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Recap / Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure

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Red Rackham's Treasure (1944) is the 12th adventure of Tintin and a direct sequel to The Secret of the Unicorn. In the previous tale Tintin and Captain Haddock had discovered three parchments revealing the location of the Unicorn, a sunken ship. Said ship contains the treasure of famed pirate Red Rackham. In this adventure, the two friends set out on a naval expedition to locate the treasure. Accompanying them are Thomson and Thompson, determined to protect them from Max Bird, who escaped from prison after the previous book (though he never shows up).

The small group is joined by a stowaway, Professor Cuthbert Calculus. He is an inventor who insists that his one-man submarine is ideal for the mission. The Professor himself turns out to be very useful in locating the ship, as the centuries-old co-ordinates are less straightforward than originally thought. Calculus would become the last major addition to the cast of the series. The book is considered one of the highlights in the series and served as a change of direction for the protagonists, as by the end of the story Haddock becomes independently wealthy and the new owner of Marlinspike Hall, which becomes the main characters' residence for the remainder of the series.


  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Haddock drinks a full bottle of the 300-year-old rum he'd found, then dives straight back in to the ocean for more without putting his helmet back on.
  • Angry Collar Grab: Haddock does this to Calculus when pressing him for the whereabouts of his whisky.
  • Artistic License – History: In the original French, François de Hadoque (in the English translation: Sir Francis Haddock) was given the château of Moulinsart (Marlinspike Hall) by Louis XIV as a reward for his services in 1695. The problem with that: Moulinsart is situated in the environs of Brussels, i. e. in a part of the world that at the time belonged not to France, but to the Spanish Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire. However, Moulinsart/Marlinspike is fictional, so this is an artistic license only if you assume that the big city where Tintin lives is Brussels. There is no explicit indication that this city is Brussels in this album, and even in the whole coloured series (the most explicit clue is a mention of Brussels in Chinese characters on an envelope in Tintin in Tibet). The only explicit mention of Brussels can be found in the black and white album Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, but this album is full of Early-Installment Weirdness.
  • Badass Boast: Tintin is flustered by all the con artists who claim to be Red Rackham's descendants and demand a share of the treasure. Captain Haddock, however, reminds everyone that he is a descendant of Sir Francis Haddock, who killed Red Rackham...and there are times when his ancestor's fighting blood boils in his veins. The con artists don't press their claims after that.
  • Blatant Lies: Dozens of con artists start badgering Tintin and Haddock for a share of the treasure by claiming to be descendants of Red Rackham.
  • Breakout Character: Professor Calculus. Hergé had been using various Absent Minded Professors as characters in previous stories. All were one-shot characters, but Calculus went on to become a recurring character, and Tintin: Destination Moon, Tintin: Explorers on the Moon and Tintin: The Calculus Affair all centered around his achievements.
  • Breather Episode: There is no real antagonist, except for a shark. This particularly goes for the animated adaptation, which is only half the normal length.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of the book, a newspaper leaks the treasure-hunting story, causing all kinds of gold diggers to show, claiming to be descendants of Rackham and entitled to their share of the treasure. Haddock gets his revenge on the reporter at the end of the trip by letting the reporter talk to his "secretary", Professor Calculus...
  • Bungling Inventor: Calculus is presented as one of these in a bit of Early-Installment Weirdness. His clothes-brushing machine costs the captain his clothes, while the Thom(p)sons get caught in a wall bed twice.
  • Chekhov's Gun: During his dive, Tintin retrieves a chest which seems to have the eponymous treasure, but once opening it, they discover it only has old documents. Calculus takes the documents and later discovers that Marlinspike Hall is Haddock's family estate, helping him purchase the deed and move into it.
  • Clingy Aquatic Life: The Thompsons are plagued by crabs when they exit the boat, leading to an Agony of the Feet moment of hopping around.
  • Coconut Meets Cranium: Captain Haddock gets hits by falling coconuts when he knocks a palm tree with his pickaxe.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Similar to Tintin in America and The Shooting Star, the 1990 animated adaptation was shortened to 20 minutes instead of the normal 40 minute runtime, cutting many of the jokes and trimming the story back to its basics.
  • Cool Ship: While the Sirius is a standard design, Calculus' shark submarine definitely qualifies as a neat vehicle useful for Tintin to scout for the sunken Unicorn.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Calculus is a believer in divination via pendulum. The pendulum continuously indicates that the treasure is not with the ship, but somewhere else. Later on in the book, he's shown using the pendulum...and it leads him straight into the basement of Marlinspike Hall, where Tintin and Haddock have just discovered the actual treasure.
  • Deserted Island: One figures prominently in the plot. Francis Haddock had once landed on the isle. Tintin and his crew find the island long deserted by humans and filled with the skulls of its former inhabitants. A large population of parrots keeps repeating the words of the 17th century visitor. At first the protagonists think this is a Treasure Island, but soon realize that nobody would hide his treasure on an island and never return to it.
  • Disastrous Demonstration: When Calculus first tries to demonstrate his submarine to Tintin and friends, it immediately breaks into pieces upon boarding it.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: At the end, Tintin and Haddock tour the reclaimed Marlinspike Hall courtesy of Calculus' patent money in lieu of the (still missing) treasure. They come across a statue of St. John in the basement, then Tintin realises that they've finally found the "Eagle's Cross" since St. John is known as the Eagle, then they subsequently find Red Rackham's treasure hidden in the globe below the statue.
