Captain Jack

I am looking forward to Friday 13th in a way Captain Jack Sparrow never would.  I’m looking forward to the birth of my own Captain Jack–Captain Jack Ratigan, my RAF bomber pilot hero.  He takes an archetypal leaf out of all the others – brash, charming, heroic, entertaining and a little wild, not to mention courageous.  Yet he is, I hope, a little different, his own man.  I think mine allows his emotions to show more, his fears to be voiced, his losses to be felt.

In a way, he is a tribute to the Father-in-Law I never knew, my husband’s  dad who died when his son was quite young, eight or nine.  My father in law wasn’t gay, but he apparently possessed a lot of the other traits Jack Ratigan displays.

In another way my Jack is a tribute to all the fighting men (and women) of WW2 who, unbeknown to the rest of us, had gender issues that they couldn’t reveal for fear of retribution.  In an age when homosexuality was an excuse used as a ‘draft dodge’, those who chose to hide it and keep on fighting deserve honor and recognition, not censure.

Apparently my father-in-law, Arthur Edward, was a bit of an opportunist, eloping with my mum-in-law, Mary, when she was only 19.  Remember, the age of consent in this country was 21 back in the fifties.  He was entertaining, eager to make something of himself, ambitious to rise above his working class roots and saw himself hit quite a prosperous middle-class middle-age before succumbing to bowel cancer in his mid forties.  As far as I can gather from talking to my mum, in the sixties your forties were your middle age… a world only just getting used to a new generation–teenagers–anyone over thirty five was over the hill.  Everybody called my father-in-law Jack. That’s why my hero’s name is Arthur Edward ‘Jack’ Ratigan.

So, back to Captain Jacks.  I can name 4 fictional ones (five including my own) and one real one –  Sparrow, Harkness, Aubrey and Armistead are the fictional, Kintpuash is the factual (more about him later).  If there is anyone alive who doesn’t know who who the first one is, you’ve been in a bubble for the last few years.  I’ll forgive you if you don’t know who the others are though.  Oddly enough, three of them are sea-going.

Okay, okay, in case anyone is out there who remains to be educated, Captain Jack Sparrow is Johnny Depp’s definitive rogue and anti-hero of the three movies in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.  He is a mass of contradictions, a vain, opportunistic and egotistical character with a certain elegance, a sense of comic timing and a roguish nature that we cannot help but fall in love with.

Captain Jack Harkness is one of the Doctor’s companions in Doctor Who and the hero of its spin-off series, Torchwood (which we hear is being filmed again next year in conjunction with Starz TV in the US as well as BBC Wales in the UK).  Brash, heroic and charming, always seen in WW2 RAF greatcoat and braces (suspenders to you in the USA), he is the immortal and omnisexual (yes it is a real term) hero played by John Barrowman.

Jack Aubrey is the hero of Patrick O’Brian’s series of Novels.  His first, Master and Commander, which was turned into a movie starring Russell Crowe as Aubrey and Paul Bettany as his surgeon and friend Stephen Maturin, is based on real events in the history of the British Navy.  Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, had a checkered career in the Navy, commanding several vessels, but his exploits in the Napoleonic wars served as inspiration for both O’Brian’s Aubrey and C.S.Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. O’Brian changes the name of Cochran’s ship Speedy to Sophie and replaces Cochrane with Aubrey, but otherwise faithfully follows Cochrane’s exploits.

Captain Jack is a 1999 movie (I have not seen it so I cannot tell you more than this) starring British actor Bob Hoskins as Jack Armistead, an aging sea captain with a vessel not deemed sea worthy by the ship inspectors.  He assembles a motley crew to sail along the path of Captain Scoresby, a sea captain who sailed from Whitby in northern England to the Arctic in 1791.  Scoresby was a famous Whaler  and explorer, almost as much of a local hero as captain James Cook, although unfortunately not as well known.  I find it interesting that Philip Pullman’s hero Lee Scoresby in the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy is an airborne explorer.  I’d give anything to find out if thats why Pullman used the name.

I have no idea why Jack should be such a popular name for such heros.  I do intend to research this further though. Jack is a popular nickname, from Jack-of-all-trades to Jack-the-lad, you find it everywhere in popular culture. The phenomenon intrigues me.  There seems to come with it an inevitable set of character traits which seem to be worn like  Captain Jack Harkness’ greatcoat.

There is at least one real Captain Jack out there, another nickname, this time for an American Indian.

Kintpuash, son of a Modoc chief, was commonly known as “Captain Jack” because of his penchant for wearing a blue military jacket with brass buttons (at this point I could say who does that remind you of?). Captain Jack (ca 1837-1873) was a major figure in the Modoc War of 1872-1873. Protesting unsuitable conditions on the Klamath Reservation, he led a band of about 50 warriors, resisting forced removal by U.S. troops from their former ancestral lands.

Apparently ‘ Jack’ and his warriors held off the American forces for at least a year until his capture in June 1873 and subsequent execution for the murder of an American General, Edward Canby.  Little is known about Captain Jack’s life prior to the age of 25. He was born along the lower Lost River, near the California-Oregon border, in the Wa’chamshwash Village, around 1837. The two tribes, Modoc and Klamath, lived uneasily together and their history reads with sad familiarity–broken treaties, misunderstandings, fighting with US troops  and eventual  subdual.

So, in conclusion then, Captain Jack is a name that seems to be embedded in popular culture as far as Coca-cola and Google, a name that conjures up a set of values and character traits we look for in our own heroes.  At the end of the day though, I only hope mine makes the grade.  Roll on Friday 13th….

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