Literature / The Most Dangerous Game

This page is about the short story. If a link for "humans hunting humans" brought you here, please change it to Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.

"The Most Dangerous Game" (also known as "The Hounds of Zaroff") is a 1924 short story by Richard Connell.

Rainsford, a hunter of big game from New York, finds himself shipwrecked on an island. He finds a big mansion with a bored old general there, who describes his one true passion: hunting. The general tells Rainsford that he only hunts the most dangerous game of all... humans. The full story can be found here.The title has a double meaning, referring both to a "game" or contest between the general and his quarry, as well as "game" in the sense of an animal that is hunted.

The story has been directly adapted for film at least eight times, though only twice under its original title: in 1932, with Joel McCrea as Rainsford and Leslie Banks as Zaroff, and in 2008, with Brian Spangler-Campbell and Mark Motyl, respectively. However, it has been imitated by a vastly greater number of works, and is the source and Trope Namer of the Hunting the Most Dangerous Game plot.

This story provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Rainsford. In the film, Eve.
  • Affably Evil: More so in the movie than in the book, Zaroff is quite ruthless, but he can be very charming and polite when he's not hunting human beings. In both cases he quickly slides to Faux Affably Evil.
  • Badass: The main character. Not only manages to survive three days in the woods, but also kills two of Zaroff's best hounds and his bodyguard, followed by Zaroff himself. Zaroff himself also counts.
  • Blood Knight: Zaroff.
  • Cossacks: Ivan and Zaroff, see Husky Russkie below.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Rainsford hides himself this way at the very end.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Zaroff is ten steps ahead of Rainsford. Only being outwitted at the very end.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Zaroff keeps the heads of his victims as hunting trophies.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Ship-Trap Island.
  • Double Entendre: The title. One meaning is that the actual sport of hunting is the most dangerous game to play, but the other meaning is that humans are the most dangerous game to hunt. (And therefore the most challenging according to the hunter's logic.)
  • The Dragon: A minor example in Ivan.
  • Duel to the Death: Rainsford and Zaroff square off at the end of the story; the winner gets to sleep in Zaroff's opulent bed, while the loser's body will be fed to the hounds. It's pretty clear that Rainsford wins.
    He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Connsdering everything that happened to him, Rainsford gladly deserves his victory.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: General Zaroff.
  • Evil Counterpart: Zaroff is what Rainford would be if he had a lot more money and a lot less scruples.
  • Face–Heel Turn: One interpretation of the ending.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Zaroff casually converses with Rainsford about hunting and killing others.
  • A Glass of Chianti
  • Great White Hunter: Rainsford.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: Trope Namer.
  • The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
  • Husky Russkie: Ivan; also, Zaroff.
    "Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow... A simple fellow, but, I'm afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage."
    "Is he Russian?"
    "He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth. "So am I."
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Ship-Trap Island.
  • In Harm's Way
  • Irony/Laser-Guided Karma: A big game hunter who dismisses his friend for empathizing with those they hunt (as he figures "who cares how the animal feels?" and "hunters have the right to do whatever they want to the hunted") gets trapped on an island with another big game hunter who has decided to hunt him. Rainsfield manages to win his life, though whether he learned from his experience is left open.
  • It Amused Me: General Zaroff doesn't hunt people that he hates; he does it for fun.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: General Zaroff.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: The reason Zaroff got bored with regular game, and why he finds Ivan so useful.
  • No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: The whole purpose of both the story as well as the trope in general. The villain is a big-game hunter who got bored with dumb animals and started hunting humans who could present more of a challenge. Then he finds another almost equally-bored big-game hunter who would be even more of a challenge than random sailors who don't know how to really fight back.
  • Not So Different: As Zaroff himself notes when they first meet, Zaroff and Rainsford are both Egomaniac Great White Hunters from refined backgrounds (at least more than common sailors) who are so skilled they find it difficult to find a challenge. The main difference is Rainsford draws the line at hunting and killing people, while Zaroff does not.
  • One Name Only: Whitney and Zaroff have no first names, Ivan has no last name.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The climactic battle between Rainsford and Zaroff. Considering the general badassery of both characters, it can be assumed that it was quite a fight.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Zaroff. He's a Cossack, so Truth in Television.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Zaroff, essentially with his whole "I always get what I want" mentality.
  • Rule of Three: Rainsford makes three traps for Zaroff. The first time Rainsford makes a Malaccan man-catcher, which almost kills Zaroff, but the man dodges just in time. The second trap is a tiger pit with sharpened stakes, which succeeds in killing Zaroff's best hunting dog. The third trap is a Ugandan knife trap, which takes out Ivan.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: As soon as the game begins Rainsford sets out on making the most confounding false trail he can, then covering up his real path. Zaroff finds him anyway.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Rainsford's friend Witney and himself. While a fellow big game hunter, Witney at least acknowledges how much it would suck to be the hunted. Rainsford admonishes Witney for being "soft."
  • Social Darwinist: General Zaroff.
    "I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life... Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships—lascars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them."
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Or rather "classes," regardless of species: the hunter and the huntee. Both Rainsford and Zaroff start off with this philosophy, but while Rainsford means humans are the hunters and animals are the huntees, Zaroff includes humans in the latter category.
  • The Speechless: Ivan.
  • The Straight and Arrow Path: Zaroff uses a bow when the hunt begins and in the climax.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: If the hunt has gone for three days with the huntee still outsmarting Zaroff, the general will release his hunting dogs.
  • Tastes Like Friendship
  • Teach Him Anger: Rainsford is far from helpless; but when he gets pushed to the limit, he gets mad.
  • Tsarist Russia: "Ivan once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar..."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Rainsford begins the story thinking the animals he hunts have no feelings, and if they do, who cares how they feel? They're just animals. Then he meets a Social Darwinist Egomaniac Hunter who measures humans and animals equally...
  • War Is Glorious: According to General Zaroff.
  • We Can Rule Together: Zaroff wants Rainsford to hunt with him, and only decides to make him the game after Rainsford refuses.
  • Wicked Cultured: General Zaroff. Emphasized in the film.
  • You're Insane!

Tropes particular to the 1932 film: