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James Norman Hall
Hall in the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917
Hall in the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917
Born (1887-04-22)22 April 1887
Colfax, Iowa
Died 5 July 1951(1951-07-05) (aged 64)
Nationality American
Occupation Novelist, memoirist

James Norman Hall (22 April 1887 – 5 July 1951) was an American author best known for the novel Mutiny on the Bounty with co-author Charles Nordhoff.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Hall was born in Colfax, Iowa, where he attended the local schools. Hall graduated from Grinnell College in 1910 and became a social worker in Boston, Massachusetts, while trying to establish himself as a writer and studying for a Master's degree from Harvard University. Hall was on vacation in the United Kingdom in the summer of 1914, when World War I began. Posing as a Canadian, he enlisted in the British Army, serving in the Royal Fusiliers as a machine gunner during the Battle of Loos. He was discharged after his true nationality was discovered, and he returned to the United States and wrote his first book, Kitchener's Mob (1916), recounting his wartime experiences.

Returning to France, in 1916 Hall joined the Lafayette Escadrille, an American volunteer flying squadron in the French Air Force. During his time in the Escadrille, Hall was awarded the Croix de Guerre with five palms and the Médaille Militaire. When the United States entered the war, Hall was made a Captain in the Army Air Service. There he met another American pilot, Charles Nordhoff. After being shot down over enemy lines, Hall spent the last months of the war as a German prisoner of war. After being released, he was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur and the American Distinguished Service Cross.

After the war, Hall spent much of his life on the island of Tahiti, where he and Nordhoff, who had also moved there, wrote a number of successful adventure books (including the Bounty trilogy). In addition to the various Bounty films, other film adaptations of his fiction include The Hurricane (1937), which starred his nephew Jon Hall; Passage to Marseille (1944), featuring Humphrey Bogart; and Botany Bay (1953), with Alan Ladd.

In 1940, Hall published a book of poems with the title Oh Millersville! It appeared under the pseudonym Fern Gravel, and the poems were written in the voice of a girl of about 10 years of age. The book was critically well received, and the hoax wasn't exposed until 1946, when Hall published an article entitled "Fern Gravel: A Hoax and a Confession" in the Atlantic Monthly. He wrote that he had been inspired by a dream in which he saw himself back in his Iowa childhood with a group of children, among whom was a girl named Fern who wanted her poems written down. When he awoke, Hall wrote Fern's poems, which are simply worded but nicely detailed first-person observations of small-town life.[1] In 1925, Hall married Sarah (Lala) Winchester, who was part-Polynesian. They had two children: the cinematographer Conrad Hall (1926–2003) and Nancy Hall-Rutgers (born 1930). Hall died in Tahiti and is buried on the hillside property just above the modest wooden house he and Lala lived in for many years.

Selected works[edit | edit source]

The Bounty trilogy, with Charles Nordhoff[edit | edit source]

Other works[edit | edit source]

  • Kitchener's Mob: The Adventures of an American in the British Army (1916)
  • High Adventure: A Narrative of Air Fighting in France (1918)
  • History of the Lafayette Flying Corps (with Charles Nordhoff) (1920)
  • Faery Lands of the South Seas (with Charles Nordhoff) (1920)
  • On the Stream of Travel (1926)
  • Mid-Pacific (1928)
  • Falcons of France (with Charles Nordhoff) (1929) Nordhoff and Hall's account of their service in the famed Lafayette Escadrille during World War I
  • Mother Goose Land (1930)
  • Tale of a Shipwreck (1934) Hall recounts his voyage to Pitcairn's Island and shipwreck in 1933. Includes early versions of passages from Pitcairn's Island. This was first published as "From Med to Mum" in the Atlantic Monthly March through July 1934
  • The Hurricane (with Charles Nordhoff) (1936)
  • The Dark River (with Charles Nordhoff) (1938)
  • No More Gas (with Charles Nordhoff) (1940)
  • Doctor Dogbody's Leg (1940)[2]
  • [as Fern Gravel] Oh Millersville! Muscatine, IA.: The Prairie Press (1940)
  • Botany Bay (with Charles Nordhoff) (1941)
  • Under a Thatched Roof (essays) (1942)
  • Men Without a Country (with Charles Nordhoff) (1942)
  • Lost Island (1944)
  • The High Barbaree (with Charles Nordhoff) (1945)
  • A Word for His Sponsor: A Narrative Poem (1949)
  • The Far Lands (1950)
  • The Forgotten One and Other True Tales of the South Seas (1952)
  • My Island Home: An Autobiography (1952)
  • "Sing: A Song of Sixpence" in 125 Years of the Atlantic, p. 303-313

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Brunner, Edward. "Writing Another Kind of Poetry": James Normal Hall as "Fern Gravel" in Oh Millersville! Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, nos. 8 & 9 (Spring & Fall 2006), pp. 44-59.
  2. Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 139. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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