Perhaps the most famous pirate ever, James Hook (not his real name) is the villain of the Peter Pan story, created by J. M. Barrie, originally as a play and later for the novel Peter and Wendy. Mr. Barrie’s original villain for the famous play was Peter Pan himself, showing the pirates only in an image on a painted curtain as the children fly back to London.
Barrie, however, soon rewrote the play to give the pirates a much more prominent part, for the simple reason that children love pirates.
Barrie states in Peter and Wendy that the circumstances of Hook’s birth are so scandalous that "knowledge of them would set the country ablaze.” A later, unauthorized book, “Capt. Hook: Adventures of a Notorious Youth” lists his parents as “a certain Lord B__” and Queen Victoria. In this book, Hook has a romantic and sports rivalry with Alfred Darling (Wendy’s father) before he burns his school records and runs away to sea.
All sources agree that Hook, whatever his origins, was educated at Eton. Barrie went so far as to give a speech at the school, “Captain Hook at Eton,” and in the play, Hook’s last words are the Eton motto, Floreat Etona.
Barry quickly became enamored with his second-most famous character. He variously described Hook as “the handsomest man I ever saw,” with an “Elegance of diction… even when swearing.” Hook is blue-eyed, dark haired, cadaverous, yet elegant in dress, choosing to emulate the style of English king Charles II. He has personally invented a device that enables him to smoke two cigars at once, for twice the panache.
His elaborate, curly dark hair is usually a wig, and almost always accompanied by bushy black eyebrows and a luxurious mustache. Barrie was quite clear that Hook was brutal in the extreme, but also stated that his brutality only made him a better pirate captain.
It’s very clear that Hook dies at the end of Barrie’s play. Other playwrights attempted sequels with other villains, but the public made their wishes clear: only Hook would do as a nemesis for Peter Pan. In “Peter Pan in Scarlet,” the only authorized sequel, Hook reappears as Ravello, a circus performer who becomes Peter’s valet and lures the boy into becoming a replacement pirate. The work clearly states that Ravello is what’s left of Hook after passing through the crocodile.
Most other sequels dodge this point. Hook, like Pan, is immortal, timeless, and will return, no matter what.
And Mr. Smee, Hook’s famous sidekick? Bartholomew Quigley Smeethington originally met Hook on the ship, Sea Witch, and followed him onto the Jolly Roger, Hook’s magical brig that has the power to carry her pirate crew between Neverland, Earth and other magical realms.
Smee has been described by various authors as “Irish,” the ship’s bosun, the ship’s first mate, Hook’s valet, Hook’s left-hand man, and the Jolly Roger’s cook. Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins put their minds together on the set of the movie Hook, trying to figure out what, exactly, the relationship between Hook and Smee might be, and decided that, more than anything the pair reminded them of an old gay couple.
Hook has become such a famous pirate that he may have transcended his famous rival. He has appeared in countless stage productions, animated series guest appearances and video game plots. He can be met in the Disney parks. He’s in a Japanese TV series, Italian comic books, and the book Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom. He currently appears on the TV series Once Upon a Time, sailing the Jolly Roger between worlds and betraying alliances left and right.
You see, Hook has recently achieved a remarkable feat for a fictional character. He’s outlived his copyright. Now in the public domain, available to all writers, he may just show up anywhere.