The Peter Pan character’s hook may be due to the crocodile, but the author was inspired by an affliction that challenges hundreds of thousands of people.
When James Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, wrote his everlasting story his choice of the villainous Captain Hook, whose one hand had been snapped off by a crocodile, wasn’t created by happenstance. Barrie’s own ailment was the inspiration for his character, a problem of the hand known as Dupuytren’s disease.
Dupuytren’s disease (pronounced doo-pa-trens), also referred to as a Viking or Celtic disease or Dupuytren’s Contracture, is an ailment that causes one’s hand or hands to contract into an almost claw and Barrie is not the only person of historical note that suffered from it. The Papal Benediction sign, with bent ring and small fingers, may have had its beginnings with a pope who suffered from Dupuytren’s.
The disease is named after Dr. Guillaume Dupuytren, who was Napoleon’s surgeon, and in his time was perhaps the most famous surgeon in France. In 1831 he operated on patients and then lectured on a condition causing bent fingers. Although he wasn’t the first one to observe and treat the condition, his name was thereafter attached to the disease.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone are affected by the disease. In 2012, a member of the rock band Marillion, who goes by the name Fish, was diagnosed with the disease.
What Is It?
Stated simply, Dupuytren’s is a thickening and contracture of tissue beneath the skin on the palm of the hand and fingers. One or both hands may be affected. More specifically, the condition causes connective tissue under the skin of the palm of the hand to thicken and shrink which can cause the fingers to bend toward the palm. The bent fingers are usually unable to be fully straightened.
The disease is thought to have first occurred, or literature suggests, in the 1600s. It is thought to be an inherited disease, but the exact cause is not known nor clearly understood. There has been some thought that the disease is associated with anything from cigarette smoking, epilepsy, diabetes, to alcoholism. Even extensive use of vibrating tools has been thought to be a potential source for the problem. It is most likely to occur in middle age. The disease usually finds the ring finger affected, followed by the little finger and it’s not uncommon for several fingers to be affected. For unexplained reasons, men are more affected than women.