Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The simplest and superficially most attractive form of Magic, whereby desires are fulfilled without complexities of Rituals or Spells – hence the pejorative phrase "wish-fulfilment fantasy". Traditionally, wishes are granted by a Demon, Fairy, Genie or Talisman – most often a Ring – and generally go awry (see Three Wishes). Occasionally wishing may be seen as a Talent, perhaps not fully subject to conscious control, as in "Oddy and Id" (1950) by Alfred Bester (1913-1987) and Merlin and the Last Trump (1993) by Collin Webber. Wishes are endlessly subject to Quibbles and Read-the-Small-Print traps: e.g., requests for beauty in Anthony Boucher's "Nellthu" (1955 F&SF) and for restored vitality in Larry Niven's "The Wishing Game" (1987) are mockingly granted without the expected accompaniment of renewed youth. Because wishes and their pitfalls are well known through their popularity in Slick Fantasy, there is a quasi-Recursive-Fantasy sense in which characters are prepared for the challenge – like Moffett in John Crowley's Aegypt (1987), for whom the proper use of wishes has been a lifelong Maggot. When the normal restriction to only three wishes is lifted, other limitations tend to be substituted: E Nesbit's Five Children and It (1902) and The Enchanted Castle (1907) stipulate time limits after which wishes simply wear off, while in Ursula K Le Guin's sf The Lathe of Heaven (1971) the inadequacy of the human imagination means that each easy wished-for solution to the world's ills makes matters worse; it becomes necessary to stop. The Absurdist ploy of repeatedly wishing for more wishes is often tried in Humour, from Anthony Armstrong's Fairytale travesty "The Prince's Birthday Present" (1932) to Tom Holt's Djinn Rummy (1995). [DRL]

see also: Answered Prayers.

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.