The Monkey's Paw
|"The Monkey's Paw"|
|Author||William Wymark Jacobs|
|Genre(s)||Horror, short story|
|Publication date||September 1902|
In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of the monkey's paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.
The story involves Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend of the Whites who has been part of the British Army in India, introduces them to the monkey's paw, telling of its mysterious powers to grant three wishes and of its journey from an old fakir to his comrade, who used his third wish to wish for death.
Sergeant-Major Morris, having had a bad experience upon using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but White quickly retrieves it. Morris warns White, but White, thinking about what the paw could be used for, ignores him.
Mr. White wishes for £200 to be used as the final payment on his house. The next day his son Herbert leaves for work at a local factory. Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a machinery accident. Although the employer disclaims tortious responsibility for the incident, the firm makes a goodwill payment to heirs of the deceased. The payment is £200.
Ten days after the funeral, Mrs. White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life. Reluctantly, he does so. Shortly afterwards there is a knock at the door. Mrs. White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door. Mr. White knows, however, that he cannot allow their revived son in, as his appearance will be too hideous. Mr. White was required to identify the body, which had been mutilated by the accident. It has now been buried for more than a week. While Mrs. White tries to open the door, Mr. White makes his third wish, and the knocking stops. Mrs. White opens the door to find no one there.
The theme of the story is contained in this description of the paw: "'It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,' said the sergeant-major, 'a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.'"
Versions in other media
The story has been adapted into other media many times, including:
- On 6 October 1903, a one-act play opened at London's Haymarket Theatre, starring Cyril Maude as Mr. White and Lena Ashwell as Mrs. White.
- A 1933 film version, screenplay by Graham John, directed by Wesley Ruggles (his last film with RKO), and starring C. Aubrey Smith, Ivan Simpson and Louise Carter.
- A 1948 film version, screenplay by Norman Lee and Barbara Toy.
- "The Monkey's Paw" was again adapted as a radio play narrated by Christopher Lee in 2004 as part of the BBC radio drama series Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales.
- An operatic version of the story was adapted by composer, Jonathan N. Kupper in 2009. Excerpts of the piece were showcased as part of Opera Vista's new opera competition in Houston, TX in 2010; and a full production was premiered by The Microscopic Opera Company in Pittsburgh, PA in 2011.
A great number of novels, stories, movies, plays and comics are variations or adaptations of the story, featuring similar plots built around wishes that go awry in macabre ways, occasionally with references to monkey's paws or to the story itself.
The story is frequently parodied on television shows and in comic books.
- Jacobs, W. W.; Parker, Louis N. (1910). The Monkey's Paw: A Story in Three Scenes. London: Samuel French, Ltd. p. 5.
- Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. p. 57. ISBN 0-517-546566.
- Soister, John T. (2004). Up from the Vault: Rare thrillers of the 1920s and 1930s. McPharland. p. 133.
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