Charles Nordhoff and James Hall Biographies


Charles Nordhoff and James Hall were both published authors when they first met at the end of World War I. Both men had distinguished themselves as flyers in the famed Lafayette Escadrille Corps, and while serving in the squadron, each of them wrote articles for the Atlantic Monthly about their wartime experiences. When the war ended, the two men were asked to write a book about the history of the Escadrille, and this collaboration was the beginning of a long and successful venture for the two.

Nordhoff suggested to Hall that they should move to the Tahitian Islands to write about the South Sea. The men approached the Atlantic Monthly's editor about the idea and were advanced $7000 for their expenses. Their first collaboration about the South Sea, Faery Lands, sold fairly well, but the collaboration deteriorated, and the two men began writing on their own again.

Nordhoff concentrated his efforts on writing books for boys, publishing Pearl Lagoon shortly after his split with Hall. Hall did not fare as well. He struggled to sell short articles about the lives of the island people and became increasingly morose. Tired of island life, Hall approached a publisher about writing a travel book on Iceland. He was given a $5000 advance and travelled to Iceland, where he did his research and finished the book. It was a dismal failure, so Hall decided to return to Tahiti. His return to the island marked a new beginning.

During this time, Nordhoff continued to try his hand at boys' books and attained a respectable name for himself. In the span of four years, he published three adventure books, married a Tahitian woman, and fathered several children. Strong drink and growing depression, however, caused Nordhoff to begin to question his ability as a writer. When Hall returned from Iceland, the two men decided again to try to collaborate on a novel.

This conjunction marked the turning point in their literary careers. With Hall tempering Nordhoff's uncontrollable energy and Nordhoff inspiring Hall's imagination, the two embarked on a sea of best sellers, including Falcons of France: A Tale of Youth and the Air (1929), The Hurricane (1936), Dark River (1938), No More Gas (1940), Botany Bay (1941), Men Without Country (1942), and The High Barbaree (1945). The pinnacle of their success, however, was published between Falcons of France and The Hurricane: the Mutiny trilogy: Mutiny on the Bounty (1932), in which the Bounty is seized from Captain Bligh by Fletcher Christian, who then sails out in search of an uninhabited island; Men Against the Sea (1934), which recounts Bligh's open-boat voyage to England to report the mutiny; and Pitcairn's Island (1934), which tells about Christian's finding Pitcairn Island and how the lives of the mutineers changed during their stay on the island.

Nordhoff and Hall gained critical acclaim for their trilogy, and especially for Mutiny on the Bounty, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. After the success of this trilogy, Nordhoff became disillusioned with writing, yet he continued to collaborate with Hall, turning out several more popular novels. With the completion of The High Barbaree, however, there was little doubt in either author's mind that this one would be the last book written together by the two men. Nordhoff wanted to return to Tahiti, but he went instead to his parents' home during a fierce bout of depression, and he died there on April 11, 1947, a broken man yearning for his paradise of Tahiti.

Hall's success continued after The High Barbaree. He returned to his hometown in Iowa, and there, he worked on more novels and short essays. Writing alone once again, his work was now received far better. His later works include A Word for His Sponsor: A Narrative Poem (1949) and The Far Lands (1950), which was a Literary Guild selection.

In 1951, knowing that he was dying, Hall and his wife returned to Tahiti, where his condition deteriorated quickly. He died on July 6 and was buried with Tahitian funeral rites. Afterward, three of his works were published posthumously: The Forgotten One, and Other True Tales of the South Seas (1952), Her Daddy's Best Ice Cream (1952), and My Island Home (1952).

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