Monday, September 17, 2012


Evidently I'm not the only one who thinks James M. Barrie's immortal pirate captain is ripe for revival.

 Last year's hit TV series, the fairy tale mash-up Once Upon A Time, is adding a new character to its roster of villains for its second season; none other than (wait for it)—Captain Hook.

Here's a teaser trailer, oozing sinister portent.

For most of us, the "original" Captain Hook is this cartoon version from Disney's 1953 Peter Pan.

First produced for the London stage in 1904, Barrie's play about a tribe of boys who refuse to grow up in a childhood dream world called the Neverland might have gone the way of the Dodo if not for the presence of this flamboyant, crowd-pleasing pirate chief, the lovable, hissable villain who's kept generations of audiences coming back for more.

This overdressed, supercilious, cowardly comic-opera villain that we know as Captain Hook is almost—er—single-handedly responsible for the ongoing popularity of Barrie's sentimental domestic comedy.

Disney's animated Hook wrings every possible laugh out of his swordplay, pratfalls and surreal flights of fancy, along with an exaggerated cartoon visage worthy of his every scheme— hawk's beak, chin jutting like the prow of a ship, quivering Salvador Dali moustachios, wiggling eyebrows with a life of their own.

Not to mention the juicy, overripe trilling of Hans Conried's vocal performance (he was also the voice of Snidely Whiplash on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show).

Another famed onscreen Hook was stage actor and music hall veteran Cyril Ritchard (right) in the Broadway musical Peter Pan, which was filmed for TV in the mid-'1950s and rebroadcast sporadically after that. This is the famous version with Mary Martin as Peter, but, it was the delightful Ritchard, dripping dry wit and fussbudgety sarcasm, who made the show so much fun.

It's been a longstanding tradition for mature women to play Peter onstage. But ever since Barrie published his novelized version of the play, Peter and Wendy, in 1911,  allowing readers to imagine Peter as a real boy, it's believed that all little girls swoon for Peter. Current discussion boards on Goodreads reveal that young female readers still can't understand why Wendy doesn't choose to stay forever young with Peter in the Neverland.

But not me. Stay in the Neverland forever with a bunch of mangy boys? No thanks. Even as a child, I thought Peter was too much like the boys I went to school with—bratty and full of himself.

I liked Hook! He had the funniest lines, and by far the coolest clothes!

Book representations tend toward a more menacing Hook. Look at this F. D. Bedford illustration from a 1912 edition of Peter and Wendy.

This Hook as more of a Medusa-headed ogre than mere villainous human.

The image of Captain Hook as mincing fop was re-established by Dustin Hoffman in the 1991 Steven Spielberg movie, Hook. Hoffman brings plenty of comic brio to the role, but this is an aging, defanged Hook fading into the sunset.

By far the darkest and sexiest screen Hook is Jason Isaacs in the 2003 live-action Peter Pan. Isaacs (below) is all menace laced with a shot of wry; he suffers children and childish pirates with elaborate, if short-fused patience. ("Silence, puling spawn!" he roars when the kids start whining, a sentiment any babysitter or parent will understand.)

It was Isaacs' Hook, cracking jokes to himself, sotto voce, that nobody else gets, who set off the spark in my imagination about how awful it must be for a functioning adult to be trapped in a world invented and run by children.

 And the more I started thinking about it in those terms, the more real and complicated and tragic the character started to feel to me. I started to think of James Hook as a character worthy of redemption. I wanted to get him out of there!

They've got a handsome young Irsishman, Colin McDonoghe, coming in to play the character in Once Upon A Time, which suggests another reinterpretation of the Classic Hook. (Not surprising in a series in which Red Riding Hood is also, herself, a shapeshifting Wolf, and the hobgoblin, Rumplestiltskin—played by the delghtful Robert Carlyle—also gets his own Beauty and the Beast love story.)

The series' second season begins September 30, and Hook is scheduled to make his first appearance in Episode Four.

But as long as Captain Hook remains a designated villain, that's not the story I'm telling in Alias Hook.

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