When Wishes Go Awry

By T. Gail Pritchard, Ph.D., University of Arizona

What do you wish for — Love? Health? Happiness? Friendship? Sometimes the wishes are for yourself, your family, a specific person, or even the world. This week’s blog takes a look at wishes made and how those wishes go awry, from wanting a friend to make the basketball team to wanting to be liked. In each case, when the wishes go awry, the wisher is left wondering how to undo those wishes. In the process, we learn about each of the wishers — who they are, aspects of their character, and what they most value. Are they foolish? Are they greedy? Or do they just want to help better themselves and their family?

wishes go awry

“We can wish on clovers and shooting stars and ice flowers all we want. But in the end, the only real magic is what’s inside us and the people we love.”

The Seventh Wish’s 12-year-old Charlie Brennan is wish savvy. She knows the fairy tales about greediness and wishing, the tales about foolish wishes, and the tales about wasting wishes; but in spite of her savviness, she makes all the rookie wishing mistakes…

Charlie decides to go ice fishing with her friend Drew and his grandmother to raise money for a solo dress to wear in her Irish dance competitions. Since Charlie is very afraid of the ice, this proves to be a difficult decision. On her first outing, she drops her line close to shore and reels in a little bitty fish with bright-green eyes. The fish begs her to release it in exchange for a wish.

Because “there’s no harm in wishing,” she wishes, “Let Roberto Sullivan fall in love with me… And while you’re at it, make me not afraid of the ice. No offense, but I want to go out where the real fish are” (pp. 25-26). Almost immediately, Charlie’s fear is gone; but the first part of the wish does not manifest until the next day when Robert O’Sullivan, not Roberto Sullivan, declares his undying love for Charlie. First lesson in wishing — enunciate clearly.

Charlie goes out for a second time and again catches the small fish with the bright-green eyes. This time, a bit more wary and remembering the results from the wishers in “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “ The Fisherman and His Wife,” she contemplates her wish before making it: “Please let my mom get a full-time job” (p. 48). Within a week, her wish is granted, but there is another unintended consequence — her mother is unable to take her to the dance competition, and her father is going out of town.

She goes out a third and fourth time, catching the small fish and making a wish each time. She wishes for her friend Dasha to pass her English language proficiency test and for “Drew [to] be amazing at tryouts and make the basketball team” (p. 67). But like the others, these wishes go awry, and she does not anticipate the fallout. Dasha passes her exam, but struggles in the all-English classes. Drew was an amazing basketball player only on the day of the try-outs.

Charlie decides she will go for a fifth wish, thinking that her sister could take her to the dance competition: “Let Abby come home from college for the weekend” (p. 80). This ambiguous wish has the direst consequence of all. At this point, Messner takes this light-hearted-till-now novel in a completely different direction. With Wish Number 6, Charlie tries to offset the fifth one and realizes there are “a hundred ways the wish could go wrong” (p. 169). After all the other wishes go awry, Charlie set out to make a seventh wish. Believing her previous wishes were superficial and that she only needs to “wish better,” Charlie goes out on the melting ice one last time to make a final, bigger wish, risking her own life in the process.

wishes go awry

“Wishing that things were better is something all people do.”

Stew Meat (Stewart Meade), the owner of the local general store in The Wish Giver, tells the story of three local kids and himself who each buy a wish for 50 cents at the annual church social. There, “way off at the far end of the lawn, down by the clump of birch trees, is a space where ‘outsiders’ can set up booths.” When Stew enters Thaddeus Blinn’s tent, he finds Polly Kemp, Rowena Jervis, and Adam Fiske already there. Once they have each paid Blinn 50 cents, he gives them a small white card with a red spot in the center, telling them, “The card will bring you anything your heart could desire…Anything. Wealth…beauty…fame. Just wish, and it will be yours. But each card can grant only a single wish, so think carefully before making it.”

Polly Kemp makes the first wish. Polly is not “downright mean. She just said whatever popped into her head without a thought about whether the words she said hurt others.” Her greatest desire is to be liked, especially by Agatha Benthorn and Eunice Ingersoll — two girls described by twins Leland and Lenora as “frilly little skunkweeds.” In spite of the twins’ view, Polly is determined to make friends with Agatha and Eunice. After a particularly bad run-in with Agatha, Polly’s wish seems obvious. She picks up the white card and places her thumb on the red spot as Blinn has instructed and wishes, “I want ever so badly to be liked…I want people to greet me and not walk on the other side of the street whenever they set eyes on me. And especially I want Agatha Benthorn to invite me to her house for tea.”

