|"The Most Dangerous Game"|
Theatrical release poster for The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
|Publication date||January 19, 1924|
"The Most Dangerous Game", also published as "The Hounds of Zaroff", is a short story by Richard Connell, first published in Collier's on January 19, 1924. The story features a big-game hunter from New York City who falls off a yacht and swims to what seems to be an abandoned and isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is hunted by a Russian aristocrat. The story is inspired by the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were particularly fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s.
The story has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the 1932 RKO Pictures film The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks, and for a 1943 episode of the CBS Radio series Suspense, starring Orson Welles. It has been called the "most popular short story ever written in English." Upon its publication, it won the O. Henry Award.
Big-game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend, Whitney, are traveling to the Amazon rainforest for a jaguar hunt. After a discussion about how they are "the hunters" instead of "the hunted," Whitney goes to bed and Rainsford hears gunshots. He climbs onto the yacht's rail and accidentally falls overboard, swimming to Ship-Trap Island, which is notorious for shipwrecks. On the island, he finds a palatial chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant, Ivan.
Zaroff, another big-game hunter, knows of Rainsford from his published account of hunting snow leopards in Tibet. Over dinner, he explains that hunting animals has become boring for him, so he moved to Ship-Trap and set it up to trick ships into wrecking themselves on the jagged rocks that surround it. He takes the survivors captive and hunts them for sport, giving them food, clothing, a knife, and a three-hour head start, and using only a small-caliber pistol for himself. Any captives who can elude Zaroff, Ivan, and a pack of hunting dogs for three days are set free. He reveals that he has won every hunt to date. Captives are offered a choice between being hunted or turned over to Ivan, who once served as official knouter for The Great White Czar. Rainsford denounces the hunt as barbarism, but Zaroff replies by claiming that "life is for the strong." Realizing he has no way out, Rainsford reluctantly agrees to be hunted.
During his head start, Rainsford lays an intricate trail in the forest and then climbs a tree. Zaroff finds him easily, but decides to play with him like a cat would a mouse, standing underneath the tree Rainsford is hiding in, smoking a cigarette, and then abruptly departing. After the failed attempt at eluding Zaroff, Rainsford builds a Malay man-catcher, a weighted log attached to a trigger. This contraption injures Zaroff's shoulder, causing him to return home for the night, but he shouts his respect for the trap before departing. The next day Rainsford creates a Burmese tiger pit, which kills one of Zaroff's hounds. He sacrifices his knife and ties it to a sapling to make another trap, which kills Ivan when he stumbles into it. To escape Zaroff and his approaching hounds, Rainsford dives off a cliff into the sea; Zaroff, disappointed at Rainsford's apparent suicide, returns home. Zaroff smokes a pipe by his fireplace, but two issues keep him from peace of mind: the difficulty of replacing Ivan, and the uncertainty of whether Rainsford perished in his dive.
Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights, only to find Rainsford waiting for him; he had swum around the island in order to sneak into the chateau without the dogs finding him. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the "game," but Rainsford decides to fight him, saying he is still a beast-at-bay and that the original hunt is not over. Accepting the challenge, Zaroff says that the loser will be fed to the dogs, while the winner will sleep in his bed. Then the story abruptly concludes later that night by stating that Rainsford enjoyed the comfort of Zaroff's bed, implying that he won the duel.
Robert Hansen, a serial killer who was active in the early 1980s, would kidnap women and release them in Alaska's Knik River Valley. He would then hunt them, armed with a knife and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle. The 2013 American crime drama film The Frozen Ground starring John Cusack and Nicolas Cage is based on this case. Hansen was arrested and imprisoned for life where he died of an undisclosed illness.
In 1976, Hayes Noel, Bob Gurnsey, and Charles Gaines discussed Gaines's recent trip to Africa and his experiences hunting African buffalo. Inspired in part by "The Most Dangerous Game", they created paintball in 1981—a game where they would stalk and hunt each other—to recreate the same adrenaline rush from hunting animals.
There is a reference to "The Most Dangerous Game" in letters the Zodiac Killer wrote to San Francisco Bay Area newspapers in his three-part cipher: "Man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill." The Most Dangerous Game film is also mentioned a number of times in the context of the Zodiac Killer in the 2007 film, Zodiac.
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- Senn, Bryan (2013). The Most Dangerous Cinema: People Hunting People on Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. ISBN 9781476613574.
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