If fantastical stories have taught us anything, it’s that magical wishes are nothing but trouble. The horror short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs showed us that wishes can be twisted into something terrible. The Disney animated Aladdin movie, along with Robin Williams’s depiction of the famous Genie, showed viewers that what we often wish for isn’t what we really wanted or even needed. There are so many stories about wishes going wrong, that any mystical being or object that grants wishes should come with a liability waiver. Humans, however, having read many of these stories, will often try to verbally trick the wish-granting entity to give them exactly what they want, life lessons not included. This is the humorous premise behind the humorous modern fantasy graphic novel Three Little Wishes, written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Steven Yeowell.
Kelly Castleton, a contract lawyer who’s made a career out of obsessing over the fine print, receives a strange bottle that happens to contain the Fairy King Oberon. For freeing him, Oberon offers Kelly the deal of a lifetime: three magical wishes. However, Oberon is more than willing to twist Kelly’s wishes in order to create chaos. Kelly could wish for many things, from helping an ex-boyfriend to benefiting all of society, but she’ll have to use all her legal smarts to make the most of her wishes without turning the world upside down.
Cornell’s premise has something different than the typical wish-granting trope. Unlike most literary characters who receive wishes, Kelly Castleton takes time to methodically plan what she actually wishes for. Her wishes aren’t even for selfish reasons. However, they do have many unforeseen consequences, such as hilariously putting a freelance assassin out of work, who becomes a comic relief character in his own right. Mostly, this book is about the overall character arc of Kelly Castleton who learns that there is sometimes joy in spontaneity. King Oberon also has many opportunities to grow, starting out as the book’s antagonist but ends up learning something about the humans he tried to deceive for centuries.
Yeowell’s artwork serves this book well because it is so understated. There is wish granting, but there is nothing weird like people turning to ice cream or kaiju-sized cereal mascots rampaging through downtown. With this tale being more of a character-driven story, Yeowell only has to render the faces and emotions of all the lead characters, and he does that well. Even King Oberon, the king of fairies, is portrayed as a pot-bellied bearded man with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts.
The book offers something that many graphic novel collections might find lacking: a book that, though full of fantastical elements, is more of a modern Shakespearean comedy. Fantasy fans might expect more ostentatious illustrations and subject matter, but a library that likes their fantasy more humorous and less epic should add this to their collection. This book is also a great example of how graphic novels are more than just action scenes exploding off the page. They can do a great job of detailing, in pictures, the quieter human moments.
Three Little Wishes
By Paul Cornell
Art by Steven Yeowell
Legendary Comics, 2022
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)