"For several days I worked on improving my flying, and Peter guided me over many parts of the island on practice flights. We soared above lions and tigers lolling on the “southern” savannah, but Peter said that they weren’t near as fun as Barnaby was and only paid attention to him when they thought he had food for them or wanted their backs scratched.
We flew to a mid-island mountain crest, where Peter said it occasionally snowed, but the temperature there was almost as hot as it was in the jungle depths, and I had trouble believing him. We glided over what he said was the fairy village, but I could see nothing but mounds of dirt that resembled ant hills, and Peter said he never liked to visit it because it was mostly deserted, since most of the fairies were dead. Were these their graves? I wondered.
All the while I asked him questions about his past and how he got here, and he usually said that he didn’t know, or made up an answer that was so absurd I could only laugh. I wondered if he were deliberately concealing something from me. Upon reflection at the end of each day I found that what was most remarkable about my questions and his answers was that he never asked any questions in return. He seemed to have absolutely no curiosity about myself, about who I was and how I got here.
At the end of the fourth day I confronted him. “Peter,” I said, “aren’t you curious about me?”
“Why should I be?” he answered in all innocence. Then his eyes widened. “Do you have a secret?”
“Well, not really. I mean, I have a past. Doesn’t that interest you?”
“You mean, what you did yesterday? But I know all that. I was with you.”
“Yes but – wasn’t there a yesterday before yesterday? What I’m trying to say is – how can you – how can you like me if you don’t know who I am?”
“But I do know who you are. You’re James,” he said bluntly. “Aren’t you?”
“But I – I could be a criminal – or a king – or – or a nobody.”
“Are you a criminal?” I could tell that he hoped that I was.
“No, and I’m not a king either.”
“And you’re certainly not a nobody. Because you’re a James.”
By the tone of his voice I knew – he thought I was a bit daft.
“But you – you like me? In spite of knowing nothing about me?”
“You’re my friend,” he replied, as if he were stating the day’s weather, or what he had for breakfast. “Why should I want to know anything more?”
Hook’s Tale is a memoir written by Captain James Hook, the notorious pirate and arch-enemy of Peter Pan. But Hook’s version of his own story is far different from the one penned by J.M. Barrie, “a lying tale told by a pathetic Scotsman.” “The same audiences who pretend to save a supercilious fairy’s life by applause,” Hook laments, “either laugh at me as piratical clown or sneer at me as Devil Incarnate.” Just as Wicked recasts the story of Oz, so Hook’s Tale will forever change your view of this most “Dastardly Villain.”
We first meet our unlikely hero when he is thirteen, living with his widowed mother in Kensington and supported by mysterious benefactors. Seeking to learn more of his father (a ship’s captain who disappeared at sea) he runs away from home and school, but is kidnapped and pressed into naval service as an unlikely cabin boy. Soon he discovers a treasure map left him by his father, a map which leads him and his fellow shipmates to a mysterious archipelago (called the “Never-Isles”) from which there appears to be no escape. In the course of his adventures he meets the pirates Smee and Starkey, falls in love with the enchanting Tiger Lily, adopts an affectionate crocodile he names Daisy, and befriends a charming boy named Peter who teaches him how to fly. He and Peter grow as close as brothers, until Hook discovers Peter’s sinister side while uncovering the secrets of the island on which they are both marooned. He battles monsters, swashbuckles in mutinies, fights a duel, swims with mermaids, and eventually learns both the sad terrible tale of his mother’s life and the true story of his father’s disappearance.
Hook’s Tale is not only a Boy’s Adventure but also a Man’s Coming of Age. The characters that our hero meets – including the vivisectionist Uriah Slinque and a charming little girl named Wendy – lead him to the most difficult decision of his life: whether to give into the temptation of Eternal Youth, or to embrace the responsibilities of Maturity and the inevitability of his own Mortality. His choice, like his story, is not what you might expect.
I have always been an avid fan of J.M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. (I even wrote a successful one-person play about Barrie, and visited Stevenson’s Samoan grave when I turned fifty.) In December of 2014, my wife and I embarked on a cruise of the South Seas, and the first stop that the cruise ship made was Robinson Crusoe Island, the island where Alexander Selkirk (the model for Crusoe) was marooned. In hiking this mountainous island one beautiful day, I stopped to catch my breath and observed our cruise ship anchored in the distant bay. It suddenly occurred to me that this island, mapped by Selkirk and described by Defoe, was most likely the model for Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Barrie’s Neverland. Why there, where our cruise-ship lay anchored, was the bay where Hook’s ship loomed! Over the crest of the mountain we were climbing we could spy Mermaids’ Lagoon! The far promontory was where the Native village was located, and all around us was jungle, suitable for concealing any number of Lost Boys. And just as this island was part of a small archipelago, so must Neverland have been. Where did Hook sail when he wasn’t anchored in that distant bay, I wondered. What other islands sat near Neverland? And how did Hook get to this far-flung place? These questions began to haunt me, and as soon as I returned home I began the writing of his Tale.