“Off there to the right–somewhere–is a large island…it’s rather a mystery.”
Before there was The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, there was The Most Dangerous Game penned by Richard Connell in 1924. This story is one of the original classics in the genre of man vs. man/the tables have been turned on this safari.
I am a fan of “Mysterious Islands” in literature and the confines of the place can be a worthwhile conceit for a story. The story begins with Sanger Rainsford, a young and successful big game hunter, off to hunt Jaguar in Brazil with his mate Whitney.
“Don’t talk rot, Whitney, said Rainsford. “You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?”
“Perhaps the jaguar does,” observed Whitney.
With this dialogue right off the bat, Connell is explicitly preparing the reader for a turn of events. With the story first beginning from the perspective of the hunters, Connell is also planting the idea of focusing on the prey.
As the two are sailing to South America, Rainsford falls overboard and swims to the shore of a Caribbean island called Ship Trap Island, which already has a reputation of a high number of shipwrecks nearby. Once he is on dry land, Rainsford makes his way to the chateau inhabited by two Cossacks–Ivan and General Zaroff, the latter being the owner. Over dinner, Rainsford soon finds out that General Zaroff is an avid hunter and has even heard of the famous Rainsford. As their conversation proceeds, however, Rainsford comes to find that the often-bored General Zaroff stocks his estate not with the most obvious big game choices. In fact, he stocks the island with the most dangerous game.
“But they are men,” said Rainsford hotly.
“Precisely,” said the general. “That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous.”
The General, at first, invites Rainsford to join him on a hunt, but after turning him down, Rainsford has found himself as the target for the next hunt. The most gripping part of the story is when Rainsford is out on the island. The General has given him a window of three days and a head start to out outmaneuver him. Rainsford must utilize all of his survival and trapping knowledge that he has acquired from his past hunts. “It was then that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror” and the reader feels the anxiety too.
At the beginning of the story, Rainsford is clearly set in his black and white perception of the hunt, both his pursuit of jaguars and other exotic animals as well as General Zaroff’s hunt. Rainsford is pulled back and forth between his own desire to stay alive and his idea of murder.
“The Most Dangerous Game” is available for free in the public domain. It has also been adapted for the screen several times, with the most well-known being the 1932 film, which is available to watch in its entirety on YouTube.