Three Wish Stories

The first rule of granting wishes is “Be careful what you wish for–you might get it.”

Three themes exist in the make-a-wish stories:

  • the one wish that sets the machinery of the universe in motion
  • the unthinking wish that must be corrected by the last wish
  • the no-matter-what-you-wish, it will turn out badly–the monkey’s paw wish.

Cinderella and Aladdin are able to wish for what they want, and having put a wedge of magic into their lives, their circumstances change.  Cinderella has only the one wish, and she must do what she can to make things work out,  at least in the Perrault-Disney versions. In older variations, she and her many sisters, such as Catskin, must appear to the prince three times in ever finer finery,  and still resort to trickery to get around the evil of her enemies. But there is no problem with the wish itself. She gets what she asks for, and the story goes from there.

Aladdin gets sucked into a evil plot and by his own trickery manages to get out of it with the help of the genie. All he really needs is the wealth to get the girl–a mirror opposite of Cinderella. In the Disney version, he must choose between what he desires and what he has promised–to let the genie out of the bottle for ever.  Giving the genie back his own life seems like the obvious choice, if the genie can be trusted to be his friend, but Aladdin does not know that.  He does honor his promise, however, and the genie is then able to help him much more than would have been possible with one last wish.  This is one of few stories where the modern version shows more moral fiber than the traditional story, and it shows the genie as a character (Robin Williams!) rather than a plot device.

More traditional stories show a  man finding the genie’s bottle and only escaping with his life because he tricks the genie into going back into the bottle. The genie has vowed to kill the person who releases him, ostensibly so that he will be free of a master,  but his arrogance and pride get him put back in the bottle, which the man throws back into the sea.

Another variation, both of the wish and of the magical animal helper variety, has a fisherman being granted a  wish because he releases the magical fish he has caught.  The fish grants a number of wishes for the fisherman’s wife, each time to be more powerful and grand.  Each time the fisherman is more uncomfortable with the changes in his life as he must behave as a more and more powerful person, and he begs his wife to be content. But when his wife is not satisfied being empress and wants to be a god, the fish makes them go back to being poor, and the fisherman is happy again.

The wishing-for-too- much-story is reflected in the stupid wishes story. A person is granted three wishes for doing some kindness to a magical being, but when the person and spouse try to decide what to wish for,  they get into an argument and waste their opportunity.  In one variation, the man only wishes for a better dinner than he usually gets, which makes the wife angry, so she wishes that his dinner–usually a sausage–would be stuck to his nose. The last wish, of course, brings them back to where they were, no richer and no wiser.

The darkest version of the wish gone wrong is the Monkey’s Paw story,  where the magical token is given to the person, with a warning that it is dangerous, but without explanation of how it is dangerous.  In each case the  wish is granted, but under terrible circumstances. The man wishes to have a sum of money, but it is the death of his son that results in the money coming to him. The wife is in such grief that she wishes her son alive again, after being buried for two weeks,  and only int he nick of time, the man wishes the son back in his grave and at piece, while the zombie corpse is hammering on the front door to be let in. While the initial wish was not particularly foolish or greedy, the consequences leave the people worse off than before, a cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for.

While the fairy godmother story usually only tells of the first kind of wish,  most of the stories do not tell much about what happens after the wish. At most, three days go by, and then the prince is able finally, to recognize or find his princess, and all is well, happily ever after.  But few stories really tell the tale of what happens after midnight when everything goes back to what it was, or discusses how the person is different for having had the wish experience, how the rest of the prince’s household deals with the new princess or what happens after happily ever after.

That’s what fiction is for.  And that’s why the realm of Fiction is such a threat to Fiona. Faery is being swallowed up with the elaborated tales that explore what happens when you get what you wish for.

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