The Most Dangerous Game
by Richard Connell
Adventure and Gothic Fiction
This one’s pretty cut and dry. “The Most Dangerous Game” falls clearly into the adventure story genre, which is probably why it has been adapted into or inspired so many films in the oh-so-many years since it was written.
In typical adventure fashion, the story’s success relies heavily on plot and action. And since we have two opposed characters—predator and prey—we have the whole “good guy” “bad guy” piece worked out. (Well, sort of. Don’t always assume those oppositions are so neat and opposite.) When you have men chasing each other through jungles and a fight for survival involving strategies, mancatchers, and a Death Swamp, you are looking at an adventure story.
But the whole madman-on-the-island thing makes it more than just an adventure. This short story also has many of the telltale signs of gothic fiction: bloodcurdling screams in the night, backlit castles set high on a cliff, creaky gates, gargoyles, men in basements, and sinister aristocrats. This is truly a laundry list for the gothic supermarket. It’s right out of central casting from an 18th-century gothic novel. Even before he meets the evil General, Rainsford is swimming in the “blood-warm waters of the Caribbean sea.” (Note to self: rent The Shining).
In typical gothic fashion, the creepy setting reflects the dark psyche of the characters; in this case, the well-read, fine-dining sadist Zaroff. Though we do not have a damsel in distress—a much-loved figure of the gothic genre—we do have the twisted relations between Rainsford and Zaroff, who go from sipping champagne together to facing mortal combat in a chase involving traps, mind games, and murderous revenge.