Oh Captain: James Hook

Posted by CB Droege

Ship’s captains have been an important part of genre fiction for a long time. Thusly, in our first genre feature series, we’re looking at ship’s captains. Today’s captain is James Hook of the Jolly Roger.

James Hook is the alias of the pirate nemesis to Peter Pan in the original stage-play and almost all adaptations. His true identity is never given in-canon.

Hook’s early life was spent as a member of high British society. All but abandoned by his wealthy society living parents, and raised by servants, he had no real connections to his home.

After receiving a world-class education at Oxford, Hook left home to find adventure on the high seas, taking the new moniker, which may have been a play on James Cook - the famous British explorer, when J.M. Barrie originally wrote the character, but to Hook himself, this is merely a coincidence, since his pirating career began before Cook was even born.

One of his jobs was as the bosun for Edward “Blackbeard” Teach; at most, a three year station. While serving in this capacity, he earned the respect of the pirate community for his sword-fighting skills, leadership qualities, and his educated, gentlemanly manner. 

Soon after this, Hook built his reputation into a ship and crew of his own. The Jolly Roger was a fast, sturdy brig, and with it, he terrorized the seas for many years, building up a large supply of treasure. Eventually, he found the island of Neverland, a place where no one ever grows older. Here he retired his ship and crew, and claimed the island for himself, conquering the small native population.

After awhile, the island was a hive of debauchery and violence, which Hook, ultimate, was displeased by. He continued to lead the residents, but took to living on his boat, and only rarely gracing the residents of his lands with his presence. This continued for two-hundred years, until the time of his death at the hands of Pan.

It’s not detailed exactly how long Hook and Pan quarreled in Neverland, nor whether Pan was one of the previous residents of the island or if he came to the island later. Either way, Pan was an immature and mischievous flying boy, who got his jollies by sneaking into the piratical town, or even onto Hook’s ship directly and stealing treasure.

Once, when caught, and forced into a sword-fight fight, Pan took off Hook’s right hand (although it’s changed to the left in almost all adaptations), and rather than return it to him (which, due to the nature of Neverland, would presumably have allowed Hook to heal), he fed the hand to a crocodile who happened to be off the edge of the dock. Hook gave himself a fearsome, hooked prosthetic, and vowed to use it to kill Pan, which became his obsessive purpose from that moment forward. 

In a final confrontation, which Hook forced by kidnapping Pan’s friend Wendy, he is killed when Pan knocks him overboard, and the same crocodile, hungry for more, is waiting.

Hook is a great foil of Pan: Well-Educated, where Pan seems to have no schooling at all; fierce and brooding, while Pan is playful; and - despite his background - placing a great value in respect and honor, while Pan does not. The only trait they share is that they both seem to be great leaders, although their styles are vastly different. It is ironic because Hook actually seems to possess the more positive traits. If it weren’t for his career as a pirate (which he took up reluctantly, anyway), he would be the more noble character, and up until the moment he kidnaps Wendy, he’s the victim in the relationship.

This is the final feature in the Oh Captain series. You can see all of them here. If there is an aspect of genre fiction which you would like to see featured in a series like this, let us know in the comments.