  • Exact Words: The Thom(p)sons get tired of always pumping air to the diving suit, so the Captain yells at them to keep pumping until he tells them to stop. Naturally, he forgets to tell them to stop after Tintin surfaces, until he investigates the creaking noise at night.
  • Foreshadowing: When Haddock wonders if the treasure is hidden somewhere on the deserted island, Tintin says that the treasure's probably aboard the sunken Unicorn, since Francis Haddock would have brought it home with him when he was rescued. As it turns out, he did bring it back, hiding it in Marlinspike Hall.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Professor Cuthbert Calculus and his specialized submarine.
  • Game Changer: From this story onward, Haddock and Calculus live a life of luxury in Marlinspike Hall, with most stories beginning or at least taking place partially there. Although Tintin himself doesn't move into Marlinspike Hall, we almost never see his old apartment in any of the following adventures, though Tintin in Tibet implies he moved there at some point.
  • Genre Savvy: At one point, Tintin thinks Haddock might have buried the treasure at the foot of a cross on the island, but eventually comes to realize that this was implausible; if he'd managed to get the treasure off the ship, he'd have taken it with him when he was rescued later on.
  • Hat Damage: Haddock gets his hat shot off by monkeys with a gun.
  • It's the Journey That Counts: The treasure is not with the wreck of the Unicorn as first believed, but it does allow for old documents associated with the ship to be recovered, as well as some other components of the ship (such as the figurehead) and of course the rum. Also, Professor Calculus's submarine was successfully tested, and this allowed Calculus to gain a great deal of money from the endeavor. The treasure itself was in Marlinspike Hall, the Haddock family's old estate (and where Tintin was imprisoned in the previous book)—which Professor Calculus purchased with the proceeds of the submarine test, and the nature of which was made clear by the aforementioned documents.
  • Karma Houdini: Max Bird, the Big Bad of the previous book, is revealed to have escaped from prison. This goes nowhere and was obviously just included to give the Thom(p)sons a reason to be on the voyage (they were sent to act as protection).
  • Little Stowaway: Professor Calculus hiding in one of the lifeboats.
  • Loud of War: Captain Haddock's Identical Grandson status is confirmed when it's discovered the island parrots transmitted Francis Haddock's insult litanies over the years, and they find a native idol representing the captain, mouth wide open in one of his tirades.
  • Murphy's Bed: Professor Calculus shows off his folding bed, first bringing it down on Thompson and Thomson's heads, then accidentally closing it while the detectives are sitting on it.
  • Nailed to the Wagon: Unintentionally. Captain Haddock's onboard supply of whisky is replaced with the components of Professor Calculus's submarine. He had been previously told by his doctor that he was suffering cirrhosis and was told to lay off the alcohol, but Haddock was ignoring the advice. From the time his last bottle of whisky vanished, to his discovery of the rum in the wreck of the ship, Haddock was forced to go dry.
  • No Antagonist: Unusually for a treasure hunting story of this type, nobody opposes the heroes in their search for Rackham's treasure. The possibility of Max Bird getting involved is brought up, but it never actually happens. The closest thing to a villain here is a shark that attacks Tintin while he's diving.
  • Pirate Booty: The title already indicates that the story is about the treasure of a pirate. Red Rackham and his pirates were introduced in the The Secret of the Unicorn.
  • Shipshape Shipwreck: Averted. The wreck of the Unicorn has decayed considerably.
  • Spoonerism:
    Haddock: Blistering treasures! It's Red Rackham's barnacles!
  • Superstitious Sailors: Captain Haddock suddenly gets cold feet before setting out to find the wreck of the Unicorn, citing that it's unlucky (having previously broken a mirror). Fortunately, the Thom(p)sons drop by to deliver an accidental Inspirational Insult.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: the crew return home with none of the titular treasure, although they do have parts from the wreck of the Unicorn and a huge supply of incredibly-aged rum as well as Marlinspike Hall now under Captain Haddock's ownership after buying it with Professor Calculus's patent money as thanks for helping him test his submarine. However, a wander around the basement reveals that Francis actually hid the treasure there, upgrading this to Earn Your Happy Ending as Haddock opens a maritime gallery in celebration.
  • Sustained Misunderstanding: Due to Calculus' hearing problem, when the captain shakes him demanding to know what happened to his crates of whiskey, he thinks they're talking about his submarine.
    Haddock: Where is it!?
    Calculus: Onboard, of course!
    Haddock: My whiskey is onboard! Praise the Lord!
    Calculus: Naturally, it's in separate pieces...
    Haddock: Separate pieces? My whiskey's in separate pieces?
  • Threatening Shark: Until Tintin gets it drunk on three-hundred-year-old rum. Calculus' grinning shark sub is also mistaken for the real thing.
  • Treasure Map: Averted. While this is a treasure hunt story, the co-ordinates of the sunken ship are not part of a map. They are written on three parchments and have to be deciphered. The protagonists originally thought that Sir Francis Haddock calculated them based on the Greenwich Meridian. Tintin correctly figures that the French naval officers under Louis XIV were using the Paris Meridian as their reference point.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Max Bird, the villain of the previous story, is mentioned to have escaped from prison. Thomson and Thompson suspect that the man is seeking revenge and could be hiding aboard the treasure-hunters' ship, which convinces the two officers to volunteer their services. By the time the story concludes, there is nothing to indicate that Max was ever aboard the ship — or even near it. The Thom(p)sons claim he was "discouraged by their presence," but in reality, that plot point was most likely just an excuse to get Thomson and Thompson into the story in the first place. Max never appears in any later albums, either, and his fate is never resolved.
    • Averted in the Belvision adaptation, where he shows up during the treasure hunt to antagonize the heroes further, and later makes one final attempt to get the treasure at Marlinspike.