Cover of first UK 1939 edition with original title
|Original title||Ten Little Niggers|
|Cover artist||Stephen Bellman|
|Genre||Mystery, crime, psychological thriller, horror|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|6 November 1939|
|Preceded by||Murder Is Easy|
|Followed by||Sad Cypress|
|Website||And Then There Were None|
And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by English writer Agatha Christie, described by her as the most difficult of her books to write. It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 6 November 1939, as Ten Little Niggers, after the minstrel song, which serves as a major plot point.
The US edition was released in January 1940 with the title And Then There Were None, which is taken from the last five words of the song. All successive American reprints and adaptations use that title, except for the Pocket Books paperbacks published between 1964 and 1986, which appeared under the title Ten Little Indians.
The book is the world's best-selling mystery, and with over 100 million copies sold is one of the best-selling books of all time. Publications International lists the novel as the sixth best-selling title.
On 8 August in the late 1930s, eight people arrive on a small, isolated island off the Devon coast of England. Each has an invitation tailored to his or her personal circumstances, such as an offer of employment or an unexpected late summer holiday. They are met by Thomas and Ethel Rogers, the butler and cook-housekeeper, who state that their hosts, Mr. Ulick Norman Owen and his wife Mrs. Una Nancy Owen, whom they have not yet met in person, have not arrived, but left instructions, which strikes all the guests as odd.
A framed copy of a nursery rhyme, "Ten Little Niggers" (called "Ten Little Indians" or "Ten Little Soldiers" in later editions), hangs in every guest's room, and ten figurines sit on the dining room table. After supper, a gramophone (or "phonograph") record is played; the recording accuses each visitor of having committed murder, and then asks if any of "the accused" wishes to offer a defence. Anthony Marston and Philip Lombard admit to the charges leveled against them, both instances of irresponsible endangerment resulting in death rather than murder as normally defined.
They discover that none of them actually knows the Owens, and Justice Wargrave concludes that the name "U.N. Owen" is a play on "Unknown". Marston finishes his drink and immediately dies from cyanide poisoning. Dr. Armstrong confirms that there is no cyanide in the drinks Marston was served from, indicating he committed suicide.
The next morning, Mrs. Rogers' corpse is found in her bed; she died in her sleep. The cause is unknown, but some of the guests suspect her husband of poisoning her for fear that she would confess to the crime they are charged with in the recording. By lunchtime, General MacArthur is found dead, from a heavy blow to his head. Three of the figurines are found to be broken, and again the deaths parallel the rhyme.
The guests begin to suspect that U.N. Owen is systematically murdering them. A search for Owen turns up no results. The island is a "bare rock" with no hiding places, and no one could have arrived or left; thus, they conclude that one of the seven remaining persons is the killer. Wargrave leads the group in determining that so far, none of them can definitively be ruled out as the murderer. The next morning, Rogers is found dead while chopping wood. After breakfast, Emily Brent is found dead in the kitchen, where she had been left alone after complaining of feeling unwell; she had been injected with potassium cyanide via a hypodermic needle.
Wargrave suggests searching all the rooms, and any potentially dangerous items are locked up. Lombard's gun is missing from his room. When Vera goes upstairs to take a bath, she is shocked by the touch and smell of seaweed left hanging from the ceiling of her room and screams; the remaining guests rush upstairs to her room. Wargrave, however, is still downstairs. The others find him seated, immobile and crudely dressed up in the attire of a judge. Wargrave is examined by Armstrong and pronounced dead from a gunshot to the forehead.
That night, Lombard finds his gun returned to his room. Henry Blore catches a glimpse of someone leaving the house but loses the trail. Only Armstrong is absent from his room. Vera, Blore, and Lombard decide to stay together at all times. In the morning, they signal SOS to the mainland from outside by using a mirror and sunlight, but receive no reply. Blore returns to the house for food by himself and is killed by a heavy bear-shaped clock statue that is pushed from Vera's window sill, crushing his skull. Since neither of them were near the house when the death occurred, Vera and Lombard conclude that Armstrong is the killer.
