The Works of
James Norman Hall & Charles Nordhoff
Clickhere for the James Norman Hall books and the motion pictures they inspired
Paul L. Briand, Jr., in his Nordhoff-Hall biography "In search of Paradise" describes how they collaborated:
"After one had finished a chapter, he turned it over to the other for editing and criticism; then the first writer rewrote his chapter, sometimes fighting the other's suggestions all the way through. Nordhoff proved the narrative specialist, having the talent to get a story started, keeping it going with the eternal variations of "and then, and then" which every writer must have, and knowing where to end it. Hall, true to his attentive, ruminative nature, was the descriptive specialist and the thoughtful philosophical pauses for the occasional "and yet, on the other hand", meditations. Nordhoff trimmed Hall's romantic excesses to the realistic bone; Hall added body and fullness to Nordhoff's austerity and leanness. Nordhoff, having the better ear, handled the dialogue; Hall, more discursive, did the expository sections. It was a perfect marriage of talent, the one making up for what the other lacked."
Edward Weeks, the young assistant of Ellery Sedgwick, editor of the Atlantic Weekly wrote:
"Nordhoff began. He was to carry the tale through the outward voyage, he would draw the portraits of Captain Bligh with his harsh temper and of Fletcher Christian, the second in command who repeatedly tried to intercede for the men. All this (Chapters 1-8 of the Mutiny on the Bounty) would be told through the eyes of young Midshipman Byam. Nordhoff would give the impressions of the seamen as they entered upon the almost untouched beauty of Polynesia, and of the love affairs which bound both Christian and Byam to the island. This, of course, he was perfectly qualified to do, for through his wife and father-in-law, Nordhoff had to come to acquire a word-of-mouth knowledge of Polynesia before the white occupation.
Hall took up the story at the outbreak of the mutiny, early on the homeward voyage (Chapters 9 and 10). He was responsible for the mutineers return to Tahiti and the secession when they began to quarrel among themselves under Christian's leadership; he would describe the arrival of the Pandora, the ship which was sent from London to capture the mutineers; he would tell of its shipwreck and the eventual court-martial of the survivors, the execution and the ending (Chapters 14-25).
But as thebook came to be written, these boundaries tended to disappear. In the Aina Para hotel, they read aloud the chapters to each other, and there were frequent interruptions. Hall kept pausing to describe and to wonder; Nordhoff would grow impatient to keep the narrative moving, and it was inevitable that they should work in and out of each other's pages as their spirit prompted ."
Nancy Ella HallRutgers' recollections demonstrate the authors' humor and modesty in their singular response to the question of how they worked together, "Why,on a double typewriter of course".
James and Charles at work on their "double typewriter"
It was while fighting in France in WW I that a most remarkable writing team, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff, met for the first time. Both were Americans, both contributors to the Atlantic Monthly, both had fought with other sections of the army before they met after the war. Although differing in temperament and in background, the two became friends.
At the end of the war, Dr. Gros, Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Service, ordered them to assemble and edit the histories of the pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps. In February 1919, Hall and Nordhoff sailed to the United States to complete the Lafayette Flying Corps history.
After that, the two men seemed to share a common desire to visit the South Seas.
Before leaving Boston they met with Mr. Thomas Wells, editor of Harper's Magazine,who hired them to do a series of articles about the South Pacific. He gave them a generous advance to live on while they worked at their craft. In late January 1920 Hall and Nordhoff sailed to Tahiti.
The two authors collaborated on "Faery Lands of the South Seas" which was publishedin 1921. Just prior to the book's publication, Nordhoff wed a nineteen-year-old Tahitian native girl. He remained in the South Seas writing a series of youth books while Hall set out for Iceland to concentrate on essays. He had planned to finance his trip by writing a travel book on Iceland and was advanced $5,000 by Harper's to that end. Ultimately Hall lacked the inspiration to complete the project and wound up borrowing the funds to repay Harper's advance with interest. He returned to Tahiti in early 1924 dispirited and in debt.
Nordhoff was overjoyed at seeing his friend again. Now married and settled, he enjoyed some success at his writing. But even in Tahiti, Hall found no inspiration to write and spent his time canoeing in the lagoons and hiking in the mountains of the islands.
Two events eventually brought Hall back to his typewriter. The first was his marriage in 1925 to Sarah Teraireia Winchester, the daughter of an English sea captain and a Tahitian mother. The second event which curbed Hall's ennui and rekindled his inspiration came about through the generosity of his friend, Nordhoff. While Hall had been experiencing his dead calm, Nordhoff had continued to produce additional editions of his successful series which had centered around his youthful hero, Charles Selden. Keenly aware that his friend was floundering, Nordhoff suggested that he and Hall combine to write another "boys book" which would take Selden into World War One and the U.S. Air Service. Hall was more than pleased to again join forceswith Nordhoff, and they began their collaboration on the project in 1927.
The book, titled "Falcons of France", was marvelously well done and borrowed autobiographical material under the guise of fiction from both men's experiences in the Lafayette Flying Corps. It was published by Little, Brown &Company in 1929.
A few months later, on one of his American holidays, Hall visited Ellery Sedgwick, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who convinced him to write with Nordhoff the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Hall knew it well because in 1916, when he was at the Bleriot school, at Versailles, he had purchased in Paris Sir John Barrow's narrative "The Piratical Seizure of the HMS Bounty" which he had kept as part of his library.
When Hall had first suggested to Nordhoff that they do a work of historical fiction involving the Bounty incident, Nordhoff was less than enthusiastic. However, after reading Barrow's narrative, his enthusiasm soared, particularly when their combined research revealed that little had been written on the subject in subsequent years, and nothing of substance in the form of historical fiction.
The authors decided to write the work as a trilogy, and following the critical success of "Mutiny on the Bounty" in 1932, they followed up with "Men Against the Sea" and "Pitcairn's Island" in 1934.
Ironically, following the Bounty trilogy which had taken the two authors five years to complete, it was suddenly Hall who took charge for the duo as his writing became governed by a disciplined control. Now it was Nordhoff who was flounderingas an artist as he journeyed down a path of unbridled excess which ultimately destroyed his career as a writer and contributed to his death.
"The Hurricane" was the next novel undertaken by the Hall/Nordhoff partnership. But following this publication the partnership no longer operated on an equal basis of mutual effort. Hall, always a true friend to Nordhoff and well remembering Nordhoff's kindness to him when he himself had floundered, continued to take on more and more responsibility for the team.
But regardless of the fact that the last works were dual in name but solo in effort, Hall insisted that Nordhoff share equally in whatever royalties the books might generate. While always considerate of his friend's past contributions, Hall also realized Nordhoff's name joined with his as authors guaranteed the sale of books.
Sometime in 1940, Charles Nordhoff had abandoned the South Seas for good. On 11 April 1947 he died of a heart attack at his Montecito home while Hall was his guest. James Norman Hall continued to write and saw two other books published after Nordhoff's death. He had nearly completed his autobiography when he was stricken by a heart attack on July 6, 1951 and died at the age of 64 on the island of Tahiti. He was buried behind his home on a Tahitian hillside facing Matavai Bay where the Bounty had first dropped anchor in1788.
His posthumously published memoirs, "My Island Home", appeared in 1952.
From the article "The Lafayette Flying Corps - The American Volunteers in the French Air Service in World War One" by Dennis Gordon
Continueto page 8:
James Norman Hall books and the motion pictures they inspired
|Back to the Top|