Review of “The Monkey’s Paw” (1902)
W. W. Jacobs (writer).
Read in 2017.
The premiss is similar to the “three wishes” motif of Arabian Nights’s “The Story of the City of Brass” plus Antoine Galland’s Aladdin etc. where genies actually grant wishes. Such ideas about constrained wish fulfilment were probably common in child’s play by 1902, whether they came with a narrative (devils, mermaids etc. as agents) or not. The characters of this story, while initially skeptical of the premiss and forewarned in vague terms of its intrinsic evil, never reach a stage of speculation about the exact constraints, nor do they seek to optimize within them. In this way the story feels pure. Although the premiss itself comes from pop culture, the in-universe analysis that would have been expected in a pop-cultural treatment of it 100 years later is simply absent. The silence of the paw does not explain this, since the Whites could have asked Morris.