Short Story Saturday: “The Monkey’s Paw”

Hello again, all! This week, we’re going to take a look at a story where something that seemst to be a blessing turns out to be a curse. That story is W.W. Jacob’s 1902 tale “The Monkey’s Paw.

So let’s dive in, shall we?

Our tale begins in England, where an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. White, are hanging out with their adult son, Herbert. Mr. White and Herbert are playing a chess game while Mrs. White is knitting when there’s a knock on the door. This turns out to be a family friend, one Sargeant-Major Morris, who has just returned from India.

The four of them sit for a chat about Morris’s time there, when the subject of something strange he encountered comes up: a mummified monkey’s paw that he got his hands on. Morris explains that he was told that the paw was enchanted by a fakir to grant three people three wishes each.

Herbert asks if the sargeant-major’s wishes came true. Morris, clearly uncomfortable by the conversation, says that they did, but then surprises everyone by throwing the paw on the fire. Mr. White saves it, against Morris’s protestations, and asks that the man let him keep the paw. Morris tries to argue against letting the old man keep it, but eventually relents. He tells him how the thing works, but then warns him that anything that happens is on White’s head, before leaving.

The whites then talk for a bit about what they would wish for. Herbert facetiously tells his father to wish to be an emperor, to his mother’s ire, but then sets his sights a bit lower and suggests his dad as for 200 pounds instead. Which, btw, would be equivalent to about 24,000 pounds today, so that’s a pretty good chunk of money. Anyway, Mr. White takes his son’s suggestion, and makes his wish.

And them proceeds to immediately drop the paw when it starts writhing in his hand.

Mrs. White and Herbert brush this off as Mr. White’s imagination, but Mr.White insists that’s what literally just happen. Eventually, though, Mr. and Mrs. White decide it’s time for bed. Herbert decides to sit up for a little while longer, and staring into the fire. In said fire, he see’s what looks like a freaky monkey face. He’s understandably a bit freaked out, and decides that it’s probably time for him to go to bed too.

The next morning, Herbert heads out to his factory job. A little later that day, and employee from said job comes to tell the Whites that there’s been a horrible, horrible accident. See, it turns out that Herbert was crushed to death by one of the machines. The Whites’ shock only deepens, however, when the man explains that the company is planning to give them some money to help with Herbert’s loss.

And the amount, of course, is 200 pounds.

The funeral happens, and about ten days after that, Mrs. White, mad with grief, tells Mr. White to use the monkey’s paw to wish their son back to life. Mr. White does not want to do this because the accident left Herbert’s body a mangled, broken mess, so whatever comes back to them is not going to be pretty. However, in the face of his wife’s wailing, he does, and the two sit and wait.

A while later, there’s a knocking on the door. Mrs. White jumps up to let what she presumes to be their son in, but Mr. White restrains her. She does manage to break free, though, and runs to the front door, but is having some trouble undoing the lock. While she’s struggling with that, Mr. White takes up the paw and makes his last wish. Mrs. White then finally gets the door open, only to find that there’s nobody there.

Now, the moral of the story here seems pretty clear: be careful what you wish for. Each wish that the Whites make on the cursed object comes with a horrible price: the death of their son, the return of their son’s mangled reanimated corpse, and lastly Mrs. White’s continued and deepened grief. Basically, the point of the story is that everything has a price.

It should also be noted that this is a story that has had many adaptations and retellings over the years, but the one that I think of most often is from the CLAMP manga xxxholic. Because I am weeb trash. In that version of the tale, a young college student comes to Yuko Ichihara’s shop of wonders and comes across an ornate box, which she buys despite Yuko’s warning. The box contains a monkey’s paw, which in this tale grants five wishes. She makes her wishes, each price worse than the last, until she at last wishes for the paw to make it all stop.

It does this by strangling her.

So, that’s “The Monkey’s Paw.” If you were given the opportunity, would you make wishes on one? Or do you think that the price would be too great? Feel free to leave your thoughts on this story in the comments, and I’ll see you next time.

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