And Then There Were None
This seminar will explore Agatha Christie’s most-published novel from three angles. First, will be the book itself – its plot and structure, place in Agatha Christie's career, and critical opinion. Next, discussion will turn to the book's evolution and adaptation – its changes of title and its adaptation by Christie and others to the stage, the silver screen and other media (such as the video game). Participants will watch at least one movie version of Christie’s book and try our hand at voice-acting a scene from the play or book. Third, we will turn to the book’s implicit moral questions – the moral culpability of each character and the justification (or lack thereof) for their “sentence”. We will draw on crimes from Christie’s other mysteries (such as Mousetrap) and some real-life crimes for comparisons. We will also consider the role of morality in popular literature in general.
As a teenager Roy Underhill ‘81 stumbled upon Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and was fascinated, going on to read many of her mysteries. He graduated from Lawrence University with degrees in philosophy and piano performance and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1984. After six years of varied law practice, he spent twenty years as a stay-at-home homeschooling dad. When that job got outsourced to colleges, he found himself cast in a community theater production of And Then There Were None, which simultaneously awakened a long-dormant love of theater and reawakened his fascination with Agatha Christie.
Required Reading: "And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie
July 11, 2017
Dear Fellow Agatha Christie Enthusiasts,
The most enjoyable part so far of preparing for our fall seminar has been reading more novels and stories by the prolific Agatha Christie. Each new story or novel – in addition to being an enjoyable read in its own right – raises interesting questions concerning her craft, the genre, human nature or presents an interesting comparison or parallel to our main text, And Then There Were None (hereafter “ATTWN”). Every book I have read so far would be an enjoyable and enlightening addition to our discussions.
Unfortunately, we all have other things to attend to besides reading Agatha Christie novels between now and September. Also, I want our focus to remain on the main text, so we simply won’t have time to include more than a few other writings in our discussions. So, as a compromise, I have made a short list of additional books and invite you to add them to your summer reading list so that we can all refer to them to enrich our discussions. This additional reading is, of course, optional – with the understanding that not reading it ahead of time may mean our discussions will function as a plot spoiler for you. If you have any other suggestions as to books or stories we could include, please send them to me at email@example.com.
Murder on the Orient Express (1934) – we can’t honorably discuss Agatha Christie without at least one Hercule Poirot novel, and in plot terms this one is a sort of mirror image of our main text.
A Murder is Announced (1950) – the same goes for Miss Marple. Besides, it was Christie’s fiftieth title, a suitably arbitrary reason for including it.
Towards Zero (1944) – this novel shares some structural similarities with ATTWN which I leave for our discussion and explores the mysteries of personal relationships as much as the murder itself.
Five Little Pigs (1942) – Here I quote someone else’s opinion: “This sublime novel is a subtle and ingenious detective story, an elegiac love story and a masterful example of storytelling technique, with five separate accounts of one devastating event. Christie's greatest achievement.”
Witness for the Prosecution (1925) – perhaps the best known of her short stories, rewritten (with significant changes) into a play by Christie in 1953.
Wireless (1933) – lesser known, perhaps, but classic Christie in its twist at the end.
Each of these novels and short stories, with the exception of Wireless, has been recast into some other adaptation, some less accessible than others. Since one of our discussions will be on the adaptation of ATTWN into a play and various movie versions, you may find it interesting to read or view an adaptation first, before you read the original. I think the experience of an adaptation can be significantly different depending on whether one has already read the original. Perhaps the most interesting adaptations would be Go Back For Murder, which is Christie’s own adaptation of Five Little Pigs as a play (without Poirot as a character), Christie’s play adaption of Witness for the Prosecution (with a significant change in the ending), and the 1974 film version of Murder on the Orient Express, considered by some to be the best film adaptation of any of Christie’s novels.
Also, as another kind of adaptation, you might try listening to an audiobook version of any of these novels or stories. The narrations are excellent and, although the text is the same as the novel, I find listening quite a different experience than reading.
I trust you will not find these additional readings burdensome, but if you already had other plans for the remainder of your summer, feel free to skip any or all.