James Norman Hall

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Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Norman Hall, pilot in the famed Lafayette Escadrille, was a prolific author of fiction and nonfiction works. His and coauthor Charles Nordhoff’s most popular genre was adventure novels, many of which were serialized in magazines. The most notable, the Bounty trilogy, provided themes for three films of the same name.{$S[A]Gravel, Fern;Hall, James Norman}

Hall was one of five children born to Arthur Wright Hall and Ella Anette Young Hall in the small community of Colfax, Iowa. After graduating from high school, Hall worked in a clothing store and began writing poetry, a passion he would pursue throughout life. In 1910 he graduated from Grinnell College and moved to Boston. Working for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, he also attended evening classes at Harvard University and continued to write.

Uncertain about a career, Hall sailed to England in May, 1914, planning to tour the countryside and seek poetic inspiration. Instead he learned on August 8 that World War I had begun. Ten days later, posing as a Canadian because the British were not accepting American volunteers, he joined the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. His unit reached France in May, 1915, and saw action in the Battle of Loos.

In November, 1915, Hall learned his father was seriously ill. Denied leave, he admitted he was an American citizen and was discharged, his commander suggesting he reenlist after visiting his family. Shortly after reaching Boston, Hall was asked by The Atlantic Monthly for a series of articles about the war. He agreed and returned to Colfax for several months. The articles later became part of his first book, Kitchener’s Mob.

Hall decided to reenlist as a stretcher bearer in the British medical corps, but Ellery Sedgwick, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, asked for three articles on the new flying corps, the Lafayette Escadrille. Although he knew little about aviation, Hall agreed and went to Paris to meet several Lafayette pilots and Dr. Edmund Gros, one of the founders of the unit. Gros suggested that Hall enlist in the aviation section of the French Foreign Legion and then become part of the Escadrille. Shortly after completing basic training and reaching the front in June, 1917, Hall’s plane was shot down. He managed to crash-land in an Allied trench. While in the hospital, he received the Croix de Guerre and began work on High Adventure, an account of the French flying corps.

Returning to the Escadrille in October, 1917, he learned that his close friend Douglas MacMonagle had recently been killed in action, and Hall vowed to avenge his death. With the entry of the United States into the war, the Lafayette Escadrille became part of the American Air Service. In this capacity, Captain Hall shot down three enemy planes, his last victory being shared with future American ace Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker.

On May 7, 1918, as Hall’s patrol engaged five German planes, the fabric split on the upper wing of Hall’s plane. Trying to reach Allied lines, he was hit by German antiaircraft fire, was captured, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner. Ironically, during his incarceration High Adventure was published without his final chapters. In 1919, after the war was over, Hall and Lieutenant Charles Nordhoff were assigned the editing of a history of the Lafayette Escadrille and the larger Lafayette Flying Corps. Their initially reluctant partnership became a friendship that lasted until Nordhoff’s death in 1947.

Hall and Nordhoff went to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, to complete the history of the Flying Corps and also contracted with Harper’s Magazine for a series of articles on the South Seas. They sailed to Tahiti in January, 1920; Faery Lands of the South Seas was published the next year. Nordhoff wed a Tahitian woman and began writing juvenile fiction, but for a time Hall seemed to have lost his muse. His outlook improved in 1925, when he married Sarah Teraivéia Winchester, daughter of a Tahitian...

(The entire section is 1,051 words.)