Monday, February 28, 2011

Urban Legends: The Hook Man



The Hook Man or sometimes just called The Hook is a story that almost everyone in America is familiar with. It is one of those stories that is told around the campfire or at slumber parties. Since this story is usually told orally there are many different versions of it. The people telling the story tend to add things, put different spins on it, or change it to cater to the audience.

The basic story remains the same: There is a couple parked in the woods, making out in the backseat of the boy’s car. The radio is on and it interrupts the music to say that there is a lunatic that has escaped from an insane asylum. This man is said to be armed and dangerous, having a hook for a hand which he uses on his victims. The couple thinks nothing of it and keeps on making out. Then they start to hear a scraping sound all along the car. The girl then gets scared, cowering in fear until the scraping stops. Then the boyfriend says that he will go out and check it out. The girlfriend pleads with him not to. He then returns a couple minutes later claiming that he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She begs him to take her home and he agrees, disappointed that he will not be getting lucky tonight. They then drive to her house, and when she gets out she screams. Stuck in the passenger side door is a hook.

There are many different variations of this. In some the boyfriend never comes back and the scraping continues. Then the girlfriend gets out of the car to see her boyfriend hanging dead from a tree above the car and the scraping was his fingers on the top of the car. In other versions the boyfriend never gets out of the car and they drive off and find the hook later. Some even have the Hook Man as a spirit or a ghost of a serial killer rather than the corporeal escaped lunatic. Even in others the girlfriend and the boyfriend are both killed and found in the car where there is a hook in the passenger door.

No matter what version of this story is told, they all have a point to them. The whole point of this story is that teenagers shouldn’t be out alone in the woods making out and having sex. It was originally told to scare the teenagers from having sex. Many of the stories like this were told to prevent teenagers from having sex, staying home alone, trespassing, vandalism, etc.

When these tales first started popping up, the experts in the folklore community refused to acknowledge them as folktales. In fact they thought they were garbage. But upon closer looks and research it was found that these tales have the same basic concept and morals that most of the folktales around the world. It was then decided by Linda D├ęgh, and her colleagues who are all very well known in the folklore field, that these tales were just modern folktales. They started to call them “modern folktales” or “modern legends” but then the title of Urban Legend came about and a new category was started. For a tale to be in this category, like other categories they have to fit certain criteria: They have outrageous content in an everyday setting, their origins are anonymous, there are multiple examples of each story, no matter when you tell it the story teller always uses “here and now,” they usually start out with the “FOAF” line (friend of a friend), there is some aspect of it that could be true but one can’t be sure, they all have believable qualities and people believe them, and last they serve some purpose in the telling of them whatever that purpose may be (Zacher).

One would think that because they are called Urban Legends that they would fall under the category of a legend when it come to categorizing folktales using the Arney Thompson system. They are not though. A legend is a story that is passed down through history that has historical significance to it. More times than not legends also have historical figures in it from the cultures, such as kings, queens, knights, and other such figures (Zacher). So instead of falling under the category of legends this story falls under the category of everyday tales.

It fits into this category because it talks about human weaknesses especially fear. Also the elements of the couples and sex are prevalent themes in this story like a lot of the everyday category of stories. One of the big tells that this is an everyday tale is that is a more modern tale which goes back to classifying it now a days as an Urban Legend. There is also the fact that it doesn’t end in the traditional way that animal tales or wonder-tales would; it doesn’t have a happy ending no matter which version one looks at.

This urban legend has been around since the 1950s and has since been told many, many times at camp outs, slumber parties and around college campuses everywhere. The story has found itself thrust into pop culture especially when it comes to movies, books, and T.V. shows. Like the tale itself, in the different movies, books, and T.V. shows the tale takes different forms. It has been in many movies throughout the years and has influenced many of the horror movies that we have come to know as Slasher movies. The biggest movie that it influenced is probably the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer. This movie took the short tale and turned it into a full length motion picture, complete with heroes and romance, the whole nine yards. It has also been in many movie anthologies along with the many other Urban Legend that America has come to know and love.

Anyway you spin it, if you believe the story, if you think its complete bull, or believe that there is some truth in it, it will affect you. The story picks at the deepest human fears, the biggest being vulnerability. Let’s face it, when you are having sex your mind is elsewhere and thus you are vulnerable, open to attack. One of the purposes of this Urban Legend, like many was to play with that genuine fear that almost everyone has, and make it a reality, or at least attempt to. 

This Urban Legend happens to be one of the favorites because first of all, it could be true, you never know. Second I like how it plays with human fears and serves its purpose well. I know I always think twice about going into the woods in someone’s car alone, and I can’t be the only one that thinks that. Even someone who doesn’t believe the story still has that feeling no matter what. It is the fear of the unknown, and fear of not being able to control the situation and that’s what makes this story so great and so popular in the United States. 

Works Cited
Elissa Michele Zacher (18 July 2010). "Urban legends: Modern morality tales". The Epoch Times.

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