A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this story is about the making of a classic literary villain, so he behaves badly a lot of the time -- but because he's the hero, and meant to be sympathetic, his behavior becomes appealing. The brutality can be disturbing: human carcasses on a plague ship, whipping and beating, poisonous spider bites, swordplay and fighting, a brutal game with lots of injuries, mistreated and tormented slaves, a sailor killed with a hook. This also isn't for reluctant readers: Overflowing with British, specifically Etonian, slang, Latin names, and old-fashioned heroic repartee, it will be heavy going for some, who may need help to decipher it.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
James, the illegitimate son of a British lord, is sent to school at Eton. Subjected there to the institutionalized violent hazing that was peculiar to the schools for the British elite, he fights back in surprising ways that turn the school on its head and make him the hero of the underclassmen. Adept at sword-fighting and training poisonous spiders, and with an indomitable will coupled with a fierce intellect, he is soon called King Jas., and has made deadly enemies of the Eton Bloods, especially one Arthur Darling. His one friend is Roger Peter Davies, soon dubbed Jolly Roger. Together they embark on a series of triumphs and mad exploits, including dueling, kidnapping a sultana, stealing a ship, and assorted mayhem, that eventually gets them expelled from the school, whereupon they sign up on a sailing ship owned by James's father, only to discover that it is a slaver.
Is it any good?
Hart, screenwriter of the movie Hook, has outdone himself in creating a fascinating hero/villain who is as magnetic to the reader as he is to his schoolmates. Hart uses as a springboard an obscure short story by J. M. Barrie, combining it with hints laced throughout Peter Pan to create a thrilling story that fleshes out the evil pirate captain's early life. Barrie always saw Hook as an intriguing, tragic figure, and a reflection of himself.
Hart's dark and violent conception of Hook is truer to Barrie's original vision than it is to the humorously foppish popinjay caricature Americans have come to know, thanks to Disney and Cyril Ritchard. In the original 1904 stage play, Hook was so terrifying that children often had to be carried out of the theater screaming. It takes more to shock the worldly kids of today, brought up on violent movies and video games. But no one can accuse Hart of not trying. And sensitive kids may still need a guiding hook, er, hand.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about perspective. Captain Hook is traditionally a villain, but he's the hero here. What makes a "good" guy good and a "bad" guy bad? Does James come across as sympathetic here, or are his actions only justified in his own mind? How would you retell the story from a different point of view?
Think about all the different media that Peter Pan has spawned -- from stories and movies about Captain Hook to Web sites and games about Tinker Bell. Why do you think this story has endured? What makes something a classic?
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