As a teen I really got into reading the classics. One of the short stories I fell in love with was The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell ©1924.
There are a lot of reasons why this has become my favorite story. In fact, I’d say it must be a favorite of a lot of people the way it’s been used in television shows (Reality TV), movies (Savages (1975), The Naked Prey (1966), Surviving the Game (1994)) and books (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins).
One of the things I like about it is the way the main character, Rainsford, changes from the know-it-all hunter insisting that Jaguars have no feeling beyond instinct to the hunted and knowing what it feels like. The character of General Zaroff is interesting in his lack of humanity. He sees hunting men as sport born out of boredom in his life. He even goes so far as to purposely crash ships in order to obtain ‘game’ to hunt and classifies people as worthy or not. He seems to have developed a god complex, although there is some question by Connell about his being purely evil.
The story is incredibly well-written with some of the best descriptions I’ve read. …”trying to peer through the dank, tropical night, it was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht”; or …”a screen of leaves as thick as a tapestry”; …”black cigarette; its pungent incense-like smoke”; …”He lived a year in a minute”; the best is …”an apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not visit Rainsford although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle.”
The story is timeless. Although Connell references many things appropriate to his time-period, such as “mid-Victorian” attitude, Madame Butterfly, Folies Bergere, the over-all theme of man’s inhumanity to man is timeless. For many years this story has been studied by 14-15 year-olds in school literature classes.
I love the way Connell chose to end the story. He didn’t describe the final battle, he didn’t even show Rainsford killing General Zaroff or tossing him from the window. All he did was suggest that “one of us will feed the dogs and sleep in this fine bed” then the final sentence stated: “He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.” Classy.