Updated: Feb 10
What on earth has Tintin got to do with a Peter Pan-inspired story?
As it should, a pirate pops up, albeit fleetingly, in Neverland in Shadow.
Captain Albert Hook is James Hook’s ancestor, and his portrait, titled A Gentleman Born of the Ocean, hangs in Mr Hook’s office. Here also is found a model of Albert Hook’s ship, the Nightmare.
The inclusion of Hook’s ancestor and his vessel reflects, of course, the pirate tradition coursing through the original Peter Pan story. The nefarious Captain Hook is Peter’s sworn enemy, and he and his crew occupy the ship the Jolly Roger. It was important, even in a contemporary-set story, to honour this well-know and well-loved component of J.M. Barrie’s tale.
Hook confronts Peter. Illustration by F. D. Bedford., from Peter and Wendy (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1911)
Happily, pirates were all the rage around the time that the bulk of Neverland in Shadow's action occurs. This is probably thanks to the success so the Pirates of the Caribbean films (a Disney production, just like the celebrated Peter Pan animation of 1953). This craze is alluded to via Wendy’s brothers, John and Michael, dressing as pirates for Halloween. A further pirate motif is seen in Neverland itself, where the imposing play-galleon the Gargoyle acts as Peter’s headquarters.
The Black Pearl (nee The Wicked Wench), the star vessel of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean films
Aside from the incalculable debt Neverland in Shadow owes J.M. Barrie, another influence was Hergé’s Tintin story The Secret of the Unicorn (1943) and its follow-up Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944), the eleventh and twelfth stories in the canon.
Across these tales, Tintin’s friend Captain Haddock recalls his 17th-century ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, the Royal Navy captain of the eponymous Unicorn, and the battles he engaged in with the pirate Red Rackham.
The eleventh Tintin book in its English-language edition.
To recount these tales, Hergé expertly weaves flashback scenes – among the most downright enjoyable frames in all the Tintin albums – into the story, adding adventure, fun and valuable historical context to the drama. This device also credits younger readers with the intelligence to handle disparate timelines.
As Haddock recounts his ancestor's tale, frames zip and back and forth in time
The book is a riot and was, until 1960’s darker and more personal Tintin in Tibet, Hergé’s favourite of all his Tintin stories. The Secret of the Unicorn was a great choice for the excellent Spielberg film of the same name (2011) too, which seamlessly drew from both Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure as well as elements from The Crab With the Golden Claws (1941).
A poster for Steven Spielberg's motion-capture film. The director is a big Tintin fan and he, and his writers, skilfully brought the story to life. Despite some deviation, the film honoured the tone, spirit and content of Herge's Tintin universe.
A HISTORY FOR HADDOCK
In gifting Haddock an ancestor Hergé also, for the first time, presented a backstory to a major character. Tintin himself, it has often been noted, has no discernible history. No family. No hobbies or vices. And not even a first name. In The Secret of the Unicorn, Haddock, who made a memorable and booze-drenched entrance in ninth adventure The Crab With The Golden Claws, is fleshed out.
Captain Haddock's excited response to his family tree gave Hergé oceans of room for humour
Importantly, Captain Haddock's family history will eventually, upon the pages of Red Rackham’s Treasure, allow the entry into the Tintin stories of a new and enduring location: Haddock’s ancestral home, the plush countryside pile Marlinspike Hall, complete with attentive butler Nestor.
Marlinspike pretty much became a character itself, providing a recurring spot for drama and humour, and was often the place from which subsequent adventures would commence. The hall's grand surroundings would be juxtaposed with humorous mundanity: a treacherous broken step, for example, in The Castafiore Emerald (1963), and the crossed telephone line that fields incessant calls for Mr Cutts, the local butcher.
Tintin, Haddock and Snowy approaching Marlinspike Hall as Red Rackham's Treasure draws to a close
FROM THE BED OF THE OCEAN TO THE SURFACE OF THE MOON
Red Rackham’s Treasure is notable also for another critical debut, for it is in this story that the affable scientist and inventor Professor Cuthbert Calculus emerges. Calculus would join the cast of principal players from this moment, his scientific endeavours powering several future plots. In fact, Professor Calculus' presence would soon lift the characters into arguably their most famous adventure of all: landing on the moon. But that’s, literally, a whole other story (Two, in fact: Destination Moon (1953) and Explorers on the Moon (1954).
Professor Cuthbert Calculus politely making his debut in Red Rackham's Treasure
As an aside, Hergé would return to pirates, although these would be of the modern-day slave-trafficking variety, in the excellent The Red Sea Sharks (1958), the nineteenth story in the series.
Returning to Red Rackham's Treasure, though, learning of the imminent treasure hunt, Calculus has a submersible vessel to offer. Initially sceptical of the device, Tintin and Haddock eventually embrace it.
Calculus' invention, almost rejected by Tintin and Haddock, proved its worth.
NO SECRETS IN THE SHADOW
No attempt is ever made to bury the fact that Neverland in Shadow is the culmination of influences from books and films, TV and pop songs. From Barrie, of course, came everything, including the presence of pirates. But drilling a bit deeper, it was from Hergé that the pirate paraphernalia was strengthened and supplemented. It’s all there: the ancestor, the oil painting, the model ships, a sunken vessel and the alluring legend of buried treasure.
Tintin discovers the Unicorn, but will the ship give up its secret?