Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Captain Hook, who and what art thou?

I just found out the other day that there is a two-part Peter Pan prequel film titled Neverland being released soon. The story reveals the never-before-told story of how Peter Pan becomes the eternally youthful, flying, love-interest for human girls and fairies alike. The film features Kiera Knightley’s voice as Tinkerbell (I’ll withhold my thoughts until I see the film), but I am looking forward to seeing Bon Hoskins once again portray Mr. Smee. I think something that interests me even more than seeing Peter Pan’s past though is seeing the past life of Captain Hook. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Peter Pan (even portrayed him in a home-made neighborhood play when I was little), but the dark enigma of a fierce pirate with a hook for a hand is very alluring. That description makes old Hook seem like nightmarish monster, so let’s not forget that he is obsessed with a pre-pubescent boy, and is deathly afraid of a particular reptile.

As my own personal tribute, I am starting a small series of posts in which I discuss the various renditions of Captain Hook that literature, film, and popular culture have given us.

I think it would be a sin if I did not begin the series with a discussion of Barrie’s original Captain Hook. Obviously, Barrie wrote the play Peter Pan, and so Captain Hook was a dramatic character. Since I was not there, or even close to be being alive, in 1904 when it debuted in London, I cannot do it justice. So I’ll start simply by looking at the cover of the 1911 novelization of the play.

The title page to the novel shows the cast of characters. The Darling family is centered. I think it’s interesting that none of the family members is looking at the viewer. They are depicted in various degrees of profile. I also find it interesting that Nana the dog is centered, and that she does look directly at the reader. It’s like saying that out of the family members, Nana, the dog, is the most stable one.

Captain Hook is outfitted in his typical garb, from his buckle shoes to the feather flourish in his hat. He does not look out at the reader either. In fact, his gaze is fixated on Wendy. But isn’t his nemesis Peter Pan? Indeed, but his boy enemy seems unperterbed, and seems more focused on looking at Mrs. Darling, a quintissential mother, who is holding Michael on her lap. Wendy looks up at her father, who is pulling away from her, and their eyes are locked in a diagonal line. Yet the larger diagonal gaze is accomplished by the gargantuan Captain Hook, who appears to be twice the size of Mr. Darling (and yes, size does matter). In fact, now that I look closer at Wendy’s profile, it’s not 100% clear that she is only looking only at her father. Is it possible that she is looking past her father, as he pulls away from her, to lock eyes with the malevolent man lurking on the left side? Obviously, left has the popular connotation of being evil and sinister, while the right is often associated with goodness and divinity. Take that a step further- Captain Hook lost his right hand, the ‘good’ one’ to the crocodile. It’s like saying if he had a any goodness or humanity in him, it’s been replaced with coldness and hardness.

The way that Captain Hook and Wendy are engaged on this cover, with Mr. Darling pulling out of their line of vision, definitely brings up the very Freudian stage tradition of having the same actor portray both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.

Barrie describes Captain hook as having a "handsome countenance", and also relates that he has impressive diction, alluding Hook’s Eton education. This pirate is a gentleman and a scholar! Though he might be handsome and educated and eloquent, he was described in Barrie’s speech (the speech is titled "Captain Hook at Eton") as disgusting. Is he disgusting because of his bloodlust, or is there something even more threatening about him? Yes, he has a very sharp hook that has many homely uses, my favorite one is combing hair, and he uses it to gut people. But his dark locks and his very blue eyes, as Barrie describes them, make him very seductive too, and perhaps that is where the real danger lies in Captain Hook.

This blog post barely scratches the surface of Captain Hook and his position in literature, film, pop culture and imagination, both individual and collective. There are so many other things to be said for this favorite villain, so I am going to try and give him a fair shake (but only his left hand, not his right!) by looking at other portrayals and presentations of him.

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