Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Somewhat less cryptic and obscure than many of Rudyard Kipling’s stories, “The Wish House” skillfully blends realism and fantasy in a way that suggests that the supernatural order is coextensive with the natural. This lends force to the story’s themes, with their implication that in spite of surface appearances to the contrary, no part of life is in fact separate from any other part.

The realism is especially noticeable in the country dialect in which both women speak, which has the effect of grounding them in a particular locality and a particular class of character. It also suggests a lack of sophistication, a lack of exposure to modern, homogenizing culture, which makes their acceptance of ancient folk beliefs immediately plausible to the reader. After all the trappings of a March Saturday in southern England—football buses, church visitors, afternoon tea—have added to the realistic flavor, the supernatural, fantastic element creeps in unobtrusively, seemingly enfolded within the natural order. The Wish House is not placed in a mysterious, unspecified setting, but at 14 Wadloes Road, on the way to the greengrocer. There are more than twenty houses in the street exactly like it. The reader’s suspension of disbelief is assured. Even the spirit itself is curiously mundane, sitting on a chair in the kitchen and shuffling upstairs, Mrs. Ashcroft observes, as if it were “a heavy woman in slippers.”

The effect of this subtle interpenetration of natural and supernatural becomes clear at the end of the story. The sordid reality of the exposed wound that Mrs. Ashcroft displays to her friend remains uppermost in the reader’s mind, but it no longer stands alone, without wider significance. It has become the focal point for the mysterious trading of blessing and curse that has been woven into the fabric of the old woman’s life.