This week’s subject of discussion over at the Deep Ones weird fiction group on LibraryThing.
Review: “The Monkey’s Paw“, W. W. Jacobs, 1902.
This story has been adopted so many times in so many media as well as parodied that’s there’s no point in discussing it in detail. You probably know the story and can guess the ending. (For some reason, the Deep Ones group has never discussed it. We just assumed we had given its such a well known story.)
It’s the three-wishes story, the three wishes being fulfilled in ways you really don’t want.
It’s a nicely done tale. Jacobs has a deft touch with how the idea of the monkey’s paw and its wishes are treated by the Whites who are given the paw by a family friend returned from army service in India. (He suggests they burn the thing. He got his wishes already.)
At first the Whites are skeptical about the idea and then, understandably, decide to test to see if it works. They even start by wishing for a smart and modest thing – enough money to pay off the mortgage on their home. But that money comes as an indemnity for their son’s death. The idea that the wishes would be granted in a way that could be interpreted as non-miraculous is a nice touch.
Of course, the climax – where the knocking of the dead son is suddenly stopped – shows that there really was something supernatural at work. Jacobs nicely conveys Mrs. White’s desperation to have her son back and Mr. White’s equal determination not to have whatever came up from the cemetary in the house.
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This is a very good story– and probably considered a classic to many people. One thing that always puzzled me was why the hand of the monkey is referred to as a “paw” rather than a “hand.” Unless I’m very mistaken, primates, which includes humans, all have hands, not paws, like felines and canines.
Here, I’ve just looked up the definition of a primate: “a mammal of an order that includes the lemurs, bushbabies, tarsiers, marmosets, monkeys, apes, and humans. They are distinguished by having hands, feet that are similar to hands, and forward-facing eyes, and, with the exception of humans, are typically agile tree-dwellers.”
That was a question that came up in the LibraryThing discussion. The only thought we could come up with is that “The Monkey’s Paw” sounds more sinister than “The Monkey’s Hand” even though it’s less accurate.
And Jacobs probably wasn’t thinking in taxonomic terms but in symbolic terms of hands being only a human appendage distinct from the animal paw. (Not true of course