Tuesday Terror! The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

Bad things come in threes…

 

When I started this little jaunt into horror, I remarked that I rarely find the written word truly scary. Often that’s because the author goes over the top at the end with gore and gruesomeness and, unless the writing is brilliant, this tends to either repel me or make me chuckle. But sometimes an author leaves the worst bit to the imagination, and that’s when the horrors truly surface. This week’s story is one I read many, many years ago, and on re-reading it now, I realise that the horrific images that have stayed with me came mainly from my own head – the author plants the thought and the reader does the rest…

Since this is one of the best-known of all horror stories, there’s a good chance you have read it. The review is somewhat spoilerish, so if you haven’t, you may wish to read the story before (or instead of) the review… here it is…

 

TUESDAY TERROR!

The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

 

monkeyspaw

 

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnum Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the whitehaired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

This charming scene of domesticity is soon to be disturbed by the visit of an old friend, a soldier who has travelled the world and has many strange stories to tell. Urged on by the little family, he produces a monkey’s paw, and tells of its mysterious power to grant three men three wishes each – but he warns that the granting of the wishes does not always bring the owner joy. The first man, he tells us, used his third wish to ask for death…and he, as the second man, having had his own wishes granted, is reluctant to pass the paw on.

“If you could have another three wishes,” said the old man, eyeing him keenly, “would you have them?”
“I don’t know,” said the other. “I don’t know.”
He took the paw, and dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off.
“Better let it burn,” said the soldier solemnly.

After the soldier takes his leave, the family discuss the paw and lightheartedly, not really believing in it, the old man wishes for £200 to clear the remaining debt on their house. As he wishes he feels the paw twist in his hand ‘like a snake’. He is shocked, but his wife and son dismiss it as imagination, especially when no money suddenly appears. The next day is bright and sunny, and the atmosphere of the night before is quite gone – the family laugh about it and toss the paw aside. But later that day, the old couple receive a visitor from their son’s place of employment. He tells them that the son has died, the victim of a horrific accident when he got caught in machinery…

“I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility,” continued the other. “They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son’s services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation.”
Mr. White dropped his wife’s hand, and rising to his feet, gazed with a look of horror at his visitor. His dry lips shaped the words, “How much?”
“Two hundred pounds,” was the answer.

Bereft, the old couple bury their beloved son. A week or so later, in the midst of her grief, the mother remembers the monkey’s paw…

“The other two wishes,” she replied rapidly. “We’ve only had one.”
“Was not that enough?” he demanded fiercely.
“No,” she cried triumphantly; “we’ll have one more. Go down and get it quickly, and wish our boy alive again.”
The man sat up in bed and flung the bedclothes from his quaking limbs. “Good God, you are mad!” he cried, aghast.

But finally, against his better judgement the old man makes the wish. For some hours nothing happens, and then there is a knocking at the door – a knocking that is repeated three times…

the-monkeys-paw

* * * * * * *

The image of the resurrected, mangled and decaying corpse at the door has lived in my imagination for years – and I assure you my mental image is much more graphic than anything the story tells us. The author does the whole thing with hints and suspense, and leaves plenty of space for the reader to fill in the gaps. It’s not a particularly long story, but it’s brilliantly written. The constant reiterations of three – three in the family, three wishes, three knocks at the door etc – gives the whole thing a feeling of witchery or black magic. And in a very short space of time at the beginning of the story, the picture the author paints of this happy domestic group means we really grow to care what happens to these people. They are not greedy, grasping people – the first wish is done as a bit of fun more than anything else, so the horrific consequences bring a feeling of true evil at play.

A great story that deserves it status as a classic, this has been adapted over the years for both theatre and cinema – but none of the adaptations will match the horror in your head…

It’s a Fretful Porpentine!

 

porpentine

 

Fretful Porpentine Rating:      😯 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:                😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

43 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

  1. Yes, that one definitely qualifies as worthy of the fretful porpentine, doesn’t it? One of the really creepy, truly frightening stories out there… I’m glad you’ve reminded me of it, FictionFan, but just as pleased that I read your post well before bed-time. 😉

    • Yes, I can’t think why it took me so long to remember to include this one – it’s one of the scariest I’ve ever read. But I’m kinda wishing I hadn’t put it back in my head… 😉

  2. Oh that does sound like a very good one! (Stellar review, btw.) Would you be surprised if I told you that I never heard of it? Wonder why it was a monkey’s paw. And was there bone sticking out on the other end? That’s rather creepy to think on.

    Just read the end to the story, actually… Do you suppose the son would have hurt them?

    • Not surprised really – I wasn’t sure if it was well-known but when I saw how many versions of it there are on youtube and elsewhere I thought maybe everybody had read it. (Thank you! *smiles*) Euuuw! Poor monkey! When BUS was young it was still quite common for people to carry a real rabbit’s foot for luck – yucketh! Thank goodness I’m so much younger than her!

