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Cover of first UK 1939 edition by Stephen Bellman with original title
|Original title||Ten Little Niggers|
|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, her best selling novel and 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 British blackface song, which serves as a major plot point.
The US edition was released in January 1940 with the title And Then There Were None. All successive American reprints and adaptations use that title, which is taken from the last five words of the song.
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.
On a hot August day 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 describes each visitor in turn, accuses each of having committed murder but escaping justice, and then asks if any of "the accused" wishes to offer a defence. All but Anthony Marston and Philip Lombard deny the charges, and Miss Brent refuses to discuss the matter.
They discover that none of them actually knows the Owens and conclude that the name "U.N. Owen" is shorthand for "Unknown". After the recording, Marston finishes his drink and immediately dies from cyanide poisoning. The remaining guests notice that one of the ten figurines is now broken, and the nursery rhyme appears to reflect the manner of death ("One choked his little self and then there were nine").
The next morning, Mrs Rogers' corpse is found in her bed; she had died in her sleep from an overdose of chloral hydrate. By lunchtime, General MacArthur is found dead, from a heavy blow to his head. Two more figurines are found to be broken, and again the deaths parallel the rhyme. Miss Brent relates the account of the gramophone charge against her to Vera Claythorne, who later tells the others.
A search for Mr Owen shows that nobody else is on the island except the remaining seven. The island is a "bare rock" with no hiding places, and no one could have arrived or left; thus, they conclude that any one of the seven remaining persons is the killer. Justice 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, and after breakfast, Miss 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 then suggests searching all the rooms, and any potentially dangerous items they can think of 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 briefly by Dr Armstrong and pronounced dead from a gunshot to the forehead.
That night, Lombard appears surprised when he finds his gun returned to his room. Blore catches a glimpse of someone leaving the house but loses the trail. He then discovers Armstrong is absent from his room, and the remaining three guests conclude that Armstrong must be the killer. 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 then 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.
Vera and Lombard are now confident that Armstrong is the killer. However, shortly afterwards, the duo come upon Armstrong's body washed up on the beach. They realize that Armstrong could not have killed Blore. Panicked, each concludes the other must be the killer. Quickly regaining her composure, Vera suggests moving the doctor's body past the shore, but this is a pretext. 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. With visions of her former lover Hugo urging her on, she adjusts the noose and kicks the chair out from under her.
Two Scotland Yard officials are puzzled by the identity of U N Owen. Although they can partially reconstruct the deaths from Marston to Wargrave with the help of the victims' diaries and a coroner's careful report, they conclude that U N Owen was one of the victims, but are unable to determine which one. The chair on which Vera stood to hang herself had been set back upright, indicating that someone was still alive on the island after her suicide, presumably the killer.
In a postscript, 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. It is not clear how long after the killings the bottle was discovered.
In the confession, Justice Wargrave writes that he has long wished to set an unsolvable puzzle of murder. His victims would be of his choosing, as they were not found guilty in a trial. He explains how he tricked Dr Armstrong into helping him fake his own death under the pretext that it would help the group identify the killer. He also explains that he replaced the chair in Vera's room. Finally, he reveals how he used the gun and some elastic to ensure his own 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.
He describes how his first victim was Isaac Morris, the sleazy lawyer and drugs trafficker who anonymously purchased the island and arranged the invitations on his behalf, making nine murders and two suicides. Morris was poisoned before Wargrave departed for the island. Wargrave's intention is to stymie the police as to which person on the island was the murderer. He states that, although there are three clues that could guide the police to the correct killer, he is confident they will be unable to find them and that the mystery will remain unsolved until the confession is read.
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 human, 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's 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) has been changed because it was offensive in English-speaking countries and some others. Few critics have opined that Christie's original title and the setting on "Nigger Island" (later changed to "Indian Island" and "Soldier Island", variously) may be integral to the work. These aspects of the novel, argues Alison Light, "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
One choked his little self, and then there were nine.
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 boys living all alone
|Ten little Injuns standin' in a line,|
One toddled home and then there were nine;
Eight little Injuns gayest under heav'n,
Six little Injuns kickin' all alive,
Four little Injuns up on a spree,
Two little Injuns foolin' with a gun,
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, again 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 contemporary UK culture, rather than a fairly innocent rhyme for children to use when selecting one child for a game. 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 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 changed to the current definitive title 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.
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 color. 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, such as the Bulgarian title Десет малки негърчета, 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, Romanian, French and Hungarian, as well as a 1987 Russian film adaptation Десять негритят (Desyat Negrityat). In 1999, the Slovak National Theatre staged the play under its original title but changed to A napokon nezostal už 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 invitees 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.
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. Many television programs use the essence of the plot, a group of characters cut off from the outside world with a murderer in their midst, but with innocent victims in place of guilty victims, and give no credit to Agatha Christie for the many differences in plot and motivation.
There have been numerous film adaptations of the novel, some comedic. 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 the game Mystery House in 1980. On the PC, The Adventure Company released the video game 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 identity of the murderer is not that of the killer in the original book. The game 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. This allows for alternate, more successful endings in which Naracott survives and is able to prevent the murders of the innocent Lombard and Claythorne. All endings depart markedly from the novel and previous adaptations in that the killer and motives are different.
|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 (loosely based)||Gumnaam||1965||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 color 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 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)|
Original nursery rhyme
This line is sometimes replaced by One got left behind and then there were seven.
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