Tuesday, December 06, 2005


In any collection of the great literary essays in any language, James Norman Hall's piece on his friend, Robert Dean Frisbie (1896-1948), should be included (along with, for example, a Mailer and a Baldwin and William Hazlitt's THE FIGHT).

Hall's essay "Frisbie of Danger Island" in THE FORGOTTEN ONE, the last of Hall's books, subtitled "and other true tales of the South Seas", now republished by Mutual of Hawaii in paperback, includes letters from Frisbie, author of THE BOOK OF PUKA PUKA, in addition to novels including the Mr. Moonlight Trilogy and voluminous short tales and sketches. Ropati, as he is still called in the south seas today, was equally as authentic an American writer as Louis Becke (the Melville of Australia, Becke is sometimes called) was an Australian one. That is, they lived the life and wrote without sham. Becke's wonderful biography of Bully Hayes is exemplary. Since Frisbie's death, only the very early short stories of Michener (who was, not encouraged, but told, to be a writer of fiction, by Frisbie, when their paths crossed in the Pacific at the close of World War II) and perhaps the privately published vignettes of Tahitian life by Paco Taylor, so well disclose in English, the vivid fragrances of Polynesia, still.

One of Ropati's daughters, Johnny Frisbie, became a writer herself: THE FRISBIES OF THE SOUTH SEAS, and MISS ULYSEES OF PUKA PUKA are her two books to date that I know of.

James Norman Hall's writing partnership with Charles Nordhoff was the most successful both from a standpoint of the quality of the work, and also commercial success, of any literary partnership in history. They co-authored a dozen books, the most famous of which are the three which comprise The Bounty Trilogy. As a passing note here, I must say that the best non-fiction account of the mutiny is still Bengt Danielsson's WHAT HAPPENED ON THE BOUNTY, and not the quite recent and highly praised book by Caroline Alexander, THE BOUNTY.

Hall himself was, they say, the most respected and loved American to have made his home in Tahiti, and his house and its grounds, near Arue, a suburb of Papeete, are now open to the public.


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