Piracy in Pan
The depiction of pirates in literature is on that dates back as far as piracy itself. There has always been a fascination with piracy as it embodies the ideals of freedom, rebellion and self-interest. Even in today’s media we can see examples of pirates, everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag. Piracy is one of the most alluring subjects in writing and in Peter Pan we can see another example of its importance.
The depictions of Pirates in play Peter Pan written by J. M. Berrie, are of the upmost importance to both the story and the time in which it was written the story. Much like Peter Pan and the lost boys the pirates are able to embody the problems with growing up and the struggle against time. None of the pirates are more important in this regard than that of Captain Hook. Hook is the antagonist in the story and he is also the foil to Peter’s boyish whimsy. Before exploring this character it is important to take a look at where the story and the character came from.
J.M. Berrie wrote Peter Pan in 1901 and it took the stage in 1904. It was later adopted into a novel in 1911 and renamed Peter and Wendy. Berrie attributes the inspiration for his story to the sons of his friend Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. The boys inspired him with their whimsicality and playfulness. He was very so close with the Llewelyn Davies family that after the death of Sylvia he was named one of the boy’s guardians. He was in fact inspired to with the name Peter by one of the Llewelyn Davies boys. The second part
Pan came from the mischievous Pan of Greek lore. The story played off of the ideals of the innocents of child hood and the conflicts of the responsibilities adulthood.
This is where Caption Hook comes in. While Peter is the embodiment of someone struggling against growing up, (i.e. The boy who never grew up) Hook is the epithet of an adult dealing with his or her responsibilities as well addressing the undeniable realization of mortality. As a pirate Hook is able to take on this role. Many of Hook’s characteristics and actions relate to his personification of adulthoods struggle with growing older. One of the first and most important is his struggle with Peter Pan. While Peter Pan did cut Hook’s hand off and he also dropped Hook into the mouth of the crocodile on a symbolic level Hook’s struggle with Peter is really based on how one deals with their past. Hook engages with peter with in a way that shows regret and remorse. As Peter is the reprehensive symbolically of a boy Hook is a man who regrets the actions he took as a boy.
Another important symbol with that Hook embodies is his obsession with the crocodile. The crocodile, fondly referred to as tock in the Disney movie of Peter Pan, is the embodiment of time in the story. While the crocodile did bite his hand off and that makes him hate him it is more important that the crocodile represents time. Time is what all adults worry about. Hook’s obsession with knowing where the crocodile is at all times as well as his enormous fear of the creature are symbolic of how adults struggle with the ideal of morality. Not only does the crocodile embody this through his interactions with Hook but he actually has a clock inside of him that he swallowed. The ominous sound of the ticking clock that is coming to kill Hook. This ticking clock is the realization of mortally that adults feel and kids don’t understand. Hook is in a constant struggle to avoid his mortality but avoiding the crocodile.
Another important thing to understand about pirates during the time in which this was written is that they were romanticized. The golden age of piracy was during the 1800’s in the Caribbean. Berrie’s writings come at a time right after this. During the time period in which Peter Pan was written pirates were treated with mystical status. The lives of real life pirates like Black Beard and Calico Jack where treated with fantastical reverence. They represent adventurous spirits and rouge personalities. Pirates are also perfect for children, which the story is aimed towards. The reason for this is the same reason that children love fireman or cowboys. They see the adventurous side of these people but not the real and painful difficulties. They see pirates that sail on ships and swordfight. They do not realize the realities of raiding and slaves. That is why pirates work so well in this story. They are seen as bumbling and inept enemies that can be easily concurred. In this story the continual struggle between the lost boys and the pirates means nothing. It has no long-term consequences. In the story the conflicts between the lost boys and the pirates are seem as “play”. The idea of combining play with violence creates a juxtaposition and combination of the ever going struggle between childhood and adulthood.
One important aspect to look at when addressing piracy in this work is what it means to the story. What do you think the struggle between the lost boys and the pirates means in terms of childhood verses adulthood?