Study Guide

The Monkey's Paw Introduction

Advertisement - Guide continues below

The Monkey's Paw Introduction

"The Monkey's Paw" is the story of the White family and what happens to them when they get a mystical, magical monkey's paw that has the power to grant three wishes. We warn you, this is a scary story, so you might want to do it to the max. You know, read while sitting around a campfire, or on a dark and story night, when you're all alone.

W.W. Jacobs managed to make a good living writing novels and short stories, but he's most famous for this one, written in 1902 and first published in Harper's magazine. That same year it was also published in a collection of Jacobs's short stories called Our Lady of the Barge. Over the next century it would find its way into dozens of anthologies and be required reading for thousands of school kids. It was also adapted by another master of horror and suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, for an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Most writers are influenced and inspired by the books they themselves read. Even the most famous author of all – Big Willy Shakespeare – borrowed almost all of his ideas from other stories and changed them around to create his masterpieces. "The Monkey's Paw" is an adaptation of another story of three wishes gone wrong, from One Thousand and One Nights (a.k.a. Arabian Nights), a very famous collection of stories from the Middle East and South Asia. One Thousand and One Nights is most famous for the character of Aladdin, which you probably know in its fabulously Disney-fied form.

"The Monkey's Paw" may be less well known to modern readers than some of the stories it inspired. Stephen King's bestselling novel Pet Sematary, the nightmare-inducing story of a cemetery that has the power to bring animals (and maybe even people) back to life, is directly inspired by Jacobs' story. Then there's the Simpsons episode "Monkey's Paw,", which is a Simpsonesque retelling of this story. This story is so good that when you read it, it might inspire you to write or film your own scary (or funny) story based on it – and we bet W.W. Jacobs would be happy if you did.

From reading "The Monkey's Paw" you might get the idea that Jacobs wrote mostly horror stories, like Edgar Allan Poe. Not so. In his day, Jacobs was known as a writer of comedies. This is why you might detect some humor running between the lines of this spooky tale. As with stories from Stephen King or any good horror writer, the infusion of a little humor makes the scary parts even scarier. Okay, now are you ready to read "The Monkey's Paw"?

Here is a video about Arabian Nights as well if you wanted to know where the Monkey and the Paw came from. Check it out.

What is The Monkey's Paw About and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever felt a bit dissatisfied with your life? Have you ever wished that something in your life would magically change – no hard work required?

Admit it: you've made a wish or two in your day. Don't pretend you haven't wished on a shooting star, some birthday candles, a four-leaf clover, or a dandelion. We all do it.

As we grow up, we're often told that wishes can come true. Just think about the dreamy Disney theme song: "When you wish upon a star makes no difference who you are/ anything your heart desires/ will come to you." We are encouraged to dream big and wish for our hearts' desires.

In "The Monkey's Paw," wishes do come true, but there's a catch. These wishes are granted with dark, scary magic that involves no Disney happily-ever-afters. (Yep, if you're the kind of person who can't get enough of Ouija boards, tarot cards, and late-night séances, you're going to love "The Monkey's Paw.")

This is one of those "be careful what you wish for" stories. It makes us think about everything we've wished for in the past, and everything we might wish for in the future. Instead of making us feel more desperate for a new Mustang, though, by the end of the story, we're feeling like our life if is pretty darn good as it is. Saving up for a car the old-fashioned way sure seems a lot better than wishing on a cursed monkey's paw. But maybe that's just us.

The Monkey's Paw Resources

Movie or TV Productions

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Monkey's Paw (1965)
Master of film horror and suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, created a short film of "The Monkey's Paw." (We link to the full movie below.)

Pet Sematary (1989)
This isn't exactly a movie adaptation of "The Monkey's Paw" (it's an adaptation of Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary), but King's novel was inspired, in part, by Jacobs' story. King's version basically imagines what it would be like if we got to see the undead Herbert.

Many, many adaptations...
Click here to see several film adaptations of this story and to watch the full episode of Alfred Hitchcock's version. We promise it will give you new insight into this grim tale.


Our Lady of the Barge
Here is the 1902 short story collection that includes "The Monkey's Paw." Satisfy that craving for more Jacobs.

Foolish Wishes
Check out this collection of stories (mostly folk tales) that feature foolish wishes. Many of these are quite similar to "The Monkey's Paw," though far more lighthearted.

A Play
Louis N. Parker wrote a play based on the story. Read it here.


Hitchcock Anyone?
Grab the popcorn and watch what happens when Alfred Hitchcock takes "The Monkey's Paw" and sets it smack dab in the 1960s. In this version, Herbert White is a racecar driver.

The Monkey's Paw (2010)
A recent, 30-minute short film of Jacobs' story. Watch it here.


John Lithgow Reads "The Monkey's Paw."
Lithgow (from Public Radio) has the perfect voice for this story. Rest your tired eyes and have a listen. (The story begins at about minute 29.)

Another Reading
Are your ears eager for more? Here's another reading of the story by an amateur on LibriVox.


Looking rather dapper and distinguished.

A Cover
Now we know what the cursed paw looks like.

Treehouse of Horror
Watch out what you wish for, Homer!

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...