Captain Jat

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Captain Jat is a fictional sea captain created by English writer William Hope Hodgson. Captain Jat was another attempt to create a recurring character, like Hodgson's Captain Gault. Captain Jat is featured in the stories "The Island of the Ud" and "The Adventure of the Headland". Captain Jat himself is a tall, lean man, interested primarily in "treasure and women," who takes cabin boy Pibby Tawles into his confidence. In "The Island of the Ud" their relationship is described as follows:

It is true that the Captain appeared both to like the boy, in his own queer fashion, and to trust him; but for all that, he had with perfect calmness and remorseless intent, shown him the knife with which he would cut his throat, if ever he told a word of anything that his master might say to him during his drinking bouts.

Jat is abusive when drunk:

When he ran out of toddy, he would heave his pewter mug at the lad's head as he lay asleep, and roar to him to turn-out and brew him fresh and stronger...

Captain Jat's speech is written in dialect. Pibby Tawles is not actually given much spoken dialogue, or much in the way of description. This serves to make the reader's impression of him somewhat vague; this is probably to allow the reader to mentally take his place in the story as the underdog hero. Lacking size, Tawles defends himself primarily with his quick wit:

...but this trick of the Captain's was no trouble to Pibby; for he rigged a dummy oakum-head to that end of his bunk which showed through the open doorway and slept then the other way about.

The stories are likely inspired by Hodgson's own experience with bullying while he himself was a young apprentice at sea. Several other Hodgson stories have similar plot lines, often involving wily apprentices who outsmart or take their revenge against abusive sailors.

Both Captain Jat stories involve narrow escapes from marauding natives of some sort while stealing valuable treasure, with Pibby Tawles managing to pocket some of the treasure for himself. The native inhabitants are, in both stories, portrayed in extremely negative terms: physically debased, bestial, and cannibalistic. In "The Island of the Ud" the hag-women are a caricature of degraded femininity; in "The Adventure of the Headland" the natives run with dogs and are said to practice cannibalism. Hodgson has Captain Jat use the pejorative terms Nigger although it is hinted that the natives are Spanish (he refers to a Dago village). In both cases, Hodgson depicts religious cults that make use of human sacrifice.

The Captain Jat stories, while they are exciting adventure stories and reasonably effective horror, do not represent Hodgson's best work. The characters in the Captain Jat stories are not as well-developed as Hodgson's Captain Gault or Carnacki; in both the Captain Jat stories, not only are the plots nearly identical, but there is little, if any discernible development in the relationship between the two main characters, and no other speaking characters to draw upon for interest. While writing the character may have been cathartic for Hodgson, readers may have found little to identify with in Pibby Tawles, given that his "heroism" seems to consist mostly of dodging blows and stealing, rather than gaining justice. To modern tastes the sexism and racism in the stories is off-putting, although it may not have been so interpreted by his contemporary audience.

Story Summaries[edit]

"The Island of the Ud"[edit]

Captain Jat sails past a mysterious island. In the dusk Jat brings a Pibby Tawles and a number of pistols with him in a dinghy, on a quest to steal pearls from a hidden shrine. On the beach they discover that the island is guarded by shrieking "wild looking women who were nearly naked, with great manes of hair all loose and wild about them." One is described as having "no hands; her arms ended in enormous claws, like the claws of a great crab."

The women are, according to Captain Jat, "Ud-women, boy... Devil-women... Priestesses of the Ud, that's Devil in their talk." Jat recounts how in a previous visit four years ago, he met "one of the priestesses alone one time, a little woman an' pretty, not like them!" Hodgson blurs the line between artifice and true monstrosity as he makes it unclear if the women are mutated or merely wearing costumes: "You sh'd see the pearls them hag-women was dressed with. You mustn't be feared of their claws, boy. They'm only cast off claw-shells, or somethin' of that sort. Mind you, the little priestess, she said some of 'em was real – growed that way; but I can't think it, scarcely." Tawles later sees the women up close, and is disturbed to find that while one is clearly wearing giant shells, one seems to have actual claws in place of hands.

In the story's climax Captain Jat and Pibby Tawles find an enormous shrine to a crab-clawed creature, decorated with strands of pearls. Surrounding it are hundreds of natives. Captain Jat sets up a chain to prevent the natives from successfully pursuing the treasure-hunters. A ritual human sacrifice is prepared:

...there was now a little, naked brown woman, lashed by her neck, her waist and her ankles to the great pearl-stringed central pole that came up out of the hump of rock in the pool...

And, as they watch, the Ud reveals itself:

Something was coming out of the water, climbing up onto the hump of rock... Enormous legs were coming up out of the pool, scrambling at the rock, slipping, slipping, and tearing away great chunks of the weed... a thing like a vast, brown, shell-encrusted dish-cover, as big as an ordinary old-fashioned oval mahogany table, began to rise up out of the pool...

The two manage to rescue the priestess, steal a handful of pearls, and fight their way free. But,

...when they came to look for the little brown woman, she had gone. It was evident that she had come-to, and slipped overboard in the darkness, preferring, it appears, to face any risk that the island might contain for her, than to face the facing of the unknown.

In the story's conclusion Captain Jat illustrates how he views Pibby Tawles and his contribution to the adventure:

...after a lot of fingering and weighing and examining, he presented Pibby, as his share, one of the smallest of the pearls, which had been somewhat badly chipped.

However, Tawles has taken the matter of his reward into his own hands:

...inside his shirt there reposed a number of pearls as fine as any that Captain Jat had brought away with him.

