Three Wishes

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"In any story worth tellin', that knows about the way of the world, the third wish is the one that undoes the harm the first two wishes caused."
Granny WeatherwaxA Hat Full of Sky

Sahjhan: Thank you mortal, for releasing me from my cursed prison. In gratitude I grant you three wishes.
Connor: Really?

Sahjhan: Nah, I'm just messin' with you.

In most fiction, inanimate wish-granting objects (such as wishbones and birthday candles[1]) tend to grant only one wish. But when you're fortunate enough to find a living creature that can grant wishes, you'll most likely receive three of them.

When presented with three magical shots at anything they want, most fictional characters react thus:

  • The first wish is one typically made in haste, perhaps not quite believing that it would be granted. Sometimes they specifically wish for something trivial, just to "test" if their wish will really be granted at all. Other times they may waste it on something frivolous, like wishing that the neighbor's damned dog would stop barking. (Granted! A car plows into the neighbor's house, killing the dog in the process.) Sometimes the second wish may also be wasted on something equally frivolous.
  • The second wish is made with much greater care than the first wish, with full awareness of what (obvious) consequences may result; they will carefully craft their second wish in a way that results in the maximum gain and the minimum unintended side effects, and possibly attempting a bit of Loophole Abuse to get the better of their benefactor. But the Literal Genie, well aware of their Greed, will usually find a way to exploit the person's Exact Words and attach some measure of unforeseen tragic consequence to their wish all the same. Alternatively, the wish itself will be flawed and shallow, and the hero's misery will be his own fault.
  • The last wish—almost invariably—pushes the Reset Button and returns things to the status quo through one precisely worded Wishplosion. However, if nothing of consequence ever came of the first two wishes, the third wish (desperately made in an attempt to elicit some gain) may also backfire, but with hilarious instead of tragic consequences.

Related to the Rule of Three. For this to work, the person with the wishes has to not be Genre Savvy enough to know to use the first wish to wish for the knowledge and wisdom to know what to use the last two wishes for.

See Mundane Wish when one of the wishes (typically the first one) is spent on something trivially minor. See also Be Careful What You Wish For, Wasteful Wishing.

Also, as the Genie in Aladdin stresses, "IXNAY on wishing for more wishes!"

Examples of Three Wishes include:

Reset Button Examples

Anime and Manga

  • Each miko in Fushigi Yuugi gets three wishes. While Takiko and Suzuno's last wishes are unknown (the former is assumed to have died before making her third wish, while it is unclear whether or not the latter's wish to remain with Tatara was indeed her last), Miaka and Yui's last wishes are of this type ( Yui, after being devoured by Seiryuu, wishes that Miaka be given the power to summon Suzaku, while Miaka wishes that everything be brought back to normal).
  • A rather grisly example shows up in xxxHolic, this one involving a monkey's paw which grants five wishes (one for each finger of the mummified paw). In this case the additional two wishes only give the woman who gets hold of the paw that many more ways to screw herself over: her first wish turns out harmlessly enough, which only encourages her to make increasingly reckless and greedy wishes. It's not long before, running late for an important interview, she carelessly thinks to herself that if there were a railway accident it would give her an excuse for being late - which the paw accepts as a wish, causing an unfortunate bystander to be thrown into the path of an oncoming train. Matters deteriorate rapidly after this as her other wishes begin backfiring on her as well, and when she tries to use her final wish to hit the reset button, the paw kills her.



