Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Instead of Three Wishes

Go To
Trade Paperback, Art by Beppe Giacobbe

A collection of seven short Fractured Fairy Tales by Megan Whalen Turner first published in 1995, Instead of Three Wishes (also published as Instead of Three Wishes: Magical Short Stories) presents readers with familiar character archetypes — tricky leprechauns, mysterious ghosts, beautiful selkies with stolen pelts, lost princes, monster-slaying heroes, fairy royalty reluctantly indebted to a human who aided them — and turns the conventional narrative trappings associated with them on their head. Some stories bring these ancient archetypes in the modern world, giving their fairy-tale characters modern problems to solve. Others see modern heroes butting up against fairy-tale logic that disrupts their normal lives, forced to contend with an unfamiliar world of magic and supernatural happenings.

The volume includes the following short stories:

  • A Plague of Leprechaun: A leprechaun appears in a small town in New Hampshire — much to the distress of both the locals and a visiting painter, who must contend with the swarms of leprechaun hunters that follow.
  • Leroy Roachbane: A boy from inner-city Chicago travels back in time to prehistoric Sweden and saves a village from a swarm of vile creatures.
  • Factory: A young man sees a woman's ghost appear in the rafters of a huge factory. A young woman who died years ago sees a living man appear in her attic.
  • Aunt Charlotte and the NGA Portraits: A little girl's great aunt tells her an incredible tale during a cab ride to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
  • Instead of Three Wishes: After unknowingly doing a favor for an elf prince, a young woman is offered three wishes in return for her service. Knowing how wishes tend to backfire on the wisher she declines, asking the prince to choose a reward he feels is appropriate for her. The prince responds with increasingly elaborate gifts in an attempt to repay the favor.
  • The Nightmare: When a bully unwittingly takes possession of a nightmare, he desperately searches for a way to get rid of it.
  • The Baker King: With the threat of invasion hovering over the peaceful island Kingdom of Monemvassia, a conniving Minister hatches a plot to pass off a simple baker's apprentice as the kingdom's long-lost prince.


    open/close all folders 

    Tropes Present in Multiple Stories 
  • An Aesop:
    • Most of the stories center around themes of kindness in one form or another.
    • The Nightmare: Don't be cruel to people, because cruelty can just as easily be turned back against you.
    • Instead of Three Wishes: Extravagant gifts aren't always best.
  • The Fair Folk:
    • A Plague of Leprechaun includes a Leprechaun.
    • The title story, Instead of Three Wishes, features an entire court of fae folk living in modern Canada. Ruled by the elf Prince Mechemel, the Elf Realm of South Minney includes hamadryads, leprechauns, stolen 14th century human princes, sprites, and other typical fae.
    • Aunt Charlotte and the NGA Portraits includes a Selkie with a lost pelt.
  • Setting Update:
    • A Plague of Leprechaun sets a leprechaun loose in the town of North Twicking, New Hampshire in the modern day (or at least the 1990's).
    • Factory sees a family of ghosts haunting not their ancestral home, but the megafactory built over the land where their home once stood.
    • Aunt Charlotte and the NGA Portraits is the tale of a human girl who befriends a Selkie in North Carolina of the mid-20th century.
    • Instead of Three Wishes brings an entire fae court to modern (1990's) Ontario, Canada.

    Tropes in A Plague of Leprechaun 
  • Alliterative Name: Mag Malleaster, proprietor of North Twicking's inn and tavern.
  • Starving Artist: Roger Otterly openly admits that he's quite poor, and when he finds that his paints have been stolen and canvases ruined by the Leprechaun he's mostly upset about being unable to afford new art supplies to replace them and complete his commissions. When Roger winds up with a pouch of Leprechaun gold, all he can think about is buying new paints.
    "I'm an artist, you see. Anyway, I've just gotten out of art school, and I'm sure I'm at the beginning of a long and famous career." He smiled at Mag, and she smiled back. "I've got no money, but I do have a commission to paint six pictures of some charming countryside for a dentist's office."

    Tropes in Leroy Roachbane 
  • All Just a Dream: When Leroy is woken up, he finds he's crashed his bicycle on the way home from school and landed in a snow bank. He was unconscious for less than a minute before a neighbor who witnessed the crash rushed outside to check on him, and his weeks of adventure in prehistoric Sweden must have been a concussion-induced dream cause by his anxiety over a school report he wrote about ancient Scandinavia.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: After buying a bag full of roach motels and boric acid at the hardware store, Leroy crashes his bike on the way home and dreams up an adventure in preshistoric Sweden where he saves a village by driving away the roaches that have infested their feasting hall with the modern pest control supplies he bought for his mom. Though he was unconscious for less than a minute, when Leroy gets back to his family's apartment the shopping bag contains empty bottles of boric acid and empty packaging for roach motels.
  • Trapped in the Past: Leroy crashes his bicycle and wakes up in prehistoric Sweden with no clue how to return to the present day.

