Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth

Capt. Hook By J. V. Hart [LibrarythingAmazon]

James is not your average boy. With his lanky build, long black curls like candles, and sinister, aloof demeanor, he would be set apart from his peers at Eton even without the shame of being born a bastard hanging over his head – not to mention the fact that he bleeds yellow. He is also clever and fearless, however, and soon wins the admiration of his house (the Oppidans), the friendship of the loyal “Jolly” Roger Davies, and the love (he hopes) of the beautiful Ottoman Sultana Ananova. But ill fate dogs James, and before long he is exiled to sea, the first step in a chain of events that will turn him into the dreaded Captain Hook.

Telling the story of a sympathetic, once-noble hero who, through circumstance and his own fatal flaw, becomes a villain is not an easy task. John Milton did a good job of it with Satan in Paradise Lost; George Lucas pretty much botched it with Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episodes I-III. Unfortunately, Hart is way over on the Lucas end of the spectrum. Hook is one of the most spectacular villains of all time, and Capt. Hook’s James has little of his menace or his charm – which is odd enough, considering that Hart also wrote the screenplay for Hook, which is a deeply wonderful movie. (“Rufi-oh! Rufi-oh! Ru! Fi! OH!”) Then again, Hook was much more about Peter and his relationship with his kids, most likely thanks to Spielberg, who loves him some daddy issues. Capt. Hook is pure villain, and it is by far the inferior vehicle.

The main problem is with the boy I’ll call James, as he does not get the appellation “Hook” until the final pages. James is not a sympathetic character. He doesn’t start out as basically a nice boy who gets led down the path of darkness by fate’s cruel hand – he’s already well down that path by the time we meet him. Even for the angsty teen set, he’s almost impossible to relate to. As mentioned above, his blood is yellow; he keeps a flock of trained spiders to poison his enemies and weave him an impervious waistcoat; he deals with people who irritate him with the knowledge of how they’re going to die, although how he comes by this knowledge and whether it is at all accurate is never given to the reader. He never grows (or, as one might expect for a character becoming a villain, devolves); he starts the book weird and creepy and ends the book weird and creepy. He also tends to harp on “good form,” as Barrie’s Hook did, but fails to define it in any clear sense; at one point he declares that one may do anything to win, no matter how underhanded, as long as one maintains “good form,” which seems pretty much like a contradiction in terms.

In general, in fact, James is contradictory and vague. Although he occasionally rails rather randomly against the social injustices in the world (more on that later), he practically worships Charles II, who was not exactly liberal in his politics (the man is synonymous with the restoration of the British Monarchy and the dissolution of Parliament, for Pete’s sake!). He also waxes rhapsodic about Louis XVI’s use of the guillotine, which is bizarre, considering that the guillotine was the weapon of choice of the revolutionaries, not the royals, and Louis of course actually met his death via La Guillotine. If you’re going to make your hero a history buff, get the history right.

James’s relationships with the other characters in the book are also problematic. His only real friend is a pudgy, chipper boy named Roger Peter Davies, who James immediately nicknames “Jolly Roger.” Their friendship, which is extremely close and just about the only sympathetic thing about James, is not developed at all – they meet and are promptly ready to die for one another. That’s sweet, but not exactly compelling. Not to mention the fact that Roger’s name threw me out of the book every time it was mentioned. For those of you who aren’t Pan buffs like yours truly (or haven’t seen Finding Neverland), Peter Davies was one of the five Davies boys J. M. Barrie befriended and to whom the story of Peter and Wendy was originally told – and, of course, Peter’s namesake. The Jolly Roger is, of course, Hook’s ship. The combination of names is jarring, especially since you wouldn’t normally associate the real-life Peter with Hook’s best friend. (James’s nickname, James Matthew Bastard, gives him the same initials as J. M. Barrie and creates a similar off-putting effect.) Plus, James’s plan to steal Roger’s father’s yacht and rename it the Jolly Roger, on which they will sail the high seas, is just strange. My co-Active Voicer Rebecca and I are pretty close, but I don’t plan to steal a boat and name it after her. (Not to mention the fact that a gentleman’s pleasure boat might navigate the Thames all right, but I don’t see it doing too well on the open sea.)

James’s relationship with Ananova is equally hollow. They fall in love at first sight, which as Romeo and Juliet taught us, always works out extremely well for teenagers. When James sneaks out to steal a kiss from Ananova, who has little in the way of personality aside from haughtiness and beauty, it sparks off an international incident, thanks to his bastard status, and she is quickly shipped off back home. James and Roger decide to take over the boat that is taking her away from England and kidnap her, although James doesn’t bother to wonder if Ananova wants to be kidnapped. Although they manage to escape on Ananova’s horse, Pandora (one of many references to women as evil temptresses, and also highly impractical – horses have a hard enough time swimming without three teenagers on their backs), we are told – not shown – that they are quickly caught by the authorities. Then Ananova disappears from the book, with instructions for James on how to get to her island to rescue her, since she is apparently incapable of rescuing herself. Apparently one gets to Greece via the second star to the right (of the constellation Lyra) and straight on ‘til morning. And here I thought those were the directions to somewhere else.

Ananova isn’t exactly a negative representation of a woman, she’s just sort of a useless one. Although she carries herself like someone capable of accomplishing things, the narration belies that; everything that happens to Ananova is because of James, and once he fails to rescue her before she leaves England, she is shipped helplessly off to be married. James decides to get himself seaworthy before he goes after her, which means that poor Ananova is condemned to at least a few years of loveless marriage before James deigns to pick her up – if he does, because I don’t recall Captain Hook having a girlfriend.

The other significant player in Capt. Hook is Arthur Darling, James’s rival at school, who, I assume, is meant to grow up to sire Wendy, Michael, and John. Darling is everything James isn’t – he’s the classic Eton Blue, strapping and handsome and preppy. His hatred for James is immediate, vicious, and reciprocated equally, to the point where the boys are ready to swordfight to the death. This seems a little over-the-top for schoolboys, but I can stomach it. What I can’t stomach is Darling’s characterization. Barrie’s Darling is pretty thoroughly bourgeois, so I’m not sure how he’s managed to get himself into Eton; furthermore he’s a silly, weak man, but not a vicious or an evil one, so his bloodthirsty vendetta against James is a bit hard to swallow. Furthermore, Darling and Hook are traditionally played by the same actor, suggesting a deep commonality between the characters. Although it is not actually contrary to Peter Pan to give Hook and Darling completely opposite natures, it flies in the face of Peter Pan tradition, and the choice to do so is never really justified, since Darling is not much of an antagonist.

I could have dealt with all of these objections, but Capt. Hook’s treatment of race really was the final nail in this book’s coffin. After the botched attempt to kidnap/rescue Ananova, James’s father sends him off to sea, where Jolly joins him. After a few chapters of heavy-handed foreshadowing, it turns out that their ship is a slave ship, although the slave trade is illegal at this point in history. James protests and is thrown in the brig with the slaves, where he quickly befriends an enormous young warrior named Azibo. Of course, James leads the slaves to freedom over…well, over one pirate, as the rest have hearts of gold. The Africans are all very much in the “noble savage” line – Azibo has a magic fruit that gives James the ability to see in the dark, and a little girl has a doll with lion mane hair and diamond eyes – and as noble savages, they are incapable of rallying themselves together, instead relying on a mopey white teenager to save them: “Jolly R marveled at James’ uncanny ability to raise the spirits of these poor souls, inciting them against the authority that had enslaved them.” The patronizing and marginalizing attitude towards the Africans is exacerbated by the fact that I’m pretty sure that Azibo is meant to become the pirate described in Peter Pan by this sentence: “That gigantic black behind him has had many names since he dropped the one with which dusky mothers still terrify their children on the banks of the Guadjo-mo.” Lovely.

