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…
The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs
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 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!
Fretful Porpentine Rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯 😯
Overall story rating: 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