The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, 1924
The magic trick:
The conversation between Whitney and Rainsford in the story’s opening scene
Connell sets up the themes of his story in the opening scene. Whitney is deferential to the sea, respectful of magic, and philosophical about the nature of man’s relationship with beast. Rainsford, on the other hand, is of the decidedly Western mindset: man knows best, science trumps myth, survival of the fittest, animals exist to be hunted by humans, etc. With both the debate established and Rainsford’s education foreshadowed, Connell proceeds to illustrate the same ideas through the rest of the story’s action. So the reader gets two vehicles for the story’s main ideas – through dialogue and through plot. And that’s quite a trick on Connell’s part.
“There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plate-glass window. We were drawing near the island then. What I felt was a – a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread.”
“Pure imagination,” said Rainsford. “One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship’s company with his fear.”
“Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that tells them when they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing – with wavelengths, just as sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil. Anyhow, I’m glad we’re getting out of this zone…”