Vera and Lombard come upon Armstrong's body washed up on the beach. Each concludes the other must be the killer. Vera suggests moving the doctor's body past the shore as a gesture of respect for the dead, but this is a pretext. While they move the body, she lifts Lombard's gun. When Lombard lunges at her to get it back, she shoots him dead.
She returns to the house in a shaken dreamlike state, relieved to be alive. She finds a noose and chair arranged in her room, and a strong smell of the sea. Pressed by guilt over the crime she is accused of (causing the drowning of a boy in her charge because he held priority over her lover for his inheritance), she hangs herself in accordance with the last verse of the rhyme.
Scotland Yard officials are puzzled at who could have killed the ten. They reconstruct the deaths from Marston to Wargrave with the help of the victims' diaries and a coroner's report, and systematically determine that none of the last four victims (Armstrong, Blore, Lombard, or Claythorne) can be the killer, since there was some form of cleanup following all their deaths except Blore's (for example, the chair on which Vera stood to hang herself had been set back upright), and a suicide by falling clock seems beyond the realm of probability. Isaac Morris, a sleazy lawyer and drug trafficker, purchased the island, arranged the invitations, ordered the production of the gramophone record, and told the inhabitants of nearby Sticklehaven to ignore any signals for help, citing a bet about living on a "desert island" for a week. However, Morris died of an overdose of barbiturates on the night of 8 August.
A fishing ship picks up a bottle inside its trawling nets; the bottle contains a written confession of the killings, which is then sent to Scotland Yard. In the confession, Justice Wargrave writes that all his life he has had two contradictory impulses: a sadistic love for causing the death of others, and a strong sense of justice. For most of his life, he satisfied both desires through his profession as judge. However, the desire to commit murder with his own hands and his diagnosis with a terminal illness motivated him to orchestrate a mass murder of people who were themselves murderers by his judgment but could not be prosecuted under the law. Before departing for the island, he gave Morris barbiturates to take for his indigestion. He tricked Armstrong into helping him fake his own death under the pretext that it would help the group identify the killer. He used the gun and some elastic to ensure his true death matched the account in the guests' diaries. Although he wished to create an unsolvable mystery, he acknowledges in the missive a "pitiful human need" for recognition, hence the confession.
The following details of the characters are based on the original novel published in England.
Writing for The Times Literary Supplement of 11 November 1939, Maurice Percy Ashley stated, "If her latest story has scarcely any detection in it there is no scarcity of murders... There is a certain feeling of monotony inescapable in the regularity of the deaths which is better suited to a serialized newspaper story than a full-length novel. Yet there is an ingenious problem to solve in naming the murderer", he continued. "It will be an extremely astute reader who guesses correctly."
For The New York Times Book Review (25 February 1940), Isaac Anderson has arrived to the point where "the voice" accuses the ten "guests" of their past crimes, which have all resulted in the deaths of humans, and then said, "When you read what happens after that you will not believe it, but you will keep on reading, and as one incredible event is followed by another even more incredible you will still keep on reading. The whole thing is utterly impossible and utterly fascinating. It is the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written, and if any other writer has ever surpassed it for sheer puzzlement the name escapes our memory. We are referring, of course, to mysteries that have logical explanations, as this one has. It is a tall story, to be sure, but it could have happened."
Many compared the book to her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). For instance, an unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of 16 March 1940 said, "Others have written better mysteries than Agatha Christie, but no one can touch her for ingenious plot and surprise ending. With And Then There Were None... she is at her most ingenious and most surprising... is, indeed, considerably above the standard of her last few works and close to the Roger Ackroyd level."
Other critics laud the use of plot twists and surprise endings. Maurice Richardson wrote a rhapsodic review in The Observer issue of 5 November 1939 which began, "No wonder Agatha Christie's latest has sent her publishers into a vatic trance. We will refrain, however, from any invidious comparisons with Roger Ackroyd and be content with saying that Ten Little Niggers is one of the very best, most genuinely bewildering Christies yet written. We will also have to refrain from reviewing it thoroughly, as it is so full of shocks that even the mildest revelation would spoil some surprise from somebody, and I am sure that you would rather have your entertainment kept fresh than criticism pure." After stating the set-up of the plot, Richardson concluded, "Story telling and characterisation are right at the top of Mrs Christie's baleful form. Her plot may be highly artificial, but it is neat, brilliantly cunning, soundly constructed, and free from any of those red-herring false trails which sometimes disfigure her work."
