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The Dark History Of Captain Hook

Often nefarious, sometimes foolish, but one of the most famous pirates in pop culture, Captain James Hook is a villain like none other. An antagonist to "The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up," and a sinister scourge to the notorious Lost Boys, Hook has been entwined with Peter Pan since the original 1904 theatrical play. Battling one another for over a century, the pirate captain and the flying boy have squared off in multiple feature films, novels, television shows, and even video games. If Peter Pan represents youth, fun, and adventure, then Hook is the oppressive counterpoint, flattening all the fun as a stern paternal figure.

The near-endless portrayals of Captain Hook have explored the character to compound depths. Most everyone is aware of his tale of conflict with a young boy who cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile. Yet there is still much about the captain of the Jolly Roger unknown or lost over time. While the history and origins of Peter Pan have been explored in abundance, the equally legendary swashbuckler of Neverland often gets overlooked. So, keep reading and dive into the dark history of one of time's most villainous and beloved pirates: Captain James Hook.

He almost didn't exist

While he may be a staple in every modern iteration, Captain Hook was not around for the humble beginnings of Peter Pan. Created by Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie, Peter first appeared in the 1902 novel "The Little White Bird," as a story within the book about an infant who runs away from home to live with the fairies. According to a 2015 article from The Week, the fondness readers had for the character encouraged Barrie to develop a play, "Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up," later adapted into the novel "Peter and Wendy." While similar to modern versions, the early depictions of Peter featured the boy as a ghoulish being who kindapped children from their beds.

According to the biography "J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys" by Andrew Birkin, Captain Hook was not included in the play's first draft, but only added later as a distraction so that stagehands could change the scenery. Further, the author intended to have the part of the pirate captain played by the same actress as the maternal figure, Mrs. Darling. The double casting of the mother as the antagonist would have been in synch with the play's original title, "The Boy Who Hated Mothers." It was only upon the insistence of the original Mr. Darling actor, Gerald du Maurier, that the role went to the paternal figure, cementing a tradition that actors would play both roles for the majority of the play's iterations.

His true name

It would be an extremely lucky happenstance that a man named Hook would lose his hand and replace it with an iron, for lack of a better word, hook. Thankfully, J. M. Barrie was wise enough not to rest on such lazy writing, and the captain took the intimidating namesake only after replacing his missing hand. Hook enthusiast blog Not Wholly Unheroic outlines how the pirate was a former deck boss for Blackbeard and acquaintances with Long John Silver from "Treasure Island," yet not much else is known about his origins. The author intentionally kept Hook's real name a secret, and it has remained a mystery to be dissected by bibliophiles and historians for over a century.

"Hook was not his true name," reads J.M. Barrie's words in the original novel, "to reveal who he really was would even to this date set the country ablaze." 

Suggestively, the author not only omits the identity but insinuates real-world implications, leading to many arising theories. An article in the Literary Traveler proposes two possible nonfictional identities for Hook. The primary suggestion is 16th-century English sea captain Christopher Newport, who famously had a hook for a hand. Equally difficult to ignore is the similarity between the names Captain James Hook and Captain James Cook, the famed 18th-century explorer. While there is an assortment of theories behind Hook's origins, one more is worth noting. A 2012 essay by Alfonso Muñoz Corcuera suggests that Hook is the adult version of Peter Pan, with both acting as literary representations of J.M. Barrie himself.

Hook's connection to Moby Dick

The nefarious Captain Hook has more than one mortal enemy. Peter Pan may have been the child that severed his hand, but the pirate will forever be tortured by the beast who swallowed it whole. A monstrous crocodile, later dubbed Tick-Tock by Disney, ate Hook's lost hand and enjoyed the taste so much that he now follows the captain everywhere he goes, hoping to finish the meal. Thankfully for Hook, the oversized reptile also swallowed an alarm clock at some point, so the sound of the ticking device echoes in the belly of the beast. This non-stop clicking clock offers Hook a solid vantage of where his enemy sits, but it metaphorically works as a constant reminder of his impending death.

Hook's never-ending cat-and-mouse game of chase with the enormous crocodile bears a striking resemblance to another famous tale of man and beast, "Moby Dick." Herman Melville's classic novel from 1851 features ship captain Ahab who seeks revenge on the giant white sperm whale that bit off his leg. According to the book "Hook and Ahab: Barrie's Strange Satire on Melville," the likeness is more than a coincidence. Collected letters detail how Barrie was a fan of Melville and openly concedes the connection between both characters. Like Hook, Ahab replaced his missing appendage with a prosthetic, and both ultimately succumbed to their enemy.