      I don’t know – but the idea of him certainly hurt me! Though I always wondered how he managed to get out of his grave…

  3. I actually saw a tv presentation of it in either the late 50s or the early 60s on one of those old b&w anthology shows. Scared me to death. It wasn’t until much, much later that I discovered the story itself. I was surprised to know that Jacobs had written so much and all those sea-related stories.

    • I didn’t even know who wrote it till I started looking for it yesterday – it must have been an old anthology I read it in years ago, I think. There’s a load of versions of it on youtube – people seem to do their own variations on it. Definitely one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read…

  4. I do vaguely recall this story, but can’t quite recall where from – is there another version of it? As I had thought the monkey’s paw was in some kind of display case…?! Anyway, it’s a story that deserves the full array of fretful porpentines, as I see you have deservedly given it. I do enjoy your Tuesday Terror! feature and love how you dig up these stories…one of my favourite features on the blogosphere (especially since it introduced me to Thrawn Janet!)

    • There do seem to be loads of different versions of it floating around youtube, and I haven’t seen the films of it, so maybe the display case comes from one of them? Thank you! I’m enjoying digging them up (though in the context of today’s story I don’t like that phrase too much… 😉 ) though I must get back to trying some of the current writers too – that’s how this series started really, and then I drifted off to the classics, because on the whole they’re so much scarier…

  5. It reminds me of an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” where they decide to resurrect her mother, but they fear she will not come back the same so just as her mother approaches the door they break the spell. It was heart wrenching.

    • That does sound very similar – the more I read of these old horror and sci-fi stories, the more I realise just how much of the new stuff is derived from them. Which I don’t mind, in fact – it brings these great old stories to new audiences…

  6. You’ve picked one that I’ve read!! Like you this story has lain in my memory for years although I’d forgotten what it was called so I’m delighted you featured it so I could scare myself all over again! Great choice and I totally agree with your fretful porcupine rating this week.

    • I’d kind of forgotten the story myself, except for the ending which is one of the bits of horror that has always stayed in my memory. So I was pleased to find how well written the story was and that it lived up to my memory of it. Definitely one of the scariest of them all…

  7. No wonder the Porpentine is so fretful! I am familiar with this story and it stayed with me for a long time after I read it. Most excellent writing and a simple but effective story. I have to admit that I am feeling a little edgy now… eek!

    • Yes, there’s something about this one that seems to make it stay in the mind…and I think the way he makes the family so likeable adds to the horror – it all seems so unfair.

      • I think you’re right. It’s impressive how, in such a short tale, he manages to create so much emotional attachment in the reader. Genius! But I will be sleeping with the light on for a day or two…

  8. Bravo! Brava! Bravissimma!

    This is certainly MY scariest ever, and takes me inexorably back to a time and place where I first read it, a whole lifetime ago. I can distinctly remember the queasy feeling that it was probably under my bed, and having a strong desire to sleep with the light on, in order to avoid having to keep checking. I was at the time (fortunately) living in a place without a cat. Had I HAD one, there is no doubt that the soft movements of paws, the plaintive clatter of the catflap, and the surreptitious rustlings of mouse dismemberment in the darkness would have had me truly porpentined beyond belief.

    I always prefer a writer who makes me the one to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. I think readers almost invariably do it better than writers, because WE know what truly scares US and as long as the writer can cleverly give a true outline we will fill in all the horrid details.

    And that’s a very fine picture of the horrid paw. I think I might have to check under the bed tonight…..

    • Yes, there’s nothing quite like cats for extending the terrors deep into the night. Any time I read a spooky story you can be sure one of them will do that staring at the invisible man on the stairs thing, or a little bit of howling in the middle of the night – or jumping on me just as I’m finally drifting off to sleep. The waking up at 4am thing to find two glowing yellow eyes gazing into my own from a distance of two inches is another good trick…

      • These two comments, with their cat anecdotes made me laugh so much…they are absolute wee b***ers for waking you, especially on nights when you have been reading something with a high fretful porpentine rating…I think they sense your uneasiness, and do it for a lark – something to tell other cats for a laugh, if, that is, they deign to acknowledge them…you know how snobbish cats can be…

  9. What a moving story! I’m glad I read it during daylight hours. And I am left wondering just what the corpse would have said (or done) to his parents had he the chance to confront them. It is extraordinarily powerful for the story to twist back on itself so that we hear once again the anguished cry of the woman who lost her only son.

    • I know – he does a brilliant job of making the little family so appealing – all the jokes at the breakfast table and so on. Usually in horror stories you don’t get to feel very emotionally involved, but that’s what makes this one work so well.

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