    Tropes in Factory 
  • An Astral Projection, Not a Ghost: Zig-Zagged. When the ghosts of the Gerwinks family interact with the living, they see the living as translucent and incorporeal.
    "Have there been other people that you could see?" John asked one day.
    "Other ghosts, you mean?" Edwina persisted in thinking of the people of John's world as ghosts. "After all, I feel solid to me," she had pointed out. "You're the ones who are all misty."
  • Crapsack World:
    • John grows up in a government-sponsored orphanage in a Mega City with no trees, grass, or animals. He's assigned to a factory job the day he turns eighteen, having been placed their by a computerized test and psych profile that determined he could withstand the isolation and rigors of operating a ceiling-mounted crane for fourteen hours a day.
    • Once he's assigned to his job, John sleeps in a cubicle provided by the factory, wears clothes provided by the factory, eats in the factory dining hall, buys all his groceries from the factory store, and can only read books provided by the factory library (and even then the choices are limited, with any reading material considered "subversive" having been removed years ago).
    • The factory itself was built on parkland that belonged to the private estate of an eccentric family who wanted to keep the green space open for all to visit as the city around them became increasingly urbanized. Then a corporation decided they wanted the parcel of land — after successfully lobbying the city government, the corporation had the family's land re-zoned from residential to commercial use, hoping to force the family to bargain with them. When the patriarch still wouldn't sell, the corporation arranged a truck accident to get rid of him. Then they sent bulldozers to tear down the flowers and trees, the family house, and the hill it was built on.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Edwina is a sweet girl in her late teens who just so happens to be a Friendly Ghost. John eventually falls in love with her.
  • Died Happily Ever After: John commits suicide in order to join Edwina and her family in their peaceful afterlife. The narration states that their ghosts can still be seen sitting together in the rafters of the factory, reading books and eating chocolate.
  • Friendly Ghost: Rumor has it that accidents at the Gerwinks-Primary Factory are all caused by the vengeful ghosts of the Gerwinks family, but John and his boss, the former high crane operator know better. The ghosts are friendly and totally incapable of interacting with the living world. Cute Ghost Girl Edwina has befriended at least one other high crane operator besides John.
  • Haunted House: Zig-Zagged — the Gerwinks family haunts the landscape where their house used to be. The hill their house was built atop was up bulldozed to make room for a factory, so their spirits only show up in the rafters. From the ghosts' point of view, they're still inhabiting their home. They only see the living factory workers when they walk down into the cellar; or visit the meadow near their house where the factory dining hall was eventually built; or when a high crane operator stumbles into the alcove beneath the roof that exactly overlaps the space where their attic once stood.
  • Healthy in Heaven: Averted:
    • The Gerwinks had to delay their plans until little Angela recovered from a cold, or else she would have been stuck as sickly toddler for the rest of he afterlife.
    • Edwina didn't die from the poison, she died from waking up with a poison-induced headache and falling out a window. As a ghost, her spine is "all wobbly now" but she assures John that it doesn't hurt.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Exaggerated — due to the ritual Widow Gerwinks performed, the ghosts and their house appear in the afterlife exactly as they did when the family died. Seasons seem to pass for them, but the family doesn't age and their home doesn't decay. They still cook food, but only with the ingredients that were in the pantry when they died. They plant a flower garden every year, but only with the seeds and bulbs that were in their garden shed the day the ritual was completed.
    The house she lived in was exactly the same as it had been just before the demolition team arrived. The days passed and the seasons changed, but year after year the house was exactly the same.
    "And we have the mythical never-empty wallet of food as well," Edwina explained. "As often as we take a cup of flour from its canister, a fresh cup takes its place. We have as much of everything now as we had when we started being dead."
    John choked on his lunch. Edwina continued, "But we never have anything new, of course. Mother shopped very carefully, right up to the last, but even back then there were things you couldn't get easily. Chocolate, for instance."
  • Together in Death: John and Edwina grow close over the months they spend sharing poetry and literature. But Edwina knows that John will eventually be promoted away from his position on the high crane, and he'll age and grow and forget all about her, just like her last friend. She tells him this, and that she'll miss him when he's gone. John realizes he's in love with Edwina and doesn't want to live in a world without her, so he commits suicide in order to join her family in the afterlife.

