Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Three Wishes

A popular Plot Device in fantasy, and common in oral tradition for centuries (particularly in Arabian Fantasy, with Wishes granted by Genies freed from a bottle), but which was first written down as "The Three Wishes" (1757 Le Magasin des Enfants) by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. A Fairy grants a man and his wife three wishes. The wife makes an accidental wish for a black pudding, and in cursing her for wasting the wish the husband wastes a second one. The third wish is needed to set things back as they started. The Motif usually highlights folly and greed. It was adapted to powerful effect by William Wymark Jacobs (1863-1943) in "The Monkey's Paw" (1902 Harper's) in which a Talisman grants the TW. The first wish for fortune results in the death of the couple's son. In her anguish the wife forces the husband to wish for the son to be alive again. The husband succeeds at the last minute, with the third wish, in stopping the consequent horror. The Irish novelist and folklorist William Carleton (1794-1869) used a different version in "The Three Wishes" (Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry coll 1830), in which a lazy good-for-nothing wastes his wishes on personal whims but then is able to use what he gained to outwit the Devil. Because it can often be used to convey a moral within a humorous context, the TW motif is often used in Slick Fantasy, and it became a stock theme in stories in the 1950s and early 1960s in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Fantastic, where many authors turned their hand to creating a new variant on the theme, among them Poul Anderson, Arthur Porges (1915-2006) and Robert F Young. [MA]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.