Friday, January 25, 2013

Captain Hook: A History

OUAT Hook vs. an illustration Walt Disney Presents Peter Pan (book), circa 1969

Captain Hook has been a favorite of mine ever since I was a little girl and my Dad would pretend to invite him to Saturday morning breakfast.  Imaginary villains "ate" with us almost every weekend, but Hook held special status and came most weeks while other villains might have made only one or two appearances.  (For some reason these villains were never hungry, so Dad graciously ate their pancakes.)

What makes this captain, so special?  There are so many reasons:

1) He has a disability and has turned it into an advantage. I don't know anyone who would trade a hand for a hook, but this captain certainly makes the best of his situation. It's admirable.
2) His nemesis is really The Croc. I can't think of another Disney villain who has an animal chasing after him like that on a permanent basis. If you think of one, let me know. 
3) In the Disney animation classic, he's comical -- especially when he's yelling for Smee. Can you imagine laughing at Malificent or Snow White's Evil Queen? I can't. (Although I do find the Queen of Hearts laughable, in the Lewis Carroll novel and the Disney animation version.)

But Walt Disney and his studios did not originate the character of Captain James Hook, that honor belongs to J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

Here is how J.M. Barrie introduces Hook to his readers (it's worth reading the original):

"In the midst of them, the blackest and largest in that dark setting, reclined James Hook, or as he wrote himself, Jas. Hook, of whom it is said he was the only man that the Sea-Cook feared. He lay at his ease in a rough chariot drawn and propelled by his men, and instead of a right hand he had the iron hook with which ever and anon he encouraged them to increase their pace. As dogs this terrible man treated and addressed them, and as dogs they obeyed him. In person he was cadaverous [dead looking] and blackavized [dark faced], and his hair was dressed in long curls, which at a little distance looked like black candles, and gave a singularly threatening expression to his handsome countenance. His eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not, and of a profound melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly. In manner, something of the grand seigneur still clung to him, so that he even ripped you up with an air, and I have been told that he was a RACONTEUR [storyteller] of repute. He was never more sinister than when he was most polite, which is probably the truest test of breeding; and the elegance of his diction, even when he was swearing, no less than the distinction of his demeanour, showed him one of a different cast from his crew. A man of indomitable courage, it was said that the only thing he shied at was the sight of his own blood, which was thick and of an unusual colour. In dress he somewhat aped the attire associated with the name of Charles II, having heard it said in some earlier period of his career that he bore a strange resemblance to the ill-fated Stuarts; and in his mouth he had a holder of his own contrivance which enabled him to smoke two cigars at once. But undoubtedly the grimmest part of him was his iron claw."

Barrie's Hook more closely resembles the Disney Animation Hook than more modern Hook from Storybrooke who has cut his hair and ditched the clothes of a cavalier. 

J.M. Barrie's inspiration for Captain James Hook, was according to some sources, the infamous pirate, Blackbeard (believed to be a man named Captain Edward Teach, but never confirmed.) Blackbeard was not surprisingly known for his long black beard. At six feet tall he was an imposing figure and sometimes he wore a bright red coat like the one Hook does in the books and the Disney classic Peter Pan (We've yet to see Hook on Once Upon a Time don a red coat. That seems to be reserved for Rumple.)

Captain Hook, in the Disney animated version and the OUAT version, lacks Blackbeard's beard, and his thirst for blood. 

Which brings us back to the Hook from Once Upon a Time. It seems that Rumple is his Croc, who follows him around trying to inflict more damage after successfully taking the hand, and we suppose his true love. Do we really know why these two are sworn enemies? I don't think we know enough of the story to justify their behavior just yet, but of the two I prefer Hook to Rumple, But then I would. 

illustration from a book called Walt Disney Presents Peter Pan, circa 1969

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