FAST-US-7 Folklore and Folk Humor Reference
"The Hook . . ."
(One of the classic examples of Urban Folklore)
FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture (Hopkins)
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere

The following is compiled from Brunvand, Jan Harold, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings (New York and London, W.W. Norton & Company, 1981), plus the Urban Legends Reference Pages, hosted by the San Fernando Valley (California) Folklore Society.

Background: According to Brunvand ("'The Hook'" and Other Teenage Horrors," p. 48): "One consistent theme in [horror urban legends] is that as the adolescent moves out from home into the larger world, the world's dangers may close in on him or her. Therefore, although the immediate purpose of many of these legends is to produce a good scare, they also serve to deliver a warning: Watch out! This could happen to you! Furthermore, the horror tales often contain thinly-disguised sexual themes which are, perhaps, implicit in the nature of such plot situations as parking in a lover's lane . . . These sexual elements furnish both a measure of further entertainment and defnite cautionary notices about the world's actual dangers."

(Page 49) "[The Hook] seems to have emerged in the late 1950s ... Teenagers all over the country knew about "The Hook" by 1959, and like other modern legends the basic plot was elaborated with details and became highly localized — with different versions modified to include the names of local highway numbers, geographical features, institutions (such as the "hook-person" supposedly having escaped from a local insane asylum in one variation), etc. to add local credibility."

The Basic Legend: A couple's late night make-out session is cut short when they hear a report on the car radio about an escaped killer (who has a hook for a hand) in the vicinity. The girl insists on being driven home immediately; upon arrival at her house, the boy discovers a bloody hook hanging from the passenger-side car door handle.

Variation One: This young couple is out parked on a country road. The girl is real nervous and uneasy. It seems that there had been a report about an escaped criminal in the area. He was supposed to be dangerous, a mad killer. They called him "The Hook" because one of his hands was missing and he wore a hook in place of it. He was supposed to have used it on all of his victims. Anyway, the girl was real uneasy for some reason. Supposedly, they were not aware of the escaped killer. She kept saying she had an uneasy feeling but she did not know why. The guy finally got mad at her. He thought she was just making up excuses because she didn't want to park. Finally he lost his temper and stepped on the gas. He really tore out of there fast. He didn't say a word on the way home. When they get to the girl's house, he just got out and went around to open her door. When he got to the door, there was a hook hanging on the handle.

Variation Two: A guy had a date with a really cool girl, and all he could think about all night was taking her out and parking and having a really good time, so he takes her out in the country, stops the car, turns the lights off, puts the radio on, nice music; he's really getting her in the mood, and all of a sudden there's this news flash comes on over the radio and says to the effect that a sex maniac has just escaped from the state insane asylum and the one distinguishing feature of this man is that he has a hook arm, and in the first place this girl is really, really upset, 'cause she's just sure this guy is going to come and try and get in their car, so the guy locks all the doors and says it'll all be okay, but she says he could take his arm and break through the window and everything and she just cries and cries and goes just really frantic and the guy finally consents to take her home, but he's really mad 'cause you know he really had his plans for this girl, so he revs up the car and he goes torquing out of there and they get to her house, and he's really, really mad and he's not even going to get out of the car and open the door for her, and she just gets out on her own side of the car and as she gets out she turns around and looks and there's a hook hanging on the door.

Variation Three: On 8 November 1960 the following letter was printed in the nationally-syndicated "Dear Abby" newspaper advice column:

If you are interested in teenagers, you will print this story. I don't know whether it's true or not, but it doesn't matter because it served its purpose on me.

A fellow and his date pulled into their favorite "lovers' lane" to listen to the radio and do a little necking. The music was interrupted by an announcer who said there was an escaped convict in the area who had served time for rape and robbery. He was described as having a hook instead of a right hand. The couple became frightened and drove away. When the boy took his girl home, he went around to open the car door for her. Then he saw — a hook on the door handle! I don't think I will ever park to make out as long as I live. I hope this does the same for other kids.

Analysis: The key to the legend is the boyfriend's frustrated response to the girl's demand to end the date abruptly. Almost invariably, he is said to have gunned the engine and roared away. This behaviour is essential to explain how the hook became ripped from the killer's arm, and to underscore the moral of the tale. The boyfriend's frustration stems from sexual denial. His girlfriend's insistence on getting home right away effectively ends any amorous thoughts he'd been hoping to turn into reality that night, and he's upset about it.

"The Hook" is a cautionary tale about teenage sexuality. Unspoken in the story is the realization that if the girl hadn't said "no" and insisted upon leaving right away, the couple would have been killed. Two close calls are averted that night: the fatal encounter with the killer, and "going all the way." Refusal to do one saves the pair from the other.

Urban legends are often little morality plays designed to instill an important lesson about societal mores. "The Hook" is one such tale, and its message is clear: teens shouldn't have sex. Moreover, it's up to the girl to apply the brakes. Though her boyfriend might be upset at the time, not long after he'll understand the wisdom of her refusal and thank her for it. Or at least so says the legend.

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Last Updated 09 February 2010