The Most Dangerous Game

Richard Connell

The Most Dangerous Game,’ also published as “The Hounds of Zaroff”, is a short story by Richard Connell. It was published in ‘Collier’s Weekly’ in 1924. Widely anthologized, and the author’s best-known work, it features as its main character a big-game hunter from New York, who falls off a yacht and swims to an isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is hunted by a Cossack aristocrat. The story is an inversion of the big-game hunting safaris in Africa and South America that were fashionable among wealthy Americans in the 1920s.

The story has been adapted for film numerous times. The most significant of these adaptations (and the only one to use the original characters) was RKO’s ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ released in 1932, having been shot (mostly at night) on sets used during the day for the ‘Skull Island’ sequences of ‘King Kong.’ The film added two other principal characters: brother and sister pair Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong). (Wray and Armstrong were also filming King Kong on the same sets during the day.)

Sanger Rainsford and his companion Whitney are traveling to the Rio to hunt the fabled big cat of that region, the jaguar. After a discussion about how they are the hunters instead of the hunted, Rainsford hears gun shots, drops his pipe, and falls off of their boat and into the Caribbean Sea while trying to retrieve it. After he realizes he cannot swim back to the boat, he swims to the nearby Ship-Trap Island, which was notorious for shipwrecks. He finds a palatial chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant Ivan. The General, another big-game hunter, has heard of Rainsford from the book Rainsford wrote about hunting snow leopards in Tibet. After inviting him to dinner, General Zaroff tells Rainsford of how he became bored with hunting because it no longer challenged him. Thus, Zaroff says, he decided to live on an island where he could capture shipwrecked sailors to send them into the jungle supplied with food, a knife, and hunting clothes to be his quarry. After a three-hour head start, he would follow them to hunt and kill them. If a captive eluded him, Ivan, and a pack of hunting dogs for three days, he would let the man go, but no one had eluded him that long thus far. Zaroff invites Rainsford to join him in his hunt but Rainsford, appalled, refuses. Zaroff then tells Rainsford that he can choose whether he will be the next person to be hunted, or be whipped to death by Ivan. Rainsford chooses the former.

Rainsford lays an intricate trail in the forest and climbs a tree. Zaroff finds him easily, but decides to play with him like a cat would a mouse. After the failed attempt at eluding the General, Rainsford builds a ‘Malay man catcher,’ a weighted log attached to a trip wire, which injures Zaroff’s shoulder, causing him to return home for the night. Next he sets a Burmese tiger pit, which kills one of Zaroff’s hounds. Finally, he sets a native Ugandan knife trap, which impales and kills Ivan. To escape the General and his approaching hounds, Rainsford dives off a cliff. Zaroff assumes Rainsford has died in the fall and returns home. Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights, revealing Rainsford, who had hidden by the bed curtains after having swum around the island. Zaroff congratulates him on winning the ‘game’ but Rainsford decides to fight him, calling himself ‘a beast at bay.’ The General accepts the challenge, saying that the loser will be fed to the dogs and the winner will sleep in his bed. Though the ensuing fight is not described, the story ends with Rainsford observing that ‘he had never slept in a better bed.’

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