    Tropes in Aunt Charlotte and the NGA Portraits 
  • Framing Device: The narrator and her Aunt Charlotte's visit to the National Gallery of Art is the framing device for the story Aunt Charlotte tells.
  • Homage: Four real-world portraits of children are described as characters that Charlotte meets when she climbs into the Canaletto painting. Olga had previously enlisted the help of the painted children in searching for her sealskin but they were unsuccessful in their efforts, perhaps due to being paintings themselves. They do help Charlotte in her quest, and proved to be her first real friends. Charlotte is exceedingly fond of them and often visits the National Gallery of Art, where the portraits are on display. She mentions having spent a lot of time and money to gather all the paintings together in one place. The paintings consist of:
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: The jester tells Charlotte that if she stays in the painting, she'll never have to grow up or grow old — she can keep having fun with her new friends, and never have to go back to her boring life and her distracted parents. It turns out Charlotte doesn't want to stay a child forever. She wants to grow up and see the world, and make choices for herself, and to help Olga. She ignores the jester and leaves the painting with Olga's sealskin, breaking the curse.
  • Portal Picture: Olga's sealskin was hidden from her in a Canaletto painting of Venice. The enchantment that hid her skin within the painting also made it so that visitors could cross into the picture. While Olga herself would not survive entering the picture (as she would fall directly into the canal beneath the portal and drown without her sealskin), Charlotte is able to climb into the frame, swim to the edge of the canal, and explore the world inside the picture.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: Olga Weathers is a selkie whose pelt was stolen by a man who wished to court her. Without her sealskin, she's rendered unable to swim. The suitor attempted to keep Olga in his power by stopping her from returning to the sea, but didn't count on her moving away from him on a boat and making a life for herself in North Carolina.
  • Separate Scene Storytelling: Aunt Charlotte's story is separated from the Framing Device by having a different font and indentation style.

    Tropes in Instead of Three Wishes 
  • Aliens Steal Cable: Elves steal cable and electricity — the elvish Prince Mechemel's elderly mother is largely bed-bound, and she enjoys watching cable TV to pass the time. They steal electricity from Ontario Hydroelectric to power her little TV set.
    She waved one had at the television set on a stand beside her bed. It stood on a stand of crystal and carefully wrought gold. Its cord ran across the floor and out one window, where it dropped to the ground and was wired directly into one of Ontario Hydroelectric's cross-country power cables.
  • Cold Iron: Discussed. Although iron isn't directly harmful to the Fae court of Instead of Three Wishes, a sufficient quantity of it does repulse or frighten them — or it could just be the swarms of steel (an alloy of iron) vehicles rushing past the elf prince while he's stuck at a crosswalk that have him so on edge.
    "Are elves really bothered by iron?" asked Selene.
    "I don't know that it actually hurts them," said Harold, "but it does, you know, give them the willies."
  • Faerie Court: The "Elf Realm of South Minney" is a fairy court located somewhere adjacent to Ontario that counts hamadryads, leprechauns, and kidnapped 14th century human princes among its denizens. It is ruled over by the elvish Prince Mechemel, son of the aged elf Queen.
  • Food Chains: Inverted — the elf prince Mechemel has never eaten anything as delicious as Selene's baking. Though he disguised himself as a human and rented a room in Selene and her mother's house to try and learn what would make a good gift, he finds himself staying longer than he intended so that he can continue to enjoy her cakes and scones. Mechemel eventually figures out that the best gift to repay Selene is a scholarship to a prestigious culinary institute she couldn't afford the tuition to attend — on the condition that she comes back to the Elf Realm of South Minney every summer and demonstrates what she's learned at cooking school.
  • King Incognito: Downplayed — Mechemel disguises himself as a human history professor and rents a room from Selene and her mother. He's not doing it to find out what conditions are like in his own kingdom, but to learn more about the human world. Specifically to learn more about what would make a good gift for Selene in order to repay her favor.
  • Our Nymphs Are Different: Prince Mechemel's court counts dryads and hamadryads among its ranks. He even has one move into the half-dead shrub in the front yard of Selene's mother's house in order to keep an eye on the place.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Comes with the territory of being royalty:
    • Prince Mechemel rules over the Elf Realm of South Minney, but he has no idea how to repay a modern human for her kindness. He tries offering Selene a palace to live in (she declines, since the heating bills would be too extravagant and her mother's wheelchair would have trouble with the steps), a magnificent carriage pulled by a team of magic horses (she sends it back, since the carriage won't fit in the garage and she has no stables for the horses), and a handsome fairytale prince to wed (again Selene refuses, since the prince is literally a nobleman from the 14th century who would have no idea how to get a job).
    • Harold (the human prince that Mechemel sends to wed Selene) is handsome but a bit dull. Before getting abducted by the fae some time during the 14th century, his greatest interests were courtly fashion and the occasional royal hunting party. When Selene's mother asks about the treaties and battles he might have witnessed, he admits he didn't pay much attention to politics.
    • Averted with Prince Mechemel's mother. Although she doesn't have much first-hand experience in the modern human world, all the TV she watches gives her a bit more insight into how it works.
  • Three Wishes: Discussed and Invoked, but ultimately Averted. Prince Mechemel offers Selene three wishes as a reward when she helps him cross a busy street. She rejects the offer, knowing that wishes tend to backfire on their caster.
    He pulled out a wallet. From the wallet he extracted three small white cards and pushed them at Selene.
    They looked like business cards. Instead of a printed name, a filigreed gold line wrapped itself in a design in the middle of each white rectangle.
    "What are they?" Selene asked.
    "Wishes," said the elf prince. "You've got three. Just make a wish and burn the card. It doesn't" — he looked her over with contempt— "require a college education."
    "Thanks, but no, thanks," said Selene, and handed the cards back. She'd read about people who were offered three wishes by malevolent sprites. No matter what they wished, something terrible happened.