  • Used in the fairy tale "The Fisherman and his Wife": the henpecked fisherman catches a fish which says he'll grant him three wishes if he spares his life. The fisherman agrees, and wishes for a castle. The wife isn't satisfied and wants to be the Pope, so she sends the fisherman back to catch the magic flounder and get that wish fulfilled as well. Still not enough. Now she wants to be like God, so the fisherman gets sent back one last time. This wish undoes everything, as the fish interprets the wish in the context, as American McGee's Grimm points out at the end, that God has no need for material possessions - in short, to "be like God" means absolute destitution, which is no big deal for the divine, but utter hell for the insatiable wife.
    • In another version, the fish doesn't limit the wishes to three, and the wife progresses up the social status ladder from the shabby hovel to a nice little cottage, then to Burgher to Bishop to King to Pope to God, and the "God" wish causes the fish to become so angry at the wife's greed that he retracts all the wishes, returning her to the shabby little hovel she started with.
      • In yet another version, the wife progressively makes more and more demanding wishes, and when the wife is about to make the ultimate wish, the fish is annoyed and says to the fisherman "Every time you come here, you bring a wish for your wife. Don't you have any wish of your own?" to which the fisherman replies "I just wish for my wife to be happy" to which the reset button is applied, and the couple are returned to their original poverty, but now the wife is satisfied with her lot in life and no longer seeks to rise in social status nor wealth. Awwww.
  • In "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs, the characters skip straight to wishing for lots of money. The second wish is then used in an attempt to undo the side-effects of the first wish (namely, the horrific death of their son), and the third wish to undo the side-effects of the second (fortunately without creating any new side-effects of its own).
  • "The Ludicrous Wishes": While this story is a little obscure, it may be the Trope Maker, as it dates to 1697 at the latest.
  • Partially defied in "The Third Wish" by Joan Aiken; the main character is warned early that he'll likely end up using his third wish to undo the first two. Instead, he uses the second to undo the first, but is still happier than before, and dies with the third unspent.
  • Goosebumps: "Be Careful What You Wish For". First Samantha Byrd wishes that she would be the strongest member of the basketball team, but everyone else becomes weak. Then she wishes for Judith to stop bugging her, but everyone disappears. After Samantha resets the wishes, Judith accidentally wishes "Byrd, why don't you fly away?", turning her into a bird.
  • The Dresden Files: Inverted. Fairly early in the series, Harry ends up owing three favors to the Queen of Winter Faeries, Mab. As of Changes, he seems to have paid them all off, but even if becoming the Winter Knight counts as the third favor, he now has to follow her orders anyway.

Live Action TV

  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Man in the Bottle". The genie actually granted four wishes; with the first wish being used solely to test the genie, the second being "one million dollars" (which they give away to friends, before federal and state income tax claim the rest), the third being a clear Type 2, and the fourth to return everything to normal. A closing Karmic Twist Ending ultimately undoes their first wish as well, leaving them with nothing but some wisdom learned from the experience.
  • Invoked and averted in Angel by Sahjhan, who ends up just telling him he "appreciates it". Then he finds out who Connor is.

Newspaper Comics

  • One strip of The Bash Street Kids in The Beano has the teacher discovering a Genie. He blows his first wish on wishing he wasn't so freaked out. He then wishes for all the kids to be smart. It happens, and teacher hears he's going to be out of job, so he wishes for all the kids to be stupid again.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons has a Ring of Three Wishes. And yes, the GM is supposed to be an Evil Genie when he doesn't like the wish. In third edition, they start listing exactly what the players are allowed to wish for without the Dungeon Master messing with them, and any greater effect is giving license for the DM to wreck your wish to balance the game.


  • In Finian's Rainbow, Finian's crock of gold has three wishes in it before it turns to dross. The first wish is accidental, causing complications until it is undone by the third wish (because there was an accidental second wish too).

Video Games

An elderly man was sitting alone on a dark path. He wasn't certain of which direction to go, and he'd forgotten both where he was traveling to and who he was. He'd sat down for a moment to rest his weary legs, and suddenly looked up to see an elderly woman before him. She grinned toothlessly and with a cackle, spoke: "Now your *third* wish. What will it be?"
"Third wish?" The man was baffled. "How can it be a third wish if I haven't had a first and second wish?"
"You've had two wishes already," the hag said, "but your second wish was for me to return everything to the way it was before you had made your first wish. That's why you remember nothing; because everything is the way it was before you made any wishes." She cackled at the poor man. "So it is that you have one wish left."
"All right," he said, "I don't believe this, but there's no harm in wishing. I wish to know who I am."
"Funny," said the old woman as she granted his wish and disappeared forever. "That was your first wish."

Western Animation

  • In DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (see the entry in the other category), there are at least three examples of a Reset Button, though none are made by the original wisher. The first two are made by the nephews to undo the chaos caused by Webby's wishes (or at least the two of hers that are seen onscreen). The third is Scrooge's second wish, done to reverse the work of the Big Bad (and then his third wish is used for Freeing the Genie).
  • In a Sesame Street Christmas special, Elmo gets a magic snowglobe from Santa Claus. He uses the first wish to get a drink of water, the second wish to make Christmas neverending, and the third wish to undo the second one when he realizes that an endless Christmas isn't as wonderful as he thought it would be. Subverted with the third one when the snowglobe breaks as he's trying to wish on it, and he has to take an alternate way of undoing his second wish.
  • A Discussed Trope on the Fairly Oddparents (see Three Good Wishes). According to Norm The Genie the typical structure is thus: Something stupid like "I want a sandwich", something world changing "I want to be Mayor of the World!" and then when that blows in their face "I wish I had never met you!" returning the status quo. Interestingly Timmy also uses a varient of this when he meets Norm (before this was brought up). He decides since Norm can grant him three RULE FREE wishes (as opposed to Cosmo and Wanda whom can grant unlimited wishes but have a ridcliously long book of rules to go along with it) to test them out with a simple rule free wish "I wish I had an omlette (after 10 am)!". (Of course Norm being The Trickster gives him an Omlette that was too hot without a plate), followed by "I wish Trixie Tang was in love with me, Timmy Turner!" (actually in love with everyone named Timmy Turner on the planet) and "I wish I had One Billion Dollars!" (It's counterfeit). The reset button is pressed by him more or less blackmailing Norm into more wishes, and then wishing for a lawyer (the only thing that can defeat Genies besides Smoof).

