The Foolish Wishes by Charles Perrault

The Foolish Wishes, recorded by Charles Perrault, is also known as The Ridiculous Wishes or The Three Ridiculous Wishes.

This exact fairytale passed me by as a kid, but there are no shortage of tales about characters who are granted three wishes by some sort of genie/supernatural  being. I’d find myself thinking, “Don’t waste the last one! Just wish for more wishes!” I wonder if everyone listening to these stories thinks exactly the same thing, but I’m put in mind of my neighbour, who told me recently that when he was made to attend Sunday school as a boy, they were required to pray, but they weren’t to pray for selfish things such as ‘growing an inch taller over summer’ or ‘a bike for Christmas’. Their prayers had to be altruistic or they wouldn’t ‘work’.

The Foolish Wishes illustration_from_Fairy_tales_of_Charles_Perrault_(Clarke,_1922)
The Foolish Wishes illustration from Fairytales of Charles Perrault, Clarke, 1922

I think perhaps there are some cultural parallels between the nature of religious prayer and fairytale wishing: They must be altruistic and they must come from a good place.

Content Note: After reading this story you may find you never feel the same way about black pudding again. Also, if you live in Australia, you may think of black pudding whenever you see a black snake.

Wasteful Wishing is a common trope of modern comedies. Wishing for food items is a common one. No doubt fairytales such as this one have been influential in the emergence of this trope.



“There once lived a woodcutter who was so poor he couldn’t enjoy life at all; he thought he was by nature a most unlucky fellow.”


The woodcutter desires a better life for himself.


Is Jupiter the opponent, or the wife? Jupiter is a bit stingy. After all, he could grant the man more wishes if he so chose. Apparently he’s an interventionist sort of fellow.

But no, the main opponent is the nagging wife, and her annoying wish to remain pretty.


The woodcutter plans to think hard about what to wish for and consult with his wife first.


The argument in which the wife ends up with a huge black pudding permanently stuck to the end of her nose. (A prime example of fairytale logic.)


Well, he realises he has been very foolish, saying things he doesn’t mean. But if he leaves his wife looking like that there will be no use them living in a castle, so he must use his remaining wish to get back to life as it was before, which compared to this doesn’t look so bad now.


Nothing has changed.

“So the woodcutter stayed in his cottage and went out to saw logs every day. He did not become a king; he did not even fill his pockets with money.”


By ‘Western’, I mean of the type found on Pinterest. On Pinterest you’ll find memes such as this:

make a wish take a chance

Wishes haven’t gone out of fashion. Sometimes the advice sounds very much like something straight out of a fairytale (or inside a fortune cookie):

You can have it all

But one step on from the ‘make a wish’ advice is to be proactive in making plans for yourself:

if you want your story

But take a look into identity and left wing politics and you’ll finally see acknowledgement that, best laid plans aside, some people are more privileged and are therefore in a much better position than others to ‘follow their dreams’. You can’t follow your dreams, after all, if you’re missing teeth, face racial/sex discrimination, are in poor health and work for minimum wage in three jobs looking after your four disabled children.


Fools and Other Unwise Persons, a categorisation from Baughman’s Type and Motif Index of the Folktales of England and North America by Ernest Warren Baughman 1966


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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