What would you wish for if you were given three wishes? To be rich and famous? World peace? For three more wishes?
A post on Kari Trogen‘s website caught my attention a couple weeks ago, and I thought I’d elaborate on it here. In her post, A few wise words:
“… Many fairy tales—and most of Dahl’s work—are complex narratives of wish fulfillment. They teach the reader, Bettelheim writes, that “a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence—but if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.”
-Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
There are countless fairy tales that center around the concept of wishes, often in groups of three. But in classical fairy tales, wishes don’t often help a character master all obstacles and emerge victorious. Usually, it’s quite the opposite.
Take the following whimsical tales:
The Fisherman and His Wife - in which the wife of a fisherman is never satisfied with the outcome of the wishes granted by a magical Flounder.
The Sausage – in which a man with three wishes wastes them quite accidentally in sausage-related mishaps.
In these and other stories, wishing for an improvement in life, by wealth or social standing, will either end up backfiring, or leading you right back to where you started, no matter how much thought and planning you might put into them. So what is the purpose of wishes?
In a recent discussion with author Karen Heuler, she suggested that wish-related stories were originally meant to warn readers against striving for an improved lot in life. In the old days, wishing to be a prince when you were born a street-rat was not something that society approved of, so “wishers” in stories always came to bad ends.
Nowadays, though, it’s more acceptable for people to wish for better social standing, or increased wealth or power. This could explain the shift in modern stories towards happy endings for wishers, like the kind we see in Disney’s Aladdin (Though the original Aladdin story in 1001 Arabian Nights, didn’t include wishes at all.)
So if you do happen across a genie or magical elf, feel free to wish away! Just be sure you’ve thought your wishes through before you make them.