Short Story Review - The Monkey's Paw

Sunday 11 August 2019

The Monkey’s Paw
Illustration for "The Monkey's Paw" from Jacobs' short story collection The Lady of the Barge (1902)

Who wrote it?
W W Jacobs, (William Wymark Jacobs) was a writer best known for his farcical comedies, involving dockside and rural Essex characters. He occasionally wrote horror stories and today is most famous for ‘The Monkey's Paw’.

What’s it about?
At its heart, this story epitomises the idea that we should all be careful what we wish for. Sergeant-Major Morris is visiting his friends, Mr and Mrs White.  He shows them a mummified monkey’s paw and explains it has been cursed to grant three wishes: but always with hellish consequences. He goes to throw the paw into the fireplace but Mr White retrieves it. Sergeant-Major Morris tells Mr White, if he does intend to use the paw, the consequences will be on his own head.

And, from there, everything starts to go a little bit Pete Burns.

Why is it worth reading?
This is a story that was published in 1902, making more than a century old, and yet still it works in our modern society. Jacobs’s writing is clear and uncluttered. His style is accessible and, since we live in a capitalist society where everyone is constantly wishing for the next meaningless acquisition, it seems we might be overdue a reminder that sometimes, we need to be careful what we wish for.

What’s so special about it?
This story has been copied, parodied, spoofed, filmed and presented to us repeatedly in hundreds of different guises. The curse on the paw means that there will always be repercussions, regardless of how innocent, altruistic or philanthropic the person making the wish. And it puts the reader in the insidious position of thinking, “What would I wish for?”

The typical three things that top our usual wish lists are health, wealth and happiness. And not necessarily in that order. Some people might argue that you don’t need money to be happy but, if you’ve got three wishes, and you’ve asked for health and happiness, I think it makes sense to get enough in the bank so you can continue to maintain your levels of health and happiness.

In the story, even though Mr and Mrs White are in a comfortable position, Mr White wishes for money. He doesn’t want or need the money but he wants to see if there’s any truth in the idea that the paw can grant wishes. He doesn’t ask for an excessive amount. The £200 he requests is equivalent to roughly £24,000 in today’s money and he wants to use it to pay off the remainder of his mortgage.

This is possibly what makes the story so upsetting for readers. Mr White isn’t asking for hoards of naked women to fettle with his cheeky bits. He doesn’t want fame, celebrity and global adoration. He doesn’t even want wealth beyond imagination. He wants a lousy £200 which he plans to throw at the mortgage. And the consequences which befall him are atrocious and terrible.

As always, I won’t spoil this story by revealing anything further. The chances are that most people reading this blog will be familiar with the story’s later developments. But, I will say, if you’ve not read it and you like your horror to be intense and relatable: this story is definitely for you.

If you want to buy your own copy, this is the Amazon Link to a book where you’ll find it:

And, if you have dreams to write to this standard, please take a look at my book, How To Write Short Stories and Get Them Published:

No photo description available.


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