was then published in a 62 page book format by Editions Casterman in 1943.[9]

In 1952, Casterman published English language translations of both The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, in which Moulinsart (later Marlinspike Hall) was referred to as Puckeridge Castle.[10]

The series' Danish publishers, Carlsen, later located a model of an early-17th-century Danish ship called the Enhjørnigen (The Unicorn) which they gave to Hergé. Constructed in 1605, Enhjørnigen had been wrecked in an attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage.[4][6]


The Secret of the Unicorn resembled the earlier Tintin adventures in its use of style, colour and content, leading Harry Thompson to remark that it "unquestionably" belongs to the 1930s, believing it to be "the last and best of Hergé's detective mysteries."[1]

In his analysis of the Adventures of Tintin, the academic Jean-Marie Apostolidès characterised the Secret of the Unicorn-Red Rackham's Treasure arc as being about the characters going on a "treasure hunt that turns out to be at the same time a search for their roots."[11]


Belvision animation, 1957[edit]

In 1957, the animation company Belvision produced a string of colour adaptations based upon Hergé's original comics, adapting eight of the Adventures into a series of daily five-minute episodes. The Secret of the Unicorn was the seventh such story to be adapted, being directed by Ray Goossens and written by Michel Greg, himself a well known comic book writer and illustrator who in later years would become editor-in-chief of the Journal De Tintin.[12]

Ellipse/Nelvana animation, 1991[edit]

In 1991, a second animated series based upon The Adventures of Tintin was produced, this time as a collaboration between the French studio Ellipse and the Canadian animation company Nelvana. Adapting 21 of the stories into a series of episodes, each 42 minutes long, The Secret of the Unicorn was the ninth story to be produced into the series, with the story spanning two episodes. Directed by Stéphane Bernasconi, the series has been praised for being "generally faithful", with compositions having been actually directly taken from the panels in the original comic book.[13]

Hollywood movie and video game, 2011[edit]

A 2011 motion capture feature film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson was released in most of the world October – November 2011, and in the US on 21 December 2011.[14] The film incorporates elements such as the model ships, Sakharine, Mr. Silk, the story of Sir Francis Haddock and Marlinspike Hall. A video game tie-in to the movie has also been made.


  1. ^ a b c Thompson 1991. p. 113.
  2. ^ a b c d Peeters 1989. p. 75.
  3. ^ Farr 2001. p. 112.
  4. ^ a b c d e Farr 2001. p. 111.
  5. ^ Farr 2001. p. 108.
  6. ^ a b Thompson 1991. p. 115.
  7. ^ ^ J. D. Davies, ‘Haddock, Sir Richard (c.1629–1715)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.
  8. ^ p.158 Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
  9. ^ a b Jean-Marc Lofficier, Randy Lofficier. The Pocket Essential Tintin. No Exit; 2nd edition (October 1, 2007), p. 52–53.
  10. ^ Farr 2001. p. 106.
  11. ^ Apostolidès 2010. p. 30.
  12. ^ Jean-Marc Lofficier, Randy Lofficier. The Pocket Essential Tintin. No Exit; 2nd edition (October 1, 2007), p. 87–88.
  13. ^ Jean-Marc Lofficier, Randy Lofficier. The Pocket Essential Tintin. No Exit; 2nd edition (October 1, 2007), p. 90.
  14. ^ Tom Huddleston (27 October 2011). "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Movie Review". Time Out Magazine. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 

External links[edit]