"The Adventure of the Headland"[edit]

The plot of the second Captain Jat story is very similar to the previous story. First, we are given another example of Captain Jat's cruelty as he beats Pibby Tawles:

Captain Jat took the telescope, without a word, and Pibby Tawles put the pewter mug of rum-toddy down on the rail beside him. It may be that he set it too near to his Master; for Captain Jat adjusted the glass towards the shore, his elbow touched the mug, and the lot went to the deck, so that the rum was all squandered.


Captain Jat turned slowly and looked at Pibby Tawles; then pointed with the glass at the main t'gallant brace. Pibby knew what he meant, and knew equally well that it was no use making a fuss; so that he went over and brought the end of the brace, without a word. Captain Jat took the rope, and caught the boy three or four hard clips with it across the shoulders; after which he returned it to him, to be re-coiled. He touched the fallen pewter with his foot, and the boy said:-- "'Aye Aye, Sir," and went below with the pewter to fill it again.

Captain Jat is looking for a rock formation on the coast of an island; he has received a hint from a "Portygee" (Portuguese) about a "Dago village" near which supposedly exists a buried treasure. As in the previous story, Captain Jat takes Pibby Tawles ashore under cover of darkness in a dinghy; they are again heavily armed with pistols, and this time also with knives, and they bring picks and shovels for digging and a bag for carrying treasure. They eventually discover a plateau and the "Dago village."

Their adversaries once again are described using terms that give them a supernatural quality:

...Pibby was aware that he heard the swish of branches in the near distance; and, suddenly, he heard another sound, most peculiar – a kind of queer, moaning, hooning noise, very faint at first, but drawing nearer all the time, and growing sharper and more insistent as it neared their hiding-place...


...there raced past them two sweating, breathless natives, brown and glistening in the light of the great torches they carried... around the head of each man, there hung a moving, stupendously thick cloud of insect life, whirling round and round the men... a dancing, flickering, buzzing haze of mosquitoes, gnats, midges, beetles, and other pests of the tropic night, attracted to the men by the light of the torches they carried.

Captain Jat makes an explicit connection to the earlier story:

"This is sure an Ud wood," muttered Captain Jat. "Devil wood, boy, 'tis sure; or them niggers 'd never carry torches like they'm doin', an' fetchin' every insec' from a mile around to feed on their thick hides!"

Jat's racist description of the natives continues:

"Them niggers may just be superstitious-like about here, or maybe as there's somthin' loose in these woods as is real dangerous. You can't never tell with them silly devils. They'd run from a pretty coloured stone, thinkin' 'twas witchcraft, an' the same time, thy'd cut your blessed throut an' never stop to argy. Don't never trust 'em... An' then, again, there may be somethin' queer round about 'ere..."

The two discover a waterfall, and the two rocks mentioned by Captain Jat's informant. They find a flat stone cover. Under it they find a copper cylinder containing a parchment with the words:

THE EARLY BIRD HATH

CATCHED THE WORM.

THOU FOOL

While Captain Jat takes this literally and believes that it means the treasure has already been plundered, Pibby Tawles discovers that words written in reverse on the back of the same parchment can be faintly seen when it is held up to the lantern. This makes the message read:

THE EARLY BIRD HATH

NOT CATCHED THE WORM.

LOWER THOU FOOL

While Captain Jat sits by himself drinking and smoking, Pibby Tawles quietly digs further and uncovers gold coins. He hides three fistfuls of the coins and sand in his clothes, "the sand among the coins preventing them from chinking."

Immediately thereafter, Captain Jat and Pibby Tawles hear a sound. Captain Jat explains what it is:

"Iils!" he said, in a curious voice. "Iils! Sacred dogs, boy! They feeds 'em on the sacrifices, till they won't eat ought else. I heard about 'em once, further up this same coast. The priest sometimes lets 'em go loose at night. That's why them niggers was carryin' torch-lights, so as to frighten 'em off. They'm feared of light, same as wild beasts..."

There follows a mad chase, as Captain Jat and Pibby race for the boat, pursued by the dogs; they throw away their lantern, and are forced to run through a creek, and their pistols are temporarily rendered useless because the priming is wet. Captain Jat uses his knife to defend himself against a dog, then when he ignites the underbrush with his flint and steel, the animals can be seen clearly:

In the light of the great flame, he had seen maybe a score of dogs, so enormous in size that their bodies appeared to be as large as the bodies of young donkeys. Their colour was dirty, unhealthy white, and they were hideously blotched with great sores, while their eyes showed scummy and brutishly inert in the light...


...among the hinder dogs, there ran on all fours with the dogs, certain creatures that whined and snarled like dogs... he realised that the creatures that ran with the dogs were men, running with incredible swiftness upon all fours... not on their hands and knees, but upon their hands and toes. They were covered from their heads to their feet with what appeared to be great dog-skins.

Captain Jat tells Pibby that these are "Priests," and that they are cannibals. He manages to change the priming in his pistol and so is able to fire at the pursuers. Because Pibby Tawles is shorter and can't run as fast, Captain Jat actually carries him. Pibby also changes his priming and proves his skill as a marksman, firing over Captain Jat's shoulder and killing a number of the pursuers; the dogs turn to devour a slain human. Captain Jat trips on the beach and is knocked unconscious, while Pibby Tawles fires at the dogs, killing many more. He slaps Captain Jat awake, and the two barely make it into the boat and back to the ship.

Back aboard, Pibby Tawles feels sufficiently guilty for hoarding the recovered gold that he gives the Captain one gold piece.