Literature / The Bounty Trilogy
aka: Mutiny On The Bounty

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Bon voyage!

The Bounty Trilogy is the collective name given to three novels by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, recounting The Mutiny aboard HMS Bounty in 1789 and its aftermath. The crew of HMS Bounty, led by master's mate (third in command) Fletcher Christian, mutinied on the return leg of a voyage to Tahiti. Captain William Bligh and his loyal crewmen, set adrift in a dinghy, are left with no alternative than to try and make it through three thousand miles of open ocean to the Dutch colony of Timor. The mutineers, for their part, make a home on uninhabited Pitcairn Island—but things go badly.

The series consists of three novels:

  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1932) — events up to and including the mutiny, and later the trial of the Bounty sailors arrested on Tahiti
  • Men Against the Sea (1933) — the voyage of William Bligh and his loyalists over 3000 miles of ocean in an open boat, after the mutiny
  • Pitcairn's Island (1934) — the arrival of the mutineers at Pitcairn Island, and their violent aftermath

The three books were published together in 1936 as The Bounty Trilogy.

The first novel was twice adapted to film. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton as Christian and Bligh, won an Academy Award for Best Picture. The 1962 remake, a looser adaptation starring Marlon Brando as Christian, bombed at the box office.


Tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Byam says of Coleman that "Of all the married members of the Bounty's company, he was, I suspect, the only man who had remained faithful to his wife during our sojourn to Tahiti."
  • Big Ol' Unibrow: Parkin, the excessively cruel officer aboard the Pandora who persecuted Byam and his fellow sailors arrested on Tahiti. He has "eyebrows that met in an irregular line over his nose."
  • Boring Return Journey: From Mutiny on the Bounty: "I shall give only a brief account of our experiences from the morning of our arrival at Coupang until the day when we sighted the cliffs of Old England."
  • Courtroom Episode: The court-martial of the sailors captured on Tahiti is virtually always Adapted Out of films either taken from these books or adapted straight from history, but it forms a huge chunk of the Mutiny on the Bounty novel, as Byam tries to avoid being hanged.
  • Cunning Linguist: Roger's main job on the voyage. He, having a gift for languages, is charged with compiling a Tahitian dictionary.
  • Death by Despair: On his return to England Byam finds out his mother has died. He's told that her health began to fail right after she received the letter from Bligh naming her son as a mutineer.
  • Direct Line to the Author:
    • Mutiny on the Bounty is framed as Roger Byam's memoir.
    • Men Against the Sea is the journal that Thomas Ledward writes while recuperating in Timor.
  • Distant Finale: Mutiny on the Bounty with a 15-year Time Skip before Roger Byam sails to Tahiti for one last melancholy visit.
  • The Drunken Sailor: The surgeon aboard the Bounty is a rather extreme example of this; in his first scene he waves around a liquor bottle and proclaims that alcohol is the best medicine. He dies from eating a spoiled fish, before the mutiny.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Inverted. Parkin the sadistic officer has "a high, soft voice, almost feminine."
  • Expy: The first novel features as narrator one Roger Byam, who is a fictional character. The preface to the revised edition states plainly that Byam is based on Peter Haywood, a young midshipman aboard HMS Bounty. The Real Life Haywood was convicted of mutiny and sentenced to death, only to be pardoned and go on to have a long and successful career in the Royal Navy.
  • A Father to His Men: Christian suggests to Bligh in Chapter IV of Mutiny on the Bounty that "Burkitt's nature is one to tame with kindness, rather than blows." Bligh scornfully rejects this idea.
  • Flashback: Pretty much the whole of the first book, as Mutiny on the Bounty is framed as an elderly Roger Byam putting pen to paper and telling the story of the mutiny.
  • Going Native: The sailors of the Bounty take Tahitian mistresses, start speaking the Tahitian language, and get Tahitian tattoos. The ones who go native the most are the ones who mutiny.
  • Greedy Jew:
    • "...sharp-faced Jews, in their wherries, hovered alongside, eager to lend money at interest against pay day, or to sell on credit the worthless trinkets on their trays."