Robert Barnard, a recent critic, concurred with the reviews, describing the book as "Suspenseful and menacing detective-story-cum-thriller. The closed setting with the succession of deaths is here taken to its logical conclusion, and the dangers of ludicrousness and sheer reader-disbelief are skillfully avoided. Probably the best-known Christie, and justifiably among the most popular."
The original title of the mystery (Ten Little Niggers) was changed because it was offensive in the United States and some other places. Alison Light, a literary critic and feminist scholar, opined that Christie's original title and the setting on "Nigger Island" (later changed to "Indian Island" and "Soldier Island", variously) were integral to the work. These aspects of the novel, she argued, "could be relied upon automatically to conjure up a thrilling 'otherness', a place where revelations about the 'dark side' of the English would be appropriate." Unlike novels such as Heart of Darkness, "Christie's location is both more domesticated and privatized, taking for granted the construction of racial fears woven into psychic life as early as the nursery. If her story suggests how easy it is to play upon such fears, it is also a reminder of how intimately tied they are to sources of pleasure and enjoyment."
In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343-44 (26 December 2014-3 January 2015), the writers picked And Then There Were None as an "EW favorite" on the list of the "Nine Great Christie Novels".
Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
|Ten Little Niggers
|Ten Little Indians|
Ten little nigger boys went out to dine
Nine little nigger boys sat up very late
Eight little nigger boys traveling in Devon
Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks
Six little nigger boys playing with a hive
Five little nigger boys going in for law
Four little nigger boys going out to sea
Three little nigger boys walking in the zoo
Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun
One little nigger boy living all alone
Ten little Injuns standin' in a line,
Nine little Injuns swingin' on a gate,
Eight little Injuns gayest under heav'n,
Seven little Injuns cutting up their tricks,
Six little Injuns kickin' all alive,
Five little Injuns on a cellar door,
Four little Injuns up on a spree,
Three little Injuns out in a canoe,
Two little Injuns foolin' with a gun,
One little Injun livin' all alone,
This novel has a long and noteworthy history of publication. It is a continuously best selling novel in English and in translation to other languages since its initial publication. From the start, in English, it was published under two different titles, due to different sensitivity to the author's title and counting-rhyme theme in the UK and in the US at first publication.
The novel was originally published in late 1939 and early 1940 almost simultaneously, in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the UK it appeared under the title Ten Little Niggers, in book and newspaper serialized formats. The serialization was in 23 parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday 6 June to Saturday 1 July 1939. All of the instalments carried an illustration by "Prescott" with the first having an illustration of Burgh Island in Devon which inspired the setting of the story. The serialized version did not contain any chapter divisions. The book retailed for seven shillings and six pence.
In the United States it was published under the title And Then There Were None, in both book and serial formats. Both of the original US publications changed the title from that originally used in the UK, due to the offensiveness of the word in American culture, where it was more widely perceived as a racially loaded ethnic slur or insult compared to the contemporaneous culture in the United Kingdom. The serialized version appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 20 May (Volume 211, Number 47) to 1 July 1939 (Volume 212, Number 1) with illustrations by Henry Raleigh, and the book was published in January 1940 by Dodd, Mead and Company for $2.
In the original UK novel, and in succeeding publications until 1985, all references to "Indians" or "Soldiers" were originally "Nigger", including the island's name, the pivotal rhyme found by the visitors, and the ten figurines. (In Chapter 7, Vera Claythorne becomes semi-hysterical at the mention by Miss Brent of "our black brothers", which is understandable only in the context of the original name). UK editions continued to use the original title until the current definitive title appeared with a reprint of the 1963 Fontana Paperback in 1985.
