‘FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS’ BY JAMES NORMAN HALL, CHARLES BERNARD NORDHOFF

‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’ is a travelogue written by James Norman Hall and Charles Bernard Nordhoff. It recounts their various adventures in the Blue Continent, mainly in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands. This is the second book the two men co-authored.

FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS

Summary

Fascinated by the islands of the South Pacific, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff decide to set out on a journey that would fulfil their dream of an escape.

After making a landfall in Tahiti, the two friends choose to take different routes. However, before going their separate ways, they arrange for a rendezvous at a distant date.

As they travel from shore to shore, Hall and Nordhoff encounter the most charming and intriguing individuals, who warmly welcome the unexpected guests into their little worlds. The visitors are given a rare chance to observe local communities and get to know their customs, traditions, and beliefs. Leisurely wandering through the lush paradise, they spend their time listening to amazing tales, legends, and stories of the past. They also learn quite a bit about the islands’ half-caste population – people that belong ‘neither here, nor there’.

Review

This travelogue is a classic of the South Seas genre. It’s written in a style reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, so you may imagine that it not only entertains and delights but also educates. The book is a fantastic history lesson. Like a time machine, it takes you to the beating heart of colonial Polynesia, where you get a guided tour of some of the most fascinating places on Earth. It sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what it is.

As this title is a collaboration between two authors, the stories vary widely. James Norman Hall focuses mainly on society; his accounts are filled with perceptive depictions of people’s daily activities, habits, and practices. He is the one that shows readers the now-famous ‘Pasifika way of life’. His careful and extremely detailed observations provide startling insights into the islands’ culture of the early 1900s, letting you understand this unique corner of the globe slightly better. Especially valuable are the notes he took during his unplanned stay on Rutiaro – the lonely atoll ‘as little known to the world at large as it has always been’.

Charles Nordhoff, on the other hand, is a storyteller. With a thousand words, he paints a vivid picture of the colourful lands, golden shores with swaying palm trees, azure lagoons sparkling in the dusk. His poetic imagery, which appeals to all the senses, allows you to experience everything he describes – from a voyage aboard an old schooner to a friendly gathering on the beach. It’s quite impossible not to be moved by Nordhoff’s writings – each and every tale exudes great charm and yet is still solidly anchored in reality.

Two authors usually mean two different styles. You would think this couldn’t result in a good book. Well, Hall and Nordhoff’s marriage was a perfect one – an ideal combination of talent, vision, and skills. This can certainly be seen in ‘Faery Lands of the South Seas’. The travelogue is characterized by coherent, smoothly flowing narration that is a pleasure to read. It might not be the most acclaimed work of the two friends, nevertheless it deserves to be considered a masterpiece – an artfully written, unraveling, and thoroughly enjoyable. And as such it should never be forgotten.

I could not recommend this title more. It engages both the mind and the spirit. It won’t appeal to everybody, but if you are a Pasifika aficionado, give it a try. It is one of the best of its kind.

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