Finally, the prose was…a little much. Here’s an early passage, with James listening to Jolly Roger being beaten by the Collegers:

At the same instant, the moth dancing about James’ flame dipped too close, and one wing caught fire. James struck with blurring precision, snatching the moth in his hands. He plucked the burning wing from its body, pinching the flame out with his fingers. He watched the single-winged moth struggling in his hand, flopping about with no escape possible. Another strike echoed from below. Another scream. James thrust the moth into the flame, putting the creature out of its misery. He held the flaming insect between his fingers, watching it char. He showed no pain as the flame brushed his fingers. Placing the blackened remained in his journal, he folded the pages shut, capturing the impression of the burned wing forever.

Beside the charred impression he wrote: “Courage is the decision to fly straight into the flame while knowing the consequences.”

I think James listens to a little too much Evanescence.

Capt. Hook gets one and a half cupcakes, and all of those cupcakes go to Jolly Roger, who, stupid name aside, was quite lovable. James, however, has nothing on the man he supposedly grows up to be.

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    7 Responses to “Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth”

    1. Elise says:

      what a way to bring down the book. thats so typical of you. tear it down into little strips for those few hopeful and let it to die. hoow pathetic.

    2. Jessica says:

      The point of this site is for us to analyze what we read and give our opinions. That is precisely what I did, and I feel that I thoroughly backed up all of my assertions. You are more than welcome to disagree with me, but if you’d like to do so, please actually refute my comments or give a counter opinion instead of being rude.

    3. Caitlin says:

      I just wanted to comment on your assumption that Arthur Darling was meant to grow up and father Wendy, Michael and John. Actually the Darling father’s name is George so before you try guessing maybe do a little research next time. And as far as the naming goes…I am also an avid Peter Pan buff and I quite liked the refrences, they made me smile to see how the author wove then into the text. To each their own I guess right?

    4. Jessica says:

      Caitlin,

      You’re right that Mr. Darling’s first name is George. I neglected to double-check that before writing my review, and I made a mistake. However, I feel that in giving the character the surname “Darling,” Hart was certainly evoking the family and ran the risk of many people – even Pan fans like me – assuming that Arthur was that Mr. Darling, and thus I feel that my points about him are still applicable. It’s also another reason I feel that the name references were jarring and at times confusing rather than cute, but as you say, to each their own. Your rudeness, though, is completely unnecessary, and not at all appreciated.

    5. Hannah says:

      I’ve never read this book but my brother has and he said it wasn’t so good. I was thinking about maybe picking it up but after reading this I think I’ll pass on that.
      I mean he bleeds yellow? What?!
      I know this has nothing to do with the book but Hook was an AWESOME movie! I’m also a Peter Pan buff but I haven’t read the actual Peter Pan book. . .I heard it was a bit weird. But I have read the Peter and the Starcatchers book which I thought was good (it’s a book about how Peter Pan all started, like how he can fly and stuff).

      Anyway, thanks for saving me from wasting my time reading a bad book!!

    6. me says:

      1.5 ?..
      Well I guess that’s your opinion…
      but did you actually read the book? It was pretty much amazing. and I just wanted to say Ananova and Jame’s love was not hallow ? How is any love ‘hallow’ ? So they fall in love at first sight? It can happen. Happened to me..

    7. Anastacia says:

      OK, so nobody’s commented on this in ages, but I’m going to anyway. I, personally, loved this book. I don’t think any of the refferences were “jarring.” Actually, I liked the fact that the antagonist’s last name was “Darling.” I think it explains why Capt. Hook hates the Darling children so much. The fact that James and Ananova fell in love at first sight bothered me, too, but I didn’t think the romance was hollow. It was actually very deep. And I think it’s OK that he starts out the book as being creepy and weird, because people reading the book *know* he’s a villain, so they expect it. At least, I did… but I may be mistaken about others…

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