The word "nigger" was already racially offensive in the United States by the start of the 20th century, and therefore the book's first US edition and first serialization changed the title to And Then There Were None and removed all references to the word from the book, as did the 1945 motion picture. Sensitivity to the original title of the novel was remarked by Sadie Stein in 2016, commenting on a BBC mini series with the title And Then There Were None, where she noted that the original title of the novel "Even in 1939, this title was considered too offensive for American publication." In general, "Christie's work is not known for its racial sensitivity, and by modern standards her oeuvre is rife with casual Orientalism." The original title was based on a rhyme from minstrel shows and children's games. Stein quotes Alison Light as to the power of the original name of the island in the novel, Nigger Island, "to conjure up a thrilling 'otherness', a place where revelations about the 'dark side' of the English would be appropriate". Light goes on to say that "Christie's location [the island] is both more domesticated and privatised, taking for granted the construction of racial fears woven into psychic life as early as the nursery." Speaking of the "widely known" 1945 movie, Stein added that "we're merely faced with fantastic amounts of violence, and a rhyme so macabre and distressing one doesn't hear it now outside of the Agatha Christie context." She felt that the original title of the novel in the UK, seen now, "that original title, it jars, viscerally."
This is the best selling crime novel of all time, and what makes Agatha Christie the best selling novelist. It is Christie's best-selling novel, with more than 100 million copies sold; it is also the world's best-selling mystery and one of the best-selling books of all time. Publications International lists the novel as the sixth best-selling title.
The book and its adaptations have been released under various new names since the original publication, including Ten Little Indians (1946 play, Broadway performance and 1964 paperback book), Ten Little Soldiers and official title per the Agatha Christie Limited website, And Then There Were None. UK editions continued to use the work's original title until the 1980s; the first UK edition to use the alternative title And Then There Were None appeared in 1985 with a reprint of the 1963 Fontana Paperback.
The sensitivity of the original British title varies across nations, depending on their culture and which words are used to describe people by skin colour. In the US, the British title was considered offensive at first publication, and changed to the last line of the rhyme instead of its title. As the estate of Agatha Christie now offers it under one title only in English, And Then There Were None, it is likely that new foreign language editions will match that title in their language. The original title (Ten Little Niggers) still survives in a few foreign-language versions of the novel, and was used in other languages for a time, for example in Dutch until the 1994 release of the 18th edition. The title Ten Little Negroes continues to be commonly used in foreign-language versions, for example in Spanish, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, French and Hungarian, as well as a 1987 Russian film adaptation (Desyat Negrityat). In 1999, the Slovak National Theatre staged the play under its original title but changed to A napokon nezostal u? nik (And Then There Were None) mid-run.
The 1930 novel The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning has a plot that strongly matches that of Christie's later novel, including a recorded voice announcing to the guests that their sins will be visited upon them by death. The Invisible Host was adapted as the 1930 Broadway The Ninth Guest by Owen Davis, which itself was adapted as the 1934 film The Ninth Guest. There is no evidence Christie saw either the play (which had a brief run on Broadway) or the film.
The 1933 K.B.S. Productions Sherlock Holmes film A Study in Scarlet follows a strikingly similar plot; it includes a scene where Holmes is shown a card with the hint: "Six little Indians ....bee stung one and then there were five". In this case, the rhyme refers to "Ten Little Fat Boys". (The film's plot bears no resemblance to Arthur Conan Doyle's original story of the same name.) The author of the movie's screenplay, Robert Florey, "doubted that [Christie] had seen A Study in Scarlet, but he regarded it as a compliment if it had helped inspire her".
And Then There Were None has had more adaptations than any other single work by Agatha Christie. It is the isolated location where all the players on scene are murdered, never knowing who their murderer is, that is the idea. "It was an idea which is now the basis for many Hollywood horror films and has become a cliché to modern audiences, but it was Agatha Christie who was the first to do it and so successfully that the story has become her most adapted piece." She changed the bleak ending to a more palatable one for theatre audiences when she adapted the novel for the stage in 1943. Many adaptations incorporate changes to the story, such as using Christie's alternative ending from her stage play or changing the setting to locations other than an island.