The next norming, as Polly bitterly complains to her mother about the toast, something strange happens — she begins to croak like a bullfrog. At school, she regains her voice until she tells Agatha she is dumb, then the croaking starts up again. By evening, she recovers her voice. The next day starts out normally, until she shouts at Charlie Peabody on the playground. Once again, the croaking returns. Leland and Lenora figure out that every time Polly says something mean, the croaking begins. Polly realizes she must change her behavior and vows to be friendly to everyone.

But it is not long before she gets into another fracas with Agatha. Of course, Agatha and Eunice plot out their revenge, inviting Polly over for tea the next afternoon. While there, Polly realizes that Agatha and Eunice really are skunkweeds: “She recalled the months and years when she’d have given anything to get an invitation to Agatha’s house…All that time wasted. Time when she could have been making lots of real friends and not trying to cozy up to these two frilly, doll-like creatures who wanted no part of her.” She politely leaves Agatha’s house, runs to the woods, finds a hollow tree, and shouts into it everything she thinks about Agatha and Eunice, only to start croaking once again. She realizes if she cannot figure out how to undo her wish, she is doomed to a lifetime of blurting things out, then croaking.

Rowena Jervis makes the second wish. Rowena is a “giddy fifteen” and “in love with love itself. She had her eye on Henry Piper, the young farm-machinery salesman who came to town twice a year.” Henry Piper is scheduled to arrive the next day, and given her strong feelings for him and that he rarely comes to their town, Rowena decides to ask her parents if Henry can stay with them instead of the local boarding house. Mrs. Jervis does not think very highly of Henry. In fact, she says, “…your father ends up with more seeders and cultivators and hay forks than he could use around here in a month of Sundays…I tell you, Henry Piper could charm the socks off a snake…Henry’s not staying here, and that’s flat.”

When their farmhand Sam Waxman teases Rowena about Henry, she “flounced out of the kitchen and back upstairs to her own room,” where she remembers the card with the red spot and puts it into her dress pocket. The next evening, as Henry is leaving, Rowena pulls the card out of her pocket and makes her wish, “I wish… I wish Henry Piper would put down roots here in Coven Tree and never leave again!”

Within moments, Rowena hears Henry’s voice coming from a grove of trees, demanding she come and help him. His feet are fixed to the ground and he cannot move. By the next day, Henry’s legs are turning into bark; by that evening, the bark is up to his neck; and by the day after, Henry is a tree. While Rowena tries to figure out how to help Henry, he admonishes her and tells her he could care less about her and would have said anything to get her father to buy more merchandise. Rowena is devastated, knowing that if she cannot figure out how to undo her wish, she will have to spend the rest of her life taking care of that “no-good, sweet-talking…mule.”

Adam Fiske makes the third wish. 16-year-old Adam Fiske works on his family’s farm, “the driest in the county.” Unfortunately for the Fiske family, there has been “no rain for three weeks. Well’s gone dry, and the cistern’s near empty.” Mr. Fiske tells Adam he must start making daily trips to Spider Crick to fill tubs of water for the crops, animals, and household needs. To do this, Adam has to drive the wagon through town where the town folk make fun of him. In the meantime, his father hires a dowser to find water on their farm, but to no avail. “Seems like there should be water under this land. But I’ve covered every inch, and the rod didn’t twitch once.”

That night, thinking about another day of hauling water and being teased, Adam remembers the card with the red spot and thinks, “…where’s the harm in trying?” He makes his wish: “I wish… I wish we had water all over this farm. Enough for washing and cooking and drinking and for the crops, and… and with plenty to spare, too!” The next morning, Adam begins to build a fence for his mother, digging five fence post holes; shortly after, the holes begin to spout water. The water does not stop, though, and by the next day, it is clear the farm is flooding. Adam and his father frantically retrieve their tools and the grain from the barn as the water moves “closer and closer to the house like some hungry monster.”

As the town folk gather to watch, Adam remembers his wish — he had wished for water all over the farm, but what he had meant was just enough water for their needs. That evening, “the Fiskes were alone at the edge of the lake that had once been their farm” when Adam tells his father about the wish and takes the blame for all of the water. His father replies, “I must have made the same wish a hundred times in years past. The only difference was, I didn’t have the card with the red spot. But if I’d had it, I’d have used it, same as you…Wishing that things were better is something all people do.”

So when all of their wishes go awry, Polly, Rowena, and Adam have the same idea: get to Stew Meat and see if he kept his wish. If he does, and if he is willing, he just might be able to undo their foolish wishes.

Journey through Worlds of Words during our open reading hours: Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Check out our two online journals, WOW Review and WOW Stories, and keep up with WOW’s news and events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *