Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Third Wish

Short Story by Joan Aiken
Reprinted at Strange Horizons

Mr. Peters gets out of his car and rescues The King of the Forest who is stuck in a thorn bush. The king grants him three wishes and warns him "don't blame me if you spend the last wish in undoing the work of the other two." There is a certain genre-savy and wry humor to the whole exchange, and Aiken gets our expectations of such stories out there in the open from the start.

This is a fairy tale about a man with simple desires, who has read enough such stories to know to be careful. It is a rather simplistic tale, with no real obstacles, but it is short and provides a little lesson about happiness. What I'm most surprised by, and happy about, is the ending. Given extra weight by the title, Mr. Peters' decision about the third wish is surprisingly wise and convention-breaking.

For a story written in 1955, written for children (I think), this really holds up quite well as a fairy tale. I admit it is a genre I don't generally like, but this was surprising and not quite what I expected.
3.5 swans a-swimming out of 5.

A much more in-depth review of Aiken's work was written for Strange Horizons a few years ago, worth reading if you are interested in her other work.

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