There is an interesting thing about school in that there are some teachers who will do anything they can to get you to read. They surmise that if the stories were shorter they might hold your interest. Also it makes them easier to teach because you only have to spend 1 or 2 class sessions on them. Thus begins every person’s quick flirtation with something known as “short stories.” They are called this because they are short. Why long stories are called “novels” and not “long stories” is the real question. “Long Stories” would actually be the more fitting term when you think about it. This is because a lot of times there is nothing technically new or original about “novels.” If you are not interested because the stories are now shorter, the next thing they try is assigning you sensationalist stories about ghosts or murder. This is how I came to be acquainted with The Most Dangerous Game.
Actually it is a relatively long short story, but not quite on the level of a novella, which is longer than a short story but shorter than a long story. Keeping this straight? The game in the title refers not to a game that you play but the game that you hunt as in big game hunter or game preserve. Game here means “animal.” In high school, you see, it seemed like a great twist when you found out what the most dangerous game of the title actually was. Though this is probably because the other thing teachers like to assign in high school is meaningful literature and so you almost expect to have sympathy for the hunter or the hunted or both. Here you have little sympathy for either and you can probably guess just exactly what the Most Dangerous Game of the title is without me having to say it.
Fortunately for you the writer, Richard Connel, must’ve known that his audience would be able to see the twist coming because he writes the story in such a way that it is exciting even if you guess the twist. His prose is almost a little bit too adventure-y especially when he speaks of the “blood-warm waters of the Caribbean sea.“ He also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for a while so it should come as no surprise that the characters are named things like “Sanger Rainsford,” and his nemesis “General Zaroff.”
These touches are only slightly off-putting, the real thrill is the chase through the forest. Sanger Rainsford the celebrated hunter is now the prey of Zaroff and he uses such things as Mandalay Man Traps to avoid his pursuer. General Zaroff is described as a Cossack, which in the 1930s probably meant something, but these days, is a little hard to describe. Basically they were Russian mercenaries. He has captured lost sailors on his island and is training them so that he can chase them later. The story cuts around a bit, a lot like a Hollywood screenplay, but in the end it turns out that the teachers were right. The Most Dangerous Game succeeds precisely because it happens to be short and not because it happens to be particularly dangerous.
Read the story for yourself here.
Next up … #82!