The Most Dangerous Game

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"The Most Dangerous Game"
Short story by Richard Connell
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Adventure fiction
Published inCollier's
Publication typePeriodical
Publication dateJanuary 19, 1924

"The Most Dangerous Game", also published as "The Hounds of Zaroff", is a short story by Richard Connell,[1] first published in Collier's on January 19, 1924, with illustrations by Wilmot Emerton Heitland.[2][3] The story features a big-game hunter from New York City who falls from 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.[4] 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.[5]

The story has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the 1932 RKO Pictures film The Most Dangerous Game, starring Joel McCrea, Leslie Banks and Fay Wray,[6] and for a 1943 episode of the CBS Radio series Suspense, starring Orson Welles.[7] It has been called the "most popular short story ever written in English."[8] Upon its publication, it won the O. Henry Award.[4]

"The Most Dangerous Game" is one of many works that entered the public domain in the United States in 2020.[9]


Big-game hunter Sanger Rainsford and his friend Whitney are traveling by ship to the Amazon rainforest for a jaguar hunt. After a discussion about the nearby Ship-Trap Island, which has an evil reputation among sailors, Whitney goes to bed while Rainsford stays on deck to smoke his pipe. Hearing gunshots in the distance, he rushes to the rail for a better look and accidentally falls overboard. Rainsford swims to Ship-Trap and finds an opulent chateau inhabited by two Cossacks: the owner, General Zaroff, and his gigantic deaf-mute servant, Ivan.[10]

Zaroff, another big-game hunter, knows of Rainsford from his published account of hunting snow leopards in Tibet. Over dinner, he explains that although he has been hunting animals since he was a boy, he has decided that killing big game has become boring for him. After escaping the Russian Revolution, he purchased Ship-Trap, built a home for himself, and rigged the island with lights to lure passing ships into 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; to date, though, Zaroff has never lost a hunt. 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." Zaroff is enthused to have another world-class hunter as a companion and, at lunch the next day, offers to take Rainsford along with him on his next hunt. When Rainsford staunchly refuses and demands to leave the island, Zaroff decides to hunt him instead. Rainsford reluctantly accepts the challenge and receives his equipment from Ivan.

During his head start, Rainsford lays an intricate trail in the forest and then climbs a tree. Zaroff finds him easily, but decides to toy with him, standing under the tree and smoking a cigarette before abruptly departing. After the failed attempt at eluding Zaroff, Rainsford builds a deadfall trap consisting of a dead tree balanced against a living one. The trap injures Zaroff's shoulder, forcing him to return home for treatment, but he calls out his respect for Rainsford's ingenuity as he leaves. Rainsford next digs a trapping pit and plants sharpened stakes at its bottom; one of Zaroff's dogs falls in and is killed. The next morning, he sacrifices his knife to build a trap that kills Ivan when he stumbles into it, then dives off a cliff and into the sea in order to escape Zaroff and his approaching dogs. Disappointed at Rainsford's apparent suicide, Zaroff returns home and settles in for the night. His relaxation is disturbed by two thoughts: the difficulty of replacing Ivan and the fact that Rainsford has escaped him.

Zaroff locks himself in his bedroom and turns on the lights, only to find Rainsford waiting for him, having swum around the island to evade the dogs and sneak into the chateau. Zaroff offers congratulations for defeating him, but Rainsford prepares to fight him, saying that the hunt is not yet over. A delighted Zaroff responds that the loser will be fed to his dogs, while the winner will sleep in his bed. The story abruptly concludes later that night by stating that Rainsford enjoyed the comfort of the bed, implying that he killed Zaroff in the fight.

Real-life parallels[edit]

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 Gaines's memories and in part by "The Most Dangerous Game", they created paintball in 1981.[11]

There is a possible reference to "The Most Dangerous Game" in letters that the Zodiac Killer wrote to newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area in his three-part cipher: "Man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill", though he may have come up with the idea independently.[12] The 1932 film version of The Most Dangerous Game is mentioned a number of times in the 2007 film, Zodiac, a fictionalized depiction of the Zodiac Killer.[13]

Clive Cussler wrote a book entitled Dragon in which he mentions Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" and actually has a few long chapters where his Japanese manhunter emulates the story. It takes place on a small isolated island and is strongly reminiscent of the Connell story.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dixon, Wheeler Winston (August 24, 2010). A History of Horror. Rutgers University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9780813550398.
  2. ^ The illustrator, Wilmot Emerton Heitland, is given in the January 19, 1924 issue of Collier's magazine.
  3. ^ Ashley, Michael; Ashley, Mike; Contento, William (1995). The Supernatural Index: A Listing of Fantasy, Supernatural, Occult, Weird, and Horror Anthologies. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 179. ISBN 9780313240300.
  4. ^ a b Thompson T.W (2018). "A tale of two centuries: Richard connells "The most dangerous game"". Midwest Q. Midwest Quarterly. 59 (3): 318–330. ISSN 0026-3451. OCLC 7665713791.
  5. ^ Connell, Richard (2017). "The Most Dangerous Game" (PDF). Stories for Men. pp. 88–107. doi:10.4324/9781315130279-7. ISBN 9781315130279. S2CID 36073866. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 27, 2019.
  6. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (November 21, 1932). "Leslie Banks in a Fantastic Tale of a Mad Russian Hunter -- Ann Hoarding's New Film". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  7. ^ DeForest, Tim (February 10, 2017). Radio by the Book: Adaptations of Literature and Fiction on the Airwaves. McFarland. p. 225. ISBN 9781476607597.
  8. ^ Thompson, Terry W. (Spring 2018). "A Tale of Two Centuries: Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game"". The Midwest Quarterly: 318. ProQuest 2036212072.
  9. ^ "Public Domain Day 2020". Duke University School of Law. Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  10. ^ Rovin, Jeff (1987). The Encyclopedia of Supervillains. New York: Facts on File. p. 140. ISBN 0-8160-1356-X.
  11. ^ Davidson, Steve, et al. The Complete Guide to Paintball, 4–12. Hatherleigh Press, New York. 1999
  12. ^ Graysmith, Robert. (2007). Zodiac. New York, NY: Berkley Books. pp. 54–55. ISBN 9780425212189. OCLC 77495268.
  13. ^ Graysmith, Robert (2002). Zodiac Unmasked. New York: Berkeley Books. pp. 6, 40, 246–250, 273, 451. ISBN 978-0-425-21273-8.

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