Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Defending the Captain

Sort of a Part II to this post from last Friday, although I suppose technically it may be Part III or IV by now. Regardless. Onward!

Even if I were less of a purist about Peter Pan, there was no way I could appreciate the "Peter and the Starcatchers" book after its description of Hook, who at the time of the book is known as Black Stache.  And even if I weren't so deeply immersed in the world of James Hook as originated by J. M. Barrie for my work on The Stowaway, I would be insulted by the recasting of this character I have been fascinated by for so long.

And to think I was offended that the Disney film made Captain Hook comedic and inept. I have yet to figure out why he would have his desk outside on the ship's deck.

The Stache of the Barry/Pearson books is depicted as repellent and pathetic, and he is made a figure of mockery until I feel like I'm watching school kids bullying the child who comes to school with dirty clothes and poor social skills. I end up thinking I may be glad I didn't grow up with Dave Barry (which is disappointing, as I read his columns happily for years) and Ridley Pearson, which is not a pleasant way to feel about the authors of a book one is reading.

This captain's crew call him Rat Breath. He eats raw meat from the depths of his hideously filthy cabin. He feels pride in nothing but his foot-wide moustache.
"He was a strikingly unpleasant figure, with a pock-marked face and a large red nose, like a prize turnip, glued to his face. His long black hair, greasy from years without washing, stained the shoulders of the red uniform coat he'd stolen from a Navy sailor on the high seas..." 

Black 'Stache from Peter and the Starcatchers, by Greg Call, 2004

James Hook was never like this, not even in the very first productions of the play.

Robb Harwood, 1906 play production. Note the Charles II hair. Also, no moustache.

Gone are the original Hook's Eton origin, elegant bearing, and presumably tragic past. He is no longer even allowed his original appearance. As J. M. Barrie describes him:
"In person he was cadaverous 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....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."

Flora White, 1921

Or for that matter,  the descriptiong given by "Old Etonian Mr. G.F.T. Jasparin":
 "I do not merely mean that Etonian was written all over him; there was something even more than that, as if (may I venture) he was two Etonians rolled by the magnanimous Gods into one. In a word the handsomest man I have ever seen, though, at the same time, perhaps slightly disgusting." ("Hook at Eton," 1927 speech by Sir J.M. Barrie)

I can work with this (and I do). Even with the "slightly disgusting" part, because opinions vary.

The elegant, compelling Hook, in this case as drawn by Maxim Mitrafanov. If you see a copy of this book for sale anywhere, be a dear and let me know. I've been looking for this one for months.

Really, for Disney books, this depiction has little to do with the Disney Villain version of Hook. The play version of Black 'Stache, at least, could segue into the Captain Hook of the 1953 Disney animated film without too much of a stretch.

John Sanders as 'Stache with Joey deBettencourt as Boy

But not the Black 'Stache of the books, who just makes me sad.


  1. I'm going through your archives. :)

    The whole bullying-children thing is one of the reasons I have no wish to read the original, and can't bring myself to watch the 2003 film (the only one I would consider watching) despite having bought it. Hook is trapped and MAIMED, subjected to eternal pain by a loathesome, bullying brat for no reason at all.The whole situation makes me angry and sad, and the fanfic I read is all about Hook escaping and finding happiness. If he kills the brat, bonus!

    1. Drat, can't scroll down on an iPad.

      I was going to add, yes, I take it all far too seriously! :)

    2. I have no problem with you taking it all seriously. :-) And I'm very glad you found my blog!

      I understand your point. To try to explain my own approach without too many spoilers (ack), this is one reason I'm going with the idea that Peter is a liar. It's in the book! There's no reason to believe anything he says, any story he tells, and there may other explanations for everything he describes. There are enough reasons for James to hate Peter Pan without that detail.

  2. Very good article. What are your thoughts on the 90s Peter Pan cartoon? I've never read the novel (I hope to read it one day), but from what I've seen, I say the 90s cartoon gave us the most accurate portrayal of captain hook. He was cruel, ruthless, malicious, but charming and gentlemanly. AND he was voiced by Tim curry. I think the cartoon is very good. But what do you think?