Captain Hook's alma mater

In some ways, Captain James Hook breaks the stereotypes of a pirate. While described as "cadaverous" and "blackavised," Barrie does offer the character some nobility in the form of a "handsome countenance" and "elegance of diction." This near contradictory style of a dark and dangerous pirate having high etiquette and good form likely comes from Hook's prestigious education. Although the pirate captain's origins are a mystery, where he went to school is thoroughly implied in Barrie's original works. The captain's last words in the book "Peter and Wendy" are "Floreat Etona," or "may Etona flourish," the school motto of esteemed Eton College.

Nearly two decades after the publication of his novel, in 1927, Barrie was invited to Eton to give a speech, which, as outlined by The Atlantic, involved a backstory of Hook's time at the boarding school. 

According to the author, Hook shares an alma mater with the likes of Prince William, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell, and was a member of the school's elite society, Pop. In Barrie's speech, he mentions how dear Eton was to Hook, leaving everything in his will to the school, though he said the school's governor refused to accept the plunder of a pirate.

The Jolly Roger

What is a pirate captain without a steadfast ship and a sporting crew? Thankfully, Hook heads a boat that is equally famous and as rich in history as himself. The Jolly Roger is named after the traditional skull and crossbones symbol, generally recognized as a pirate flag. Swashbuckling their way through the Neverland seas, Hook's henchmen are headed by loyal first mate, Mr. Smee. Yet, there is more to this famous pirate ship and merry band than meets the eye.

Most prominently separating the Jolly Roger from other pirate ships is the fact that the boat can fly after being covered in pixie dust at the end of "Peter Pan." At the beginning of the Disney animated sequel "Return to Neverland," the ship not only continues to soar in the skies but now has the magical ability to transfer between our world and Neverland. Speaking of the real world, the Jolly Roger has been built as a landmark on more than one occasion. A Jolly Roger replica once sat in Disneyland before being damaged. Thankfully, a working version of the Jolly Roger exists in Cancun, Mexico, where 240 passengers can experience a pirate-themed vacation.

Famous actors who've played Hook

As one of the most celebrated fairy tales of the last century, "Peter Pan" has been adapted multiple times in different variations. Unsurprisingly, the complex, charismatic part of the villain has become an in-demand part for actors. Despite the part of Captain Hook nearly becoming a role for women, there have been many famous men who have taken on the hooked hand and pirate hat. The prestige stems from the famous actor to first play the part, Sir Gerald du Maurier, who was recognizable enough at the time to have a cigarette brand named after him.

Over the years, many adaptations have recruited esteemed actors for the antagonist role, including legendary performers Ernest Torrence, Boris Karloff, and Cyril Ritchard. Inarguably, the most famous rendition of Neverland came in 1953 with Disney's animated film that starred Hans Conried as the ship captain. In 1991, the pirate received his own titular movie, "Hook," featuring Dustin Hoffman clashing swords with Robin William's Pan. In 2003's "Peter Pan," the role went to Jason Isaacs, followed by Tom Hiddleston in 2014's "The Pirate Fairy" and Stanley Tucci in the 2015 TV film "Peter and Wendy." More recently, Iain Glen performed as Hook in 2022's "The Lost Girls," and Jude Law will be taking the illustrious part in the upcoming feature "Peter and Wendy." In 2018, Russell Brand teamed with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz for a Disney-sponsored photo shoot as the famed pirate.

Famous actors who almost played Hook

Had the original Mrs. Darling actress, Dorothea Baird, taken the secondary role, it's mind-boggling to imagine what it would have been like to see certain actresses as Hook. Famous women who have played Wendy's mother include actresses like Heather Angel, Amanda Seyfried, and Olivia Williams.

Then there's the next Peter Pan movie, "Peter Pan and Wendy," a live-action adaptation that has Molly Parker playing Mrs. Darling. Rather than her, Hook will be played by Jude Law, with various rumors saying that folks like Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix were considered.

In regards to the 1991 Spielberg film, the filmmaker recently said he had originally intended "Hook" to be a musical before he "chickened out after the first week of filming and took all the songs out." This revelation adds clout to rumors (and deep fakes) that David Bowie had been a favorite for the role that eventually went to Dustin Hoffman. Other actors supposedly considered at the time include Christopher Lloyd and Donald Sutherland.

Hook's unique ability

As a respected captain to pirates, Captain Hook maintains some impressive abilities. Light on his feet, Hook is a skilled swordsman — even if Peter Pan usually gains the upper hand. And despite having a clunk of metal attached to his arm, the captain is a competent swimmer, especially when being chased by crocodiles. 

In the "Once Upon a Time" live-action television series, Hook, known as Killian Jones, had some magical abilities similar to many of the show's other characters. In most incarnations, Hook also has one talent that seemingly no other human to visit Neverland possesses: He can speak and understand fairy language.

