~ from The Monkey's Paw Trilogy ~
I first read W. W. Jacobs's story “The Monkey's Paw” in nineteen ninety-six. Though it is recognized by many as a classic tale of the macabre, I always felt it was unfinished. Jacobs left the world a clever and memorable yarn about a family and the consequences of its three wishes. What he also did was leave this individual puzzling over the hinted to, but otherwise unwritten, events mentioned by the old soldier who visits the White family. I refer to the sequence that follows:
“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?" inquired 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."
There's a brilliance to that sequence as the family of three completely ignore the dangerous implications of using the paw because their willingness to believe in its power is so strong. Jacobs doesn't let his readers linger over the obvious questions this part of his story presents either. No, he's too shrewd a story writer. Soon enough the old soldier is tossing the paw into the fire while both the White family and we, his readers, reach out to snatch it back.
thing of it is I always struggled to move wholly beyond the unanswered questions this part of Jacobs's story posed. Some part of me wanted to know what the previous six wishes were, and, more specifically, I longed to understand why the first man to use the paw wished to end his life. Why chose death when anything you could possibly wish for might be yours? I simply had to know the answer to that question, and I was pretty confident Jacobs was not going to help me with it. Even so, I let a healthy ten years pass before I got the gumption to do something about it.
What you hold are my answers to the questions Jacobs left unanswered. I feel good about them, and I hope that you will too. Enjoy. Oh and should you ever stumble across any shrivelled paws in your journeys, or other severed limbs for that matter, you be wise to leave them be.