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I suspect most people my age first read W. W. Jacob’s classic tale in school and maybe remember it from there. We used to be exposed to such stories, including Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and Cask of Amontillado, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Washington Irving, and even films like Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight. Originally published in Harper’s in 1902, Monkey’s Paw was short enough they could expect us to finish it, spooky enough to grab our attention and moralistic enough to give us a life lesson. It was perfect educational fodder.

Jacob’s telegraphs his punch with the anonymous quote that prefaces the story: “Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.” But, if that hasn’t warned you what’s to come, here’s how the titular paw is introduced:
"I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, just to look around a bit, you know."

"Better where you are," said the Sergeant-Major, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass and sighning softly, shook it again.

"I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers," said the old man. "what was that that you started telling me the other day about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"

"Nothing." said the soldier hastily. "Leastways, nothing worth hearing."

"Monkey's paw?" said Mrs. White curiously.

"Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps." said the Sergeant-Major off-handedly.

His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled it for him again.

"To look at," said the Sergeant-Major, fumbling in his pocket, "it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."

He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.

"And what is there special about it?" inquired Mr. White as he took it from his son, and having examined it, placed it upon the table.

"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. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

His manners were so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter had jarred somewhat.

"Well, why don't you have three, sir?" said Herbert White cleverly.

The soldier regarded him the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth."I have," he said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs. White.

"I did," said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

"And has anybody else wished?" persisted the old lady.

"The first man had his three wishes. Yes," was the reply, "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."
Considering that third wish, one ought to know better than to mess with this magic, but, of course, the couple and their son who are hosting the Sergeant-Major commence to messing.

While many of the themes of the story are so common we feel we’ve always known them, it’s fun to re-encounter the medium where we were first introduced to them. I’d particularly recommend listening to NPR’s audio version, read by John Lithgow.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Short Stories
W. W. Jacobs Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: W. W. Jacobs
    -FILMOGRAPHY: W. W. Jacobs (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: The Monkey’s Paw story by Jacobs (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: The Monkey's Paw By W. W. Jacobs, 1902 (
    -SITE: The Monkey's Paw (Drama, death, and scares in a brilliant new contemporary opera.)
    -PAPERS: W. W. (William Wymark) Jacobs (An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Monkey’s Paw
    -ETEXT: The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs
    -AUDIO: The Monkey’s Paw (read by John Lithgow, NPR)
    -VIDEO: The Monkey’s Paw Opera (Performed by Pacific Opera Project, 2017)
    -AUDIO: The Monkey’s Paw (Nashville Public Library)
    -AUDIO PLAY: The Monkey’s Paw (Mystery Theater / Radio Drama from the archives of the CBC)
    -FILM: The Monkey's Paw (1948)
    -TV ADAPTATION: The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs Ghost Story Short Film 1988 REMASTERED (Classic tale of mystery, suspense and the supernatural directed by Andrew Barker, Produced in 1984, broadcast by Channel Four TV in 1988)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw - Study Guide (American Literature)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (Course Hero)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (Bartleby)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (Super Summary)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (TV Tropes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (SparkNotes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Monkey's Paw (eNotes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs Lesson Plans by Kristy Littlehale (Storyboard That)
    -PODCAST: The Monkey’s Paw (Hidden Gems)
    -PODCAST: David Mitchell on The Monkey's Paw by WW Jacobs – short story podcast (The Guardian, 1/05/18)
    -PODCAST: Episode 66 – The Monkey’s Paw (A Podcast to the Curious, September 9, 2018)
    -PODCAST: Episode 127 – The Monkey’s Paw (HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast)
    -PODCAST: Episode 45: The Monkey's Paw (Fear of God Pod)
    -PODCAST: Horrible Imaginings Podcast #161: The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs–Perfect for Halloween! (Miguel Rodriguez, Oct 24, 2016, Horrible Imaginings)
    -ESSAY: The Monkey’s Paw Revisited (Vidhi Sood, London Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Weekend Short: W. W. Jacobs’s ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ (LUTHER RAY ABEL, March 11, 2023, National Review)
    -VIDEO ESSAY: Fate or Free Will | An Analysis on W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” (Hern Lim, 4/23/20, UNC Chapel Hill)
    -ESSAY: The Monkey's Paw (Jessie McGee, Victorian Ghosts)
    -VIDEO ESSAY: Fate by the Fire: Analyzing Symbolism in "The Monkey's Paw" (Part One) (CPalms)
    -ESSAY: Spooky Season: The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs (JENNA SULE, 10/29/20, The Deadline)
    -ESSAY: ‘The Monkey’s Paw’: Be Careful What You Wish For! (Ivy Panda)
    -ESSAY: W. W. Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw: A Detailed Summary and Literary Analysis (M. Grant Kellermeyer, May 29, 2018, Old Style Tales)
    -ESSAY: Real Time Reads: “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs ( Dinesh Allirajah, 2/17/12, Real Time Reads)
    -VIDEO ESSAY: Make a Wish: Theme in "The Monkey's Paw" (CPalms)
    -ESSAY: Essay Comparing The Monkey's Paw And The Story Of An Hour (Internet Public Library)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: W. W. Jacobs (YouTube)
    -AUDIO ARCHIVES: W. W. Jacobs (Librivox)
    -ARCHIVES: W.W. Jacobs (Internet Archives)
    -REVIEW: of The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs (Josh Caporale, Caponomics)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Books and Blues)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Alex Falcone, The Weekly Weep)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Marzaat)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (New Haven Review)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Bloody Disgusting)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (My English Club)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Sur Review)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Musings of a Book Savant)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Angel Arroyo, Teen Ink)
    -REVIEW: of Monkey’s Paw (Istoria Lit)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Victorian Ghosts (York Library)