Red Rackham’s Treasure is the second part of a story begun in The Secret of the Unicorn, and it features globetrotting adventurer Tintin and his crew in search of a lost pirate treasure. I’ve enjoyed Tintin’s adventures since I was a boy reading them all out of order from the library, and though I briefly owned a boxed set about ten years ago, it was a bit disappointing to read the books condensed down to half their original page size. So, I recently picked up a few full-sized paperback editions, and where better to start than the classic tale of pirate plunder?
This story is a fan-favorite from the middle of the Tintin era where the early political vibe of the series had been dropped in favor of pure adventure, and before the later days where Hergé lost interest in the series. But what really makes these tales work is the comical cast of supporting characters.
Captain Haddock had recently been introduced, and the Red Rackham story is based on the idea that his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock defeated the villainous pirate Rackham and hid his treasure, leaving behind only cryptic clues to its whereabouts. This saga introduces Professor Cuthbert Calculus, who might be genuinely hard of hearing but also seems to hear whatever he wants to hear in his own little world—much to the consternation of everyone else. Calculus has invented a shark-shaped submarine to help Tintin explore the ocean depths for the sunken Unicorn, and despite annoying the living heck out of Tintin and Haddock, he won’t take no for an answer.
Surrounding Tintin with cartoonish buffoons really brought the series to life for me, because Tintin on his own is a pretty bland character. Sometimes, he’s a downright jerk! In this tale, he takes his dog Snowy with him—as he always does—but then is quick to believe the worst about his constant companion, even calling Snowy “the wretched dog”. What a meanie!
Also along for the ride are the identically inept investigators Thomson and Thompson, who are always good for slapstick humor and, on occasion, doing something useful.
My favorite scene takes place on an uninhabited island our unlikely heroes explore in hopes of finding buried treasure. Suddenly, they are heckled and verbally abused by voices from all around. Captain Haddock flies into a rage at the insults, shouting his own colorful curses into the jungle. But there is something strangely familiar about the insults.
Sea-gherkin! Pickled herring! This onslaught of PG pirate profanity always cracks me up.
The lads discover many interesting things, but they just can’t seem to find the treasure. However, Haddock finds a case of every pirate’s second-favorite treasure in the wreck of the Unicorn, and promptly gets drunk as a skunk. Things don’t go well when he leaps overboard to dive for more but is too sauced to remember his diving helmet.
After days of disasters and disappointments, Tintin and friends abandon their quest and return home mostly empty-handed. But the story doesn’t end there, and you can always expect the unexpected with this comical crew.
Collectors Guide: You can plunder The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure on Amazon, with plenty of inexpensive used copies still available.