chapter
Wishes
Various Motifs
ByD.L. Ashliman
Pages 6

The antiquity of the wishes motif in folktales is attested by the presence of stories in Ovid's Metamorphoses and a fifth-century Hindu collection, the Panchatantra. The folkloric wishes are so grotesquely absurd that only a fool would request them, and therein lies the appeal of the stories featuring them. In a Japanese version, "The Stonecutter," the recipient of magic wishes does not violate a tabu, but goes full circle following his own desire to become ever more powerful. An important variation on the reckless-wish theme is the Grimms' cautionary tale "The Fisherman and His Wife." There is no better example of the tales featuring explicitly formulated wishes than the widespread story of the simpleton whose wishes always come true. Because a principal function of fairy tales is fantasy wish fulfillment, it could be argued that most such stories are about wishing, both the explicit wants verbally expressed by the characters and the unspoken desires of the storytellers and their listeners.