Three good wishes examples

Note that when the last wish is not a Reset Button, it can often be used for Freeing the Genie.

Anime and Manga

  • Subverted in the Asatte no Houkou manga; a sign by the shrine the wishing stone is in says each stone will grant three wishes, but in truth, each one only grants one wish.


  • Genies in Disney's Aladdin movies must give whomever hold their lamps three wishes, with three restrictions: they can't kill anybody (but, as the sequel made clear, "you'd be surprised what you can live through"), they can't make anybody fall in love with anybody else, and they can't bring people back from the dead (it's not a pretty picture... they don't like doing it!) And of course, wishing for more wishes is strictly forbidden.
    • But as Aladdin proved, genies can apparently be tricked into using their powers without making an official wish, when he doubts whether Genie can even free them from the Cave of Wonders and Genie takes the dare, freeing them without realizing Aladdin never actually wished for it.
    • And then there's when Jafar wishes for Jasmine to fall in love with him; Jasmine fakes it, much to Genie's surprise.
  • The Thief of Bagdad


  • Theseus gets three wishes from Poseidon, and in Euripides' play Hippolytus, he uses one of them to kill the eponymous character.
  • The Witcher short story collection The Last Wish is, as you would expect, based on this.
  • Subversion: In The Old Genie Hottabych by Lazar Lagin, the genies are not required to fulfill any wishes for those who free them but the titular Hottabych feels so grateful to The Protagonist that he decides to become his lifetime servant, i.e. granting him unlimited wishes for the duration of his life (which is, needless to say, thousands of times shorter than Hottabych's own, so it's a pretty good deal). Another genie (Hottabych's brother) appears later in the novel who has to be coerced into serving his rescuer but also grants unlimited wishes.
  • The Wheel of Time has Mat entering another world where fox-like beings grant three wishes to every visitor. He wishes for a cure for his amnesia, a way to be free of Aes Sedai and the One Power, and a way out of their world and back to his own. That last wish is almost a "reset button," but he still "enjoys" the benefits of his first two wishes. Except he failed to specify that he wanted to leave their world alive, so they try to hang him.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire the assassin Jaqen H'ghar offers Arya three very specific wishes. Specifically, she can say three names, and those people will die (because he'll kill them). As is traditional she ends up wasting the first two on a petty tormentor and a soldier who, while vile, was no worse than several of the others. Only after doing so does she realize that she could have said anyone and she should have killed the enemy commanders. The third name she says is Jaqen H'gar, after he refuses to help her free the prisoners and have her family's forces take control of the castle. She unsays it after he helps her, but because several people were killed in the uprising he considers his debt to her paid and refuses to let her pick another name. He was apparently impressed, because he essentially offers her admission to his order before leaving.
  • In Dead Witch Walking, Rachel apprehends a leprechaun who offers her three wishes if she'll let her go. Rachel decides to take the leprechaun up on her offer, intending to use the wishes to quit the IS and set up a freelance runner firm. Ivy and Jenks, believing the IS will try to have Rachel killed, offer to come along to help her along in exchange for a wish each. Rachel uses hers to avoid getting in trouble for taking the leprechaun's bribe, Jenks wishes to become sterile (he already has lots of kids and is afraid his wife would leave him otherwise), and Ivy gives hers to a banshee who helped her once, which causes trouble a few books later.

Live Action TV

  • There was a Saturday Night Live sketch with a 3-wish-granting fish; the fisherman who caught him was Genre Savvy enough to hire a team of lawyers to figure out precisely what his first two wishes should be. His third wish? "Pay my lawyers." His lawyers' fee: 100 wishes.
  • In the X Files genie episode "Je Souhaite", Mulder skipped the simple test wish, having already seen the effects of some of the genie's wishes. So his first wish was for "peace on Earth", which the genie granted by getting rid of everyone except him (which, she explained, was much easier than making people actually love their fellow man). He used his second wish to undo the first. His third wish was to free the genie.

Web Comics

  • In Tales of the Questor, Quentyn wins a wild hunt and earns a boon, but due to circumstances, the debt is tripled, giving him (what else?) three wishes, which he uses to reduce a Unseleigh Prince to utter destitution much to the fae's rage, and uses the last wish to banish him forever.

Western Animation

  • Genies in Fairly Oddparents, who are a different subset from fairies. You can't wish for unlimited wishes but you can use your third wish to wish for three more wishes. If you use up the next three by accident, you are out of luck. Turns out genies actually have been bluffing people when they say you can't wish for more wishes.
  • In the DuckTales (1987) movie, the Big Bad has a talisman that allows him to override the three wish rule.
    • And unfortunately, wishing for possession of the talisman is the one wish beyond the genie's power.



  • A story by Robert Sheckley features a man who received three wishes from the Devil, with no strings attached (apparently, Hell has more than enough souls as it is). Except that whatever he wishes for, his worst enemy will receive twice as much of it. So if he gets rich, the other guy gets richer, and this eats at him. His final wish is for a sexual partner whose rapaciousness is at the absolute limit of his ability to handle.
  • Joan Aiken's short story "The Third Wish" has a protagonist who's Genre Savvy enough to not accidentally waste his wishes on something stupid and even pricks his tongue with a thorn to make sure he doesn't make any careless wishes. He uses his first wish for a wife "as beautiful as the forest" and does get his perfect wife - except that she's actually a shapeshifted swan who's unhappy at having left her sister and life as a swan behind, and he decides to use his second wish to turn her back into a swan. After seeing what happened with his first two wishes, he decides not to use his third wish and actually lives pretty contentedly for the most part taking care of his swan wife and sister-in-law and dying with a smile on his face.
  • In Godel Escher Bach the Genie is not allowed to make metawishes (e.g. ask for more wishes). But Genie itself can try to invoke Meta-Genie. and then it was asked "I wish my wish would not be granted". A Wishplosion happens.

Live Action TV

  • A "Scenes From A Hat" game in Whose Line Is It Anyway?? had "Bad Ways to Use Your Three Wishes." Colin Mochrie's response was "I'll have two cokes and some chips."

Web Comics


  • There's a joke about a man getting a genie who grants him the traditional three wishes with the stipulation that whatever he wishes for, someone he hates will get double that (usually his boss or every lawyer in the world). The man uses his first two wishes on money and a car, and the genie helpfully reminds him that [insert hated person/group here] will gain twice the amount of money he did and two cars. Then the man says that for his last wish, he'd like to donate a kidney.
    • A variation of this joke has the wisher as a woman instead, and the genie saying that her ex-husband will get ten times the things she wishes for. The woman uses her first and second wishes on typical things like money and houses. Her third wish? Well, there are at least three variations: "I'd like to give birth to twins."/"I want big breasts"/"I want a lover with a 12 inch penis."
    • A bawdier variation has the man wish first for a mansion, second for ten of the world's most beautiful women as his lovers, and third for one of his testicles to disappear. (In Irish comedian Dave Allen's more TV-friendly variation, the man's final wish is that his desire for women be reduced by half.)
    • Another version has the last wish to be beaten half to death.
    • Another version has a woman's last wish be to have a mild heart attack.
  • There's a joke about a guy who finds a genie and makes his first two wishes: "I wish for a million dollars, tax-free." POOF! "And I wish for a fire-engine red Testarosa." POOF! The guy then decides to save his last wish for later, dismissing the genie for now. He dumps the cash into the back seat of his new car and drives down the road. He's so happy about his change of fortune that he can't help but sing along with the commercial jingle playing on his car radio: "Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Weiner..." POOF!
  • Another joke involves a bear and a rabbit who despise each other who both find a genie. The bear uses his three wishes to be surrounded by females to the point that his final wish is to be the only male bear in the world. The rabbit uses his first two wishes for a helmet and a motorcycle to make an escape, but not before wishing that the bear was gay.
  • There is a joke about the Devil offering a Doom fan three wishes, and then he'll take him to Hell. First wish: IDDQD. Second wish: IDKFA. Third wish... what wish? Take me to hell now! A variation exists where the Devil is not stupid... and sends him to Nightmare.
  • So there's this fellow in Warsaw during the days of Communism, and his last light bulb goes out. Dreading the prospect of waiting in lines for what will probably be no light bulb, he rummages about in his attic and finds a lamp. The lamp looks worse for the wear, so our hero gives it a quick polish. POOF! Out pops a genie! The genie gives his spiel about the three wishes, and our hero thinks for a bit. "For my first wish, I'd like Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes resurrected, have them loot and pillage their way across the steppes, get to the Polish border, decide they don't like the place, and head home. And oh yeah, that's my next two wishes, too." The genie grants the wishes, "Done, done, and done. But what's the deal with Genghis Khan?" Our hero simply smiles and chuckles, "He has to go through Russia six times."
  1. though a monkey's paw is a notable exception.