    Tropes in The Nightmare 
  • Flashback Nightmare: The Nightmare forces Kevin to relive the events of the last day from the point of view of everyone who took notice of him.
  • Gang of Bullies: Kevin led a gang of sixth grade bullies who taunted and stole from younger children. When he and his friends graduate to seventh grade, they find themselves the targets of the eight grade bullies.
  • Jerkass Realization: Seeing his actions from the point of view of everyone around him makes the Kevin realize how cruel and stupid he's acted.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Kevin is just about to start seventh grade, but he and his friends are already used to picking on their classmates and have graduated to harassing strangers on the street. As the story begins, he and his friends try to rob a woman in the street for no other reason than that they're bored. When they start the school year, they find themselves mercilessly picked on by eighth graders who steal their lunch money and chase them down the halls.
  • Mind Virus: Zig-Zagged — the Nightmare is a sort of curse/ quasi-magical dream that can only infect one person at a time. It can only be transferred to its next host if they "ask for it", although the wording doesn't have to be precise. Kevin is initially "infected" when he tells the previous host to "give me whatever you've got." He passes it on to the next victim when they demands that he "hand it over," thinking Kevin has lunch money or something else in his pockets.
  • Nightmare Sequence: The first time Kevin has The Nightmare, his dream is described in vivid detail.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: Kevin is plagued by a recurring, magical Nightmare that makes him relive the last day from the point of view of everyone he interacted with.

    Tropes in The Baker King 
  • King Incognito: The previous King of Monemvassia sent his son off to receive a royal education, but the King fell ill and died before he could tell his Ministers just where Prince Manenele was studying. It turns out the Prince was working as the apprentice of the local baker. His father wanted him to have a bit of privacy before he was to take over as King of Monemvassia, and to get a sense of what life was like for the his future subjects.
  • Lost Orphaned Royalty: With the death of the King of Monemvassia, his son Prince Manenele is the sole surviving member of the royal family. Trouble is, no one knows where the Prince is — the King sent his son away to receive a proper education before the Prince assumed the throne, but told none of his ministers where the boy was being educated. When the King died suddenly there was no one who knew where the Prince had been sent. Minister Orvis takes advantage of this confusion to try and set up Nele the baker's apprentice as the lost Prince Manenele.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: There's a prophecy that only the true royal family of Monemvassia may sit on the Kingdom's throne, and any usurper who take the seat will be struck down by a terrible curse. Nele uses the prophecy as a cover to kill Spiro the Bandit, concealing a venomous cliff snake in the throne's cushion right before Spiro barges in and declares himself king. Spiro the Bandit takes the throne and immediately falls dead, having been bitten in the butt by the snake the moment he sat down and disturbed it's slumber.
  • Spotting the Thread: Discussed — by the Prime Minister and Nele, after Nele has successfully warded off Spiro the Bandit King and returned to his cover as a simple baker's apprentice. The Prime Minister reminds him that only the royal family and the ministers knew the prophecy surrounding the throne. A baker's apprentice would have no reason to know it, since Minister Orvis never brought it up while trying to convince Nele he might be the lost Prince Manenele. The Prime Minister cautions Nele that he almost revealed himself to actually be the lost Prince Manenele. If any of the other ministers had put a bit of thought into it, they might have been able to figure out his identity — as it is, they're all too distracted by the whole business with Spiro the Bandit to give a baker's apprentice much thought.