X-Men writer says "Make a wish, but be careful what you wish for"
April 03, 2012|Elliott Serrano, For RedEye
Novelist Mike Carey is well known among comic-book fans for his work on Marvel's X-Men books and most recently for his wonderfully literate graphic novel "The Unwritten" for DC's Vertigo line. He has recently released a new fantasy novel titled "The Steel Seraglio", a spell-binding story of intrigue, magic and the human capacity to seek out justice in an unjust world.
As a fan of his work, I am fortunate to have Mr. Carey, along with the rest of the Carey clan, offer this little preview to "The Steel Seraglio" and to discuss some of the themes behind it.
With the recent Mega Millions Lottery having gone down - much to the disappointment of many - you'd think that the idea of getting to make a wish and having it granted - like winning the lottery - would be an appealing one. But Mike Carey explores the idea of having one's wishes come true through fable, and considers if it's really all that it's cracked up to be:
Be Careful What You Wish For
The "three wishes" story tends to have a certain structure. The wishes are usually given to an ordinary man or woman or married couple. Most often they're poor, so there's a lot at stake for them. I mean, they could really do with having a wish or two come true. But at the same time, they're maybe a little simple or naive, and they don't always think about what the consequences of their wishing might be.
So the first wish creates a problem. The poor guy at the sharp end panics, tries to use the second wish to wipe out the first, but only makes things worse.
And the third wish restores the status quo, leaving the protagonist shaken and stirred and grateful for the humble drudgery that the wishes might have lifted him out of.
You get this in its purest form in an ultra-short story from the Arabian Nights. A poor but virtuous man is granted a vision of God in his heaven, and is told that because of the holy power of this vision, the next three prayers he utters will be granted. So what does the guy do? He wishes for a bigger penis. "The most perfect delight for a man is from his member. I will pray to God to magnify my member and therefore to increase the pleasure it will bring me."
I'm sure you can see where this is going. The organ in question swells to the size of Passaic, New Jersey (we're not translating literally here), and the poor guy realises that life with a penis big enough to affect local tides is not going to be a bed of roses.
So his second wish is for God to get rid of the damn thing. Which God duly does. "And he became as clean and smooth in his fork as is a eunuch, or a girl." No penis, no problem.
Wish three is the inevitable: "Give me back what I had to start with, and let's never speak of this again."
There are literally hundreds of variations on this story in the folk literatures of the world: it's often given a sexual dimension, but not always. It can be tragedy, cosmic meditation, horror or farce (farce definitely predominates), and it can be told with masses of circumstantial detail or kept plain and simple. But at its heart, it's a deeply conservative kind of story. The moral is: be grateful for what you've got now, and don't mess with it. Any change is likely to be for the worse, and if it's for the better, you'll probably screw it up anyway because you're an idiot.
In our novel The Steel Seraglio (out from Chizine Publications on the 15th of March), one of the main plot threads concerns a group of appallingly powerful entities, the seven djinni, who grant wishes whenever they feel in the mood. But like all granters of wishes, they tend to be a bit legalistic about wording and they don't feel obliged to honour the actual spirit of the wish: you get what you asked for, like it or not; and it may be a long way from what you actually wanted.
But our djinni only ever grant one wish. You can't go back, and you have to live with the consequences of whatever you get. It's just one throw of the dice, and maybe it will give you your heart's desire, or maybe it will hurl you into torment and despair. Either way, you don't get a second chance. Some of the bad bargains that get made by incautious wishers are mentioned in a short extract that you can find on the Chizine blog, right here:-
But the character who is most affected, in the story, by contact with the djinni is our narrator, Rem; and she doesn't even make a wish! Rem's mother, Rahdi, suspects her husband of cheating on her, so she goes to the djinni to get some answers.
This is a little bit like trying to light a birthday candle with a thermonuclear device. Rahdi wishes for certain knowledge; and she gets it. But the djinni don't play fair. They don't even know what fairness is. So the way they grant Rahdi's wish changes her daughter's life irrevocably. Whether she's blessed or cursed is another question.
There's another extract from the book up on the Chizine site, here.