Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing
And Then There Were None
The poem, 'Ten Little Soldiers,' and Agatha Christie's mystery novel, And Then There Were None, have a kind of messy history to them. An early version of the poem, as well as the title of the book, used a racial slur. When the book was released in England in early 1939, it originally featured the N-word. That title was changed to Ten Little Indians in 1940 when the book was released in the United States.
The title of the rhyme was also changed to 'Ten Little Indians,' or 'Ten Little Soldiers' in other versions. An island off the coast of England, the setting of And Then There Were None, became Indian Island, and then later, Soldier Island. The set of ten figurines that play a significant role in the book were also changed from Indians to soldiers.
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 traveling 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 into 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 and hanged himself
And then there were None.
Poem and Plot Relationship
The killer in the novel And Then There Were None is Judge Wargrave and he uses the poem to give clues to his identity, as well as to determine how each person on the island dies. Anthony Marston dies choking. Mrs. Rogers is poisoned and found the next morning, thus 'oversleeping' like the second soldier. General Macarthur is beaten when he goes outside 'to stay.' Mr. Rogers dies while chopping wood. Miss Brent is injected with poison, like a bee sting. Judge Wargrave is 'shot' in his judge's clothing, like the soldier that studies law. Dr. Armstrong drowns, swallowed by a 'red herring.' William Blore's head is crushed by a bear statue, like the soldier that hugs a bear. Philip Lombard goes crazy in the sun and gets shot by Vera Claythorne, or 'frizzled up,' in a manner of speaking. Vera Claythorne hangs herself.
The poem hangs in each person's bedroom in a frame, and the clue to Judge Wargrave's identity is in the seventh soldier. A red herring in a mystery novel is a false clue. Wargrave's death is faked, so he's the 'red herring' that 'swallows,' or murders, Dr. Armstrong.
The Poem as an Epigraph
In And Then There Were None, the poem is the epigraph for the mystery. That means it comes before the actual story starts and helps to set the tone. This poem's creepy tone and the part it plays in the mystery make it a great epigraph for And Then There Were None. It lets us know, in a small way, what to expect from the plot of the book.
The soldiers' actions in the poem directly relate to the way that they die. For example, while seven soldiers chop sticks, one chops himself in half; three soldiers go to the zoo, one is hugged by a bear. Similarly, in the story, the characters' previous actions, or how guilty Judge Wargrave determines them to be, set the stage for how and when in the story they'll die.
The famous nursery rhyme, 'Ten Little Soldiers,' which tells a rhyming story of how a group of soldier boys goes from ten to zero, forms the backbone of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. Judge Wargrave, the killer in the novel, uses the rhyme to determine the order of events on Indian Island, later Soldier Island. As an epigraph, the poem is a reflection of the story's themes and hints at how the characters will die. One line refers to a red herring, or false clue, used in mysteries: 'Four little soldier boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.'
The original title of the poem, as well as Agatha Christie's novel, was problematic in that it included a racial slur. The offending word was removed when the book was published in the United States in 1940; in addition to 'Ten Little Soldiers,' the poem is also known as 'Ten Little Indians.'
To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account
Register to view this lesson
Unlock Your Education
See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com
Become a Study.com member and start learning now.Become a Member
Already a member? Log InBack