BOOK REVIEW – W. W. JACOBS – THE MONKEY’S PAW 1902 various editions.
One of the best known, anthologised, filmed, performed and parodied short horror stories of all time.
The Monkey’s Paw is a simple tale of three wishes that turn out to be three terrible curses, as it’s impossible to wish for something that doesn’t happen at a tragic price. It begins when an old couple are entertaining a guest, a soldier who once served in India. While there he became the second owner of a strange artefact, a mummified monkey’s paw. Its previous owner had died as a result of its powers and left it to him. The soldier had also made three wishes on it, which had brought him considerable grief and despair. He now wishes to destroy the paw before passing it on to anyone else. He throws it into the fire, but the old man retrieves it. The soldier insists that if the man uses it to wish for anything, he does so at his own risk.
The soldier leaves, and the couple decide to experiment with the paw, convinced that it has no real power at all. They wish for £200, a sum that shows that they are not even particularly greedy.
As the wish is made, the paw writhes and twitches as if alive, shocking the man. Initially, there is no immediate financial result, but the next day, a man visits the couple from a factory where their son worked. The son has been killed in an accident involving the factory machinery. The visitor offers £200 byway of compensation to the family.
Grief stricken, the man’s wife uses the paw to wish for her son coming back to life. That night there is a knock at the door, and as she goes to open it, her husband uses the third wish to cancel the second, scared at what might be on the doorstep when the door opens. Whatever it was vanishes just before the door opens. We don’t know if the paw had sent back a zombie type monster or the son in good health and with no further wishes possible, there can be no way of knowing. The man now destroys the paw in the fire as the soldier had tried to do, and the story ends.
The story has appeared in many variations on stage and screen. The Tales from The Crypt film did the story badly, showing the zombified living dead son, rather than leaving it to the imagination, as the story really demands.
Comedy shows from Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns to The League of Gentleman, and even The Simpsons in one of their Halloween specials have sent up the story, which remains one of the most atmospheric classics of its kind.
Full Text of the story
© Copyright. Arthur
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