With a plot line so well known, parodies and references to the novel or the play are frequent.
There have been numerous film adaptations of the novel. Examples include:
Several variations of the original novel were adapted for television, three of which were British adaptations. The first of these, in 1949, was produced by the BBC. The second was produced in 1959, by ITV. Both of those productions aired with Christie's original title. The third and most recent British adaptation aired as And Then There Were None on BBC One in December 2015, as a mini-series produced in cooperation with Acorn Media and Agatha Christie Productions. The 2015 production adhered more closely to the original plot, though there were several differences, and was the first English language film adaptation to feature an ending similar to that of the novel.
The novel has been the inspiration for several video games. For the Apple II, Online Systems released Mystery House in 1980. On the PC, The Adventure Company released Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None in 2005, the first in a series of PC games based on Christie novels. In February 2008, it was ported to the Wii console. The game adheres closely to the novel in most respects, and uses some of its dialogue verbatim, but makes significant changes to the plot in order to give the player an active role and allow those familiar with the novel to still experience some suspense. The player assumes the role of Patrick Naracott (brother of Fred Naracott, who is involved in a newly created subplot), who is stranded with the others when his boat is scuttled. The killer's identity and motives are different, the means of three of the murders were changed (while still corresponding to the rhyme), and it is possible for the player to save two of the victims, with the game branching into four different endings depending on which of the two are saved.
The 2014 live action comedy-crime and murder mystery TV web series, Ten Little Roosters produced by American company Rooster Teeth is largely inspired by And Then There Were None. It featured an interactive murder mystery component where viewers guess who will die next, and how, in order to win prizes. The premise of the show is nearly identical to the book, but with a lighter, more comedic tone and the plot is structured so that anyone having read And Then There Were None would be unable to apply their knowledge of the book's plot twists.
|Film||And Then There Were None||1945||American film and first cinema adaptation. Produced & directed by René Clair.|
|TV||Ten Little Niggers||1949||BBC television production (IMDb)|
|TV||Ten Little Niggers||1959||ITV television production (IMDb)|
|TV||Ten Little Indians||1959||NBC television production (IMDb)|
|Film||Ten Little Indians||1965||British film and second cinema adaptation. Directed by George Pollock and produced by Harry Alan Towers; Pollock had previously handled four Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. Set in a mountain retreat in Austria.|
|Film||Gumnaam||1965||Loose, uncredited Hindi film adaptation, which adds the characteristic "Bollywood" elements of comedy, music and dance to Christie's plot.|
|TV||Zehn kleine Negerlein||1969||West German television production (IMDb)|
|Film||And Then There Were None||1974||English language film by Peter Collinson and produced by Harry Alan Towers. First English-language colour film version of the novel, based on a screenplay by Towers (writing as "Peter Welbeck"), who co-wrote the screenplay for the 1965 film. Set at a grand hotel in the Iranian desert.|
|TV||Ten Little Slaves (Achra Abid Zghar)||1974||Télé Liban TV series directed by Jean Fayyad, TV Adaptation by Latifeh Moultaka. (Facebook Page)|
("Ten Little Negroes")
|1987||Russian film version produced/directed by Stanislav Govorukhin, notable for being the first cinema adaptation to keep the novel's original plot and grim ending.|
|Film||Ten Little Indians||1989||British film, produced by Harry Alan Towers and directed by Alan Birkinshaw, set on safari in the African savannah.|
|TV||Ten Little Slaves (Achra Abid Zghar)||2014||MTV Lebanon television production (MTV)|
|TV||And Then There Were None||2015||BBC One miniseries broadcast on three consecutive nights, directed by Craig Viveiros and adapted by Sarah Phelps. Similar to book, although not identical, with changes to backstories and actual murders on the island.|
|TV||Soshite Daremo Inakunatta||2017||Japanese TV Asahi miniseries broadcast on two consecutive nights, directed by Seiji Izumi and adapted by Hideka Nagasaka. (TV Asahi)|
This line is sometimes replaced by One got left behind and then there were seven.