The Astonishing Evolution of Captain Hook: The Most Sensational Pirate

When it comes to Captain Hook, there is more to this villain than his feathered hat and shiny, metal hook. Let’s journey into the various adaptations of this titular character.

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Illustration of Captain Hook and Peter Pan

Just like Peter Pan, some stories never age. The timeless tale of Captain Hook’s conception is an interesting one, especially considering he almost never existed. J.M Barrie created Captain Hook as the antagonist for his 1904 play (and later 1911 novel of the same name) Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Hook didn’t appear in early drafts of the play. Those who are aware of the original play and novel may even cite Peter Pan himself as the original villain.

The origins of Barrie’s inspiration for Captain Hook are slightly unclear. There is some speculation that the author had written Hook with the likeness of other pirates, both factual and fictional, like Captain Long John Silver and Captain Christopher Newport. However, 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.

Live performance with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee looking afraid

Regardless of how he came to be, the pirate captain and Peter Pan would go on to battle in multiple feature films, novels, television shows, and even video games. For Peter Pan’s adventurous, youthful nature, Captain Hook presents himself as the perfect foil.

J.M Barrie’s Captain Hook

In Barrie’s original play and novel, Captain James Hook was far from the bumbling cartoon that we know today. His character was far more cut-throat (in a literal sense), and his battles with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys were deadly. His history was also shrouded in mystery, with Barrie stating in the novel that “Hook” was not his true name. He is also described as “the only man of whom Long John Silver was afraid”.

Captain Hook and Peter Pan sword fight illustration

In the play, however, it is stated that Hook attended Eton College and Balliol College, implying a past of upperclassmen-ship. He also has an obsession with maintaining what he calls “good form”, which Peter Pan directly opposes. His hatred for the boy was fueled when Peter Pan cut off the Captain’s hand in a sword fight and fed it to a crocodile, later named Tik-Tok. After this incident, Hook replaced the missing hand with his famous iron hook, and his thirst for revenge was ignited.

Disney’s Captain Hook

In 1953, Disney debuted with their adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s novel in their animated film of the same name. The film is fairly loyal to the novel, telling the tale of Wendy Darling and her brothers who are swept away to Neverland by Peter Pan and Tinker Bell. Their adventures are rife with tricky mermaids, jealous fairies, and the villainous Captain Hook. As with most Disney adaptations, aspects of their original tales were tamed for general family viewing.

Captain Hook from the 1953 Disney film

Captain Hook’s callous and bloodthirsty persona was toned down to something cowardly and clownish. This aided in maintaining the film’s slapstick comedy. Disney also saw that Hook was modeled after a Spanish King, King Charles II. As the original voice actor for Hook, Hans Conried set the tone for Disney’s interpretation of Hook with his gravelly voice and live-action references for the animation. While Disney hesitated to make Hook a darker villain at the threat of alienating younger audiences, their interpretation of Hook is still cruel in his own comical way.

A Hook Redeemed in Once Upon a Time

Retelling classic fairytales yet to go out of fashion. This phenomenon made the hit television series Once Upon a Time all the more popular with nostalgic audiences. The first aired in 2011 and followed the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, in which the residents are actually fairy tale characters that were transported to the real world town and robbed of their memories due to a curse. The town soon finds hope in Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a bail-bonds person who is the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas).

Colin O'Donoghue as Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time Series

This expansive storyline left room for characters like Captain Hook to appear. He debuted in the fourth episode of the second season and was portrayed by Colin O’Donoghue. While Hook does not have a storybook counterpart, his tale ultimately remains one of revenge. A key difference is that J.M Barrie’s Hook is on a cruel journey toward acquiring wealth while OUAT’s Hook is driven by loss and love. He is also given a proper name, Killian Jones, further humanizing him into the multi-faceted character that fans would come to know and love in later seasons.

Hook, the Original Lost Boy

In the literary world, there have been quite a few chilling reimaginings of the supposedly wholesome Neverland. In 2017, author Christina Henry introduced her own version of Captain Hook to the mainstream with her novel Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook. Henry observes Captain Hook’s origins as Jamie, the original Lost Boy, and Peter Pan’s best friend. The novel soon takes a horrific turn when Jamie starts to grow up, much to Peter’s chagrin.

Lost Boy by Christina Henry cover with chopped hand and hook

Much like Once Upon a Time, Henry views the pirate captain through a more sympathetic lens. The story has a largely child-driven narrative, making its darker elements more heart-wrenching. Throughout the story, the boys learn that the hunger and pain they were running away from has only followed them to Neverland. The reader’s perception of Neverland and Peter Pan is severely altered through Jamie’s eyes. On the other hand, Jamie comes across as a very sympathetic character and adds to the layers of Captain Hook’s character. His long-lasting feud with Peter also doesn’t seem so petty when the lives of children are at stake.

James Bartholemew, The Boy Who Grew Up

A recent addition to the Captain Hook adaptations came in 2022. Already known for her unique retellings of famous Disney villains, it was only a matter of time before Serena Valentino gave Captain Hook his own story in her novel Never Never. Before Peter Pan and Wendy, there was James Bartholemew, a boy who wanted to get back to Neverland.

Never Never book cover with Disney's Captain Hook

Valentino strays away from presenting Hook as an adult figure looking to squash Peter’s fun. If anything, fun is all James ever wanted. He was brought to Neverland at a young age and was prepared to officially become a Lost Boy before being claimed by his parents. After spending years in London, James tires of growing up and decides to return to Neverland, no matter what it takes. In doing so, he seeks the aid of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard. Unfortunately, James soon realizes Neverland is not fond of adults, which he has become. Hook would still go on to become a villain, but his fall from grace is tragic nonetheless.

Love him or hate him, Captain Hook has gone down as one of the most entertaining pirates in the media. Adding dimension to the most infamous villains in popular culture has led to the current expansion of pre-existing worlds that were already timeless. Behind every notable hero is a fantastic villain, so their stories are worth telling.

For a look at past Peter Pan retellings, click here!