Red Rackham’s Treasure / Tintin in Tibet – The Unusual Connection

10 February 2012

Of all The Adventures of Tintin, Red Rackham's Treasure and Tintin in Tibet are arguably the most revered in the series.

Often Tintin in Tibet is polled as the most popular Tintin story of them all; indeed it was Hergé’s favourite, which says something …

In comparison, it has been argued that Red Rackham’s Treasure is the best-selling work of all the adventures and the story most people claim to have read.

Ask a person, even a non-Tintin fan who has only occasionally glanced at the adventures and chances are they will remember Rackham from their childhood readings and especially the cover!

Although interesting to note, the above points regarding popularity are not the connection which links these two classics.

The wartime years (1943 to be exact) were difficult times for Hergé, to say the least.

Foreign invaders had advanced on his native Belgium forcing him to create different and diverse story lines[1] from what he had devised in past works.

As Harry Thompson says in his excellent biography Tintin: Hergé and His Creation

‘Reporters are not popular during wartime … for the time being at least Tintin would become an explorer instead’.[2]

Due to the state of affairs for Rackham, a treasure hunt was forged; and in turn, a unique Tintin adventure was born: one with no apparent villains in sight, unless one counts hungry sharks!

Only a quest for fortune and in turn friendships are strengthened (Haddock/Tintin) and formed (Calculus/Tintin and Haddock) – although the Captain does take some time to warm to the occasion!! It is a love/hate relationship indeed.

Similarly in Tibet, there are no apparent villains unless one counts Mother Nature, being the deadly avalanches of Tibet, which almost claim their lives at one stage in the tale. Friendship and camaraderie is especially prevalent in this tale between the main characters.[3]

Herge’s state of mind (he was close to a breakdown) forced the creation of Tibet and its completion and saw his ‘white nightmares banished’.[4]

In comparison, with Rackham, World War II was the reason Hergé devised a quest of fortune as opposed to the standard political/cultural/reporter type adventure he had created until this point.

In both adventures, Hergé was forced to alter the standard norm of The Adventures of Tintin.

One based on external factors, one based on internal factors. Both factors arguably critical and life threatening – quite concerning one may argue.

Remarkably, instead of the series faltering (as one may imagine), they get better respectively and sustain the series creating outstanding proceedings tales being The Seven Crystal Balls[5] and The Castafiore Emerald respectively.

Crystal is frightening, adventurous and climatic – leaving us desperate for more!

Castafiore, on the other hand (technically Herge’s masterpiece), is tense, leaving us constantly in anticipation despite many red herrings!

As Hergé was to say, ‘my ambition was to try and tell a tale in which absolutely nothing happened simply to see whether I was capable of keeping the reader’s attention to the end”.[6]

The esteemed Michael Turner, Methuen’s English co -translator for the series, ranks Castafiore as his ultimate of the series which says something …

Two stories created more than 18 years apart.[7]

Two stories born out of forced circumstances.

Two stories which lead to critically acclaimed future works.

Two stories undeniable masterpieces which cement Herge’s status as a pure genius …

The late great Harry Thompson states in his magnificent conclusion that

‘Tintin has barely dated at all, which is often the test of great literature’.[8]

Quite an impressive compliment but with respects, not a truer could be said in summary …

Rodney Willis

Cronulla, Australia


  1. Certainly non-political and culturally sensitive ones were out!
  2. Tintin: Hergé and His Creation(Sceptre, 1991) by Harry Thompson, p. 112
  3. For a more detailed analysis see my other article Tintin Tibet: Hergé - His Masterwork
  4. p. 174
  5. Many long standing Tintin fans rank this as their favourite!
  6. p. 182
  7. In 1943 and 1961 respectively
  8. p. 215