    • Samuel, Bligh's obnoxious clerk who conspires with him to embezzle from the ship's stores, is described as "a London Jew".
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: One of the refugees from the wreck of the Pandora is whacked over the head with a bottle when he tries to grab another sailor's fresh water ration. He suffers no lasting ill effects.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Testimony is contradictory but it seems probable that the real Peter Haywood was a participant in the mutiny—he was seen wielding a cutlass. The fictional Roger Byam, on the other hand, is definitely innocent.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: These books, and the 1935 movie that was made from them, did a lot to establish the idea of William Bligh as an ogreish tyrant, when in Real Life he was no different from most other Royal Navy captains. In Mutiny on the Bounty he is depicted as embezzling from ship's provisions, something that did not happen in real life.
  • Info Dump: A long slab of dialogue from William Bligh's mouth in the opening chapter explains the whole point of the voyage, namely, harvesting breadfruit trees from Hawaii to use as a food source for Britain's Caribbean slaves.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: The maidens of Tahiti think nothing of going around topless. See National Geographic Nudity below.
    "Phidias himself could have produced in cold marble nothing one half so lovely as her young breasts, bared in all innocence."
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: One of the themes is that Bligh's philosophy of ruling his men through terror is what led to his undoing.
  • The Mutiny: Hard to tell this story without one.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Roger Byam, a teenaged boy who knows nothing about sailing before being recruited to serve as a midshipman (junior officer) aboard the Bounty.
  • National Geographic Nudity: "No women in the world are more modest than the ladies of Tahiti, but they bare their breasts as innocently as an Englishwoman shows her face." Christian and Byam are bowled over when their girlfriends take their tops off to go fishing.
  • Never Found the Body: Byam's defense in court is greatly impaired by the fact that Tinker, who was witness to the innocuous nature of Byam's last talk with Christian, was lost in a shipwreck. Byam is convicted by court-martial and is awaiting execution when Tinker turns up alive in London. Byam is pardoned.
  • Old Retainer: Thacker, the old maid (literally and figuratively) who has served the Byam family for decades. She's Roger's only companion in his old age, but as he ruefully notes on the first page, she won't countenance any familiarity in the master-servant relationship.
  • Seadog Peg Leg: Huggan, the ship's surgeon, has a peg leg. He lost his leg when his ship engaged in combat with John Paul Jones during The American Revolution.
  • Sea Stories: Do you really need context here?
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Men Against the Sea spares the ship's surgeon, Thomas Ledward, by allowing him to serve as narrator of the open boat voyage to Coupang and onwards to England. In reality, the man never made it back to England, having been lost in a shipwreck after departing Coupang.
  • Stealing from the Till: The first incident to start turning the men against Bligh comes when they find out he is stealing from the ship's provisions.
  • A Taste of the Lash: In Chapter II of Mutiny on the Bounty, a sailor dies while being flogged for striking an officer, and then his corpse takes two dozen more lashes to fulfill the sentence. This scene establishes the savagery of 18th century Royal Navy discipline.
  • Too Important to Walk: Tehani's uncle, Vehiatua, is carried piggyback everywhere he goes, as are a few other great chiefs. The reason is that if they set foot on a commoner's land, that land instantly belongs to them.
  • Translation by Volume: How Alexander Smith communicated with the Tahitians.
    "Smith, nevertheless, was of the opinion that if English were spoken slowly and in a loud voice, it must be a stupid foreigner indeed who could fail to understand."
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Sails, rigging, sextants, all that good stuff.
  • You No Take Candle: Hitihiti, a Tahitian chief, says stuff like "Fourteen year now, me sail Captain Cook!" Roger is bowled over at meeting a Tahitian that speaks any English at all.

Alternative Title(s): Mutiny On The Bounty

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