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It has been adapted many times in other media, including plays, films, TV series, operas, stories and comics, as early as 1903 and as recently as 2019. It was first adapted to film in 1915 as a British silent film directed by Sidney Northcote. The film (now lost) starred John Lawson who also played the main character in Louis N. Parker's 1907 stage play.
Illustration for "The Monkey's Paw" from Jacobs' short story collection The Lady of the Barge (1902)
The short story involves Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son, Herbert. They are sitting by the fire one evening, Mrs. White getting food ready and Mr. White is playing chess with Herbert, when Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, comes by for dinner and introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw. An old fakir placed a spell on the paw, so that it would grant three wishes. These three wishes are granted to the owner with hellish consequences as punishment for tampering with fate. Morris, having had a horrible experience using the paw, throws it into the fire. Mr. White not believing Morris, retrieves it. Before leaving, Morris warns Mr. White that should he use the paw, then he might as well be digging his own grave.
At Herbert's suggestion, Mr. White flippantly wishes for £200 (the equivalent of over £24,000 in 2019), which will enable him to make the final mortgage payment for his house; as though he believes he has everything he wants. When he makes his wish, Mr. White suddenly drops the paw in surprise, claiming that it moved and twisted like a snake, just as he was making the wish. That night, after Mr and Mrs. White have gone to bed, Herbert stays up later and while gazing at the dying fire, sees what eerily appears to be a horrible, monkey-like face, burned into the soot. The next day, Herbert leaves for work at a local factory. A few minutes after Herbert has left, an employee arrives at the White's home pronouncing that Herbert has been killed in a terrible machine accident, mutilating his body. Although the company denies responsibility for the incident, the firm has decided to make a goodwill payment to the family of the deceased. The payment is £200.
Ten days after their son's death and a week after the funeral, Mrs. White, mad with grief, insists that her husband use the paw to wish Herbert back to life. Reluctantly he does so, despite remembering a premonition he had of summoning his son's mutilated and decomposing body. An hour or so later--the cemetery being two miles away--there is a knock at the door. As Mrs. White fumbles at the locks in a desperate attempt to open the door, Mr. White becomes terrified and fears "the thing outside" is not the son whom he loved and remembers. He makes his third wish. The knocking stops suddenly and Mrs. White opens the door to find no one is there. She wails in disappointment and misery.
A 2004 adaptation as a radio play narrated by Christopher Lee in 2004 as part of the BBC radio drama series Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales.
Variations and parodies
A great number of novels, stories, movies, plays and comics are variations or adaptations of the story, featuring similar plots built around wishes that go awry in macabre ways, occasionally with references to monkey's paws or to the story itself.
The story is frequently parodied on television shows and in comic books.