To most mortals, when a fairy speaks, it sounds like ringing bells, as shown when Wendy or Peter struggle to understand Tinkerbell in Disney's "Peter Pan." But later in the same film, after Smee has captured the iconic fairy, Hook is able to communicate with her easily. This inconsistency could have been a one-time conceit to help progress the story — but Hook's remarkable talent was explored further in the 2014 animated feature "Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy." In that direct-to-video movie, a young James Hook, voiced by Tom Hiddleston, befriends a rogue fairy named Zarina (Christina Hendricks). Not only is the pirate able to speak to Zarina throughout the film, but he also translates her words for other humans to understand.

His connection to Pirates of the Caribbean

"Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of Disney's biggest homegrown franchises, having begun as an attraction at Disneyland and growing into so much more. The pirate-themed ride has expanded across multiple parks, spawning a series of films, novels, and video games. So, it feels like a no-brainer of corporate synergy that the Walt Disney Company should connect their most illustrious pirate with the swashbuckling franchise.

Sure enough, Captain Hook has a secret connection to the world of "Pirates of the Caribbean," via the 2011 spin-off novel "The Prince of Freedom" by A. C. Crispin. In passing, the book mentions a handless James, who possesses a fear of a young boy. Sound familiar?

While the famed sea captain is only mentioned briefly, perhaps Hook could someday play a role in the film franchise. The sixth feature in the "Pirates" series is reportedly in development, and with all the recent controversies surrounding Johnny Depp, the movie seems likely to need a new headliner. Some rumors seem to think "Pirates of the Caribbean 6" could feature Hook replacing Jack Sparrow as the primary focus of the franchise.

Hook and the Little Mermaid

Captain Hook's reputation expands past the "Peter Pan" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchises, however, as the pirate has made some other significant appearances. After making a subtle cameo in "Shrek 2," for instance, Hook became one of the main antagonists of "Shrek the Third." 

But the dastardly villain's reach may have one more victim that would have shocking implications across Disney lore. There are a lot of Disney theories out there; they range from Goofy's wife cheating on him to every Disney film sharing the same world. However, "Peter Pan" is at the center of some of the company's darkest hypotheses, including one that posits Captain Hook as the murderer of Ariel's mother from "The Little Mermaid."

Consider this: In 1989's "Mermaid," Ariel and her six older sisters are raised by their father, King Triton, with not a word mentioned about their missing mother. It wasn't until the 2008 direct-to-video feature "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning" that audiences learned the truth of Queen Athena's death ... during a pirate invasion. 

Meanwhile, Disney fans know that mermaids exist in Neverland, since they share a significant scene with the lead characters in "Peter Pan." Considering this is seemingly the only property in Disney's sizable portfolio where pirates and mermaids share space, it is not a stretch to assume Hook and his surly crew are responsible for the death of Ariel's mother.

Was Hook a Lost Boy?

Down the rabbit hole or flying towards the second star to the right, we are getting in deep now. This theory, first proposed by Reddit user ruven95, asks the question: was Captain Hook a former member of Peter Pan's crew of Lost Boys? Truthfully, the concept makes sense, given Hook and Pan's well-established conflict. It also explains how Captain Hook, an adult, ended up in Neverland, considering Peter seems to be the only one able to bring people to the magical world.

The Captain Hook Lost Boy theory has gained some clout over the years, specifically with the publication of the non-cannon novel "Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook" by Christina Henry. The story puts a younger Hook as Peter's former favorite Lost Boy before a falling out that turned them into mortal enemies. Meanwhile, the concept that Hook escaped Pan's cult-like group adds merit to much darker theories about Peter being a bad guy who delivers on his promise that children will not grow up in Neverland because he murders them as they age. Keep reading to explore this model even further.

Was Captain Hook ... the good guy?

The truth of the matter is that Peter Pan is not the hero modern films make him out to be. Take a moment to re-consider the story: Pan kidnaps children from their bedrooms at night, intending for them to never return home. In the real world, that's called a felony.

Many of Barrie's original writings centered on Pan being a dangerous creature. Disney, who has a reputation for turning dark fairy tales into fantastical dreamscapes, recreates the story of Neverland as a magical escape for children looking for adventure. However, from an adult perspective, it is easy to see the nightmarish actuality of having children taken from their beds, never to be seen again.

"It's quite easy to read Peter Pan as a villain," explains a breakdown of the character on the website for The Grand Theatre in Blackpool, a British institution. "He easily murders pirates and seemingly Lost Boys as well when they break the 'no-growing-up rule'. Additionally, he alters the boys' bodies whenever they need to fit through tree-holes leading to the underground lair."

Looking at Peter Pan as something just shy of a psychopathic serial killer, then, his arch-nemesis seems to be a good guy. Hook is trying to stop his antics; Hook is the victim of a cruel mutilation by the evil Pan; Hook is trying to keep Pan away from little children. 

In recent years, such hot takes have spread across social media, including Reddit, Twitter, and TikTok. Perhaps it is time for audiences to change their minds about the good captain — after all, a new film with him as the hero could make one heckuva hook.