The Monkey's Paw


"The Monkey's Paw" is a supernatural short story by author W. W. Jacobs first published in England in the collection The Lady of the Barge in 1902.[1]

In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of the monkey's paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.[2]

It has been adapted scores of times in other other media, including plays, movies, TV shows, operas, stories and comics, as early as 1903 and as recently as 2017.


The short story involves Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw. An old fakir placed a spell on the paw, so that it would grant three wishes. The wishes are granted but always with hellish consequences as punishment for tampering with fate. Morris, having had a horrific experience using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but Mr. White retrieves it. Before leaving, Morris warns Mr. White that if he does use the paw, then it will be on his own head.

At Herbert's suggestion, Mr. White flippantly wishes for £200, which will enable him to make the final mortgage payment for his house, even though he believes he has everything he wants. The next day his son Herbert leaves for work at a local factory. Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a terrible machinery accident. Although the employer denies responsibility for the incident, the firm has decided to make a goodwill payment to the family of the deceased. The payment, of £200, exactly matches the amount Herbert suggested his father should wish for.

Ten days after their son's death and a week after the funeral, Mrs. White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life. Reluctantly, he does so. Shortly afterward there is a knock at the door. As Mrs. White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door, Mr. White, who had to identify his son's mutilated body, and who knows the corpse has been buried for more than a week, realizes that the thing outside is not the son he knew and loved, and makes his third wish.

The knocking suddenly stops. Mrs. White opens the door to find no one is there.

Versions in other media

The story has been adapted into other media many times, including:

  • On 6 October 1903, a one-act play opened at London's Haymarket Theatre, starring Cyril Maude as Mr. White and Lena Ashwell as Mrs. White.[3]
  • A 1910 stage adaptation by Louis N. Parker.[4]
  • A 1915 film version, directed by Sidney Northcote and starring John Lawson.[5]
  • A 1923 film version, directed by Manning Haynes and starring Moore Marriott, Marie Ault, and Charles Ashton.[5]
  • A 17 July 1928 UK radio adaptation based on the 1910 play.[4]
  • A 1933 film version, screenplay by Graham John, directed by Wesley Ruggles (his last film with RKO), and starring C. Aubrey Smith, Ivan Simpson and Louise Carter. The film was considered lost[6] until pictures from it were posted online in 2016.[7]
  • A 28 May 1946 episode of the BBC Radio series Appointment with Fear.[4]
  • A 1948 film version, screenplay by Norman Lee and Barbara Toy.[8]
  • A 16 December 1958 episode of the UK radio series Thirty-Minute Theatre, starring Carleton Hobbes and Gladys Young.[4]
  • A 1961 film version called Espiritismo (released as Spiritism in the US), directed by Benito Alazraki and starring Nora Veyran, Jose Luis Jiminez, and Jorge Mondragon.[5]
  • "The Monkey's Paw – A Retelling", aired on TV on 19 April 1965 in season 3, episode 26 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, starring Leif Erickson, Jane Wyatt, and Lee Majors.[9]
  • A 11 July 1980 episode of the CBC Radio series Nightfall.[4]
  • A 17 January 1988 BBC Radio adaptation by Patrick Galvin, presented as part of Fear on Four. It was rebroadcast individually as a Halloween special on 31 October 1993.[4]
  • A one-act opera of the story was adapted by composer Stephen J. Grieco in 1996 and premiered at the Alice E. Bartlett Theatre.[10]
  • A 2004 adaptation as a radio play narrated by Christopher Lee in 2004 as part of the BBC radio drama series Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales.[11]
  • An operatic version of the story was adapted by composer Jonathan N. Kupper in 2009. Excerpts of the piece were showcased as part of Opera Vista's new opera competition in Houston, Texas in 2010; and a full production was premiered by The Microscopic Opera Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2011.[12]
  • A 2011 Australian radio adaptation on The Drama Pod.[4]
  • An opera adaptation composed by Brooke deRosa was premiered in October 2017[13]
Variations and parodies

A great number of novels, stories, movies, plays and comics are variations or adaptations of the story, featuring similar plots built around wishes that go awry in macabre ways, occasionally with references to monkey's paws or to the story itself.

The story is frequently parodied on television shows and in comic books.

See also
  • Unintended consequences
  1. ^ "The Monkey's Paw - story by Jacobs". 
  2. ^ Tresilian, Presented by Claire Armitstead Story read by Ben Hicks Produced by Susannah (5 January 2018). "David Mitchell on The Monkey's Paw by WW Jacobs – short story podcast" – via 
  3. ^ Jacobs, W. W.; Parker, Louis N. (1910). The Monkey's Paw: A Story in Three Scenes. London: Samuel French, Ltd. p. 5. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Richard J. Hand (5 June 2014). Listen in Terror: British Horror Radio from the Advent of Broadcasting to the Digital Age. Oxford University Press. pp. 35–36. ISBN 978-0-7190-8148-4. 
  5. ^ a b c Alan Goble (1 January 1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. p. 241. ISBN 978-3-11-095194-3. 
  6. ^ Jewell, Richard B.; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New York: Arlington House. p. 57. ISBN 0-517-546566. 
  7. ^ " • View topic - Not lost !". Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  8. ^ Soister, John T. (2004). Up from the Vault: Rare thrillers of the 1920s and 1930s. McPharland. p. 133. 
  9. ^ "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Monkey's Paw - A Retelling (1965) - Robert Stevens - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie
  10. ^ "Alice E. Bartlett, SUNY Fredonia". 
  11. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Extra - Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales, The Monkey's Paw". BBC
  12. ^ "microscopic-opera". microscopic-opera
  13. ^ "World premiere of The Monkey's Paw with Pacific Opera Project and composer Brooke deRosa". 
External links
  • The Monkey's Paw public domain audiobook at LibriVox
  • "The Monkey's Paw"; Full Short Story Text
  • Gaslight edition of the story
  • Monkey's Paw Radio Play
  • Podcast of "The Monkey's Paw" as read by John Lithgow

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