The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree Characters

Bill Brittain
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The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree Summary & Study Guide Description

The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree by Bill Brittain.

Polly Kempappears in All Sections

Eleven year old Polly is the central character in the first of the three "Tales ..." At the beginning of her story, she is portrayed as sharp-tongued and insensitive, quick tempered and at times quite nasty. In his narration, Stew Meat makes a point of saying she's not "downright mean," she's just not very sensitive to how her words might be hurtful to other people - in particular, to people who clearly care for her, her mother and her friends, the outspoken twins Lenora and Leland. She is also, in her story's early stages, portrayed as being desperate for the friendship of two girls in school (Agatha and Eunice - see below) whom she perceives as being "quality folks," and as being equally desperate to be like them, wealthy and successful. As the result of her wish, she not only learns the value of being pleasant, respectful and complimentary to people, she also discovers something important about the lives of the girls she wants to emulate. She realizes that the lives of Agatha and Eunice are, in fact, quite empty and dull when compared to the rich life she both already has, particularly with Lenora and Leland, and has the potential to have with the people who respond to her compliments and seem to like her as she is. In this context, Polly (like Rowena - see below) can be seen as embodying and/or manifesting one of the book's primary themes - specifically, its emphasis on appreciating reality over superficiality and pretense.

Rowena Jervisappears in All Sections

Fifteen year old Rowena is the central character in the second of the book's three "Tales ..." In Stew Meat's narration, she is described as "giddy" and "in love with love itself," focusing her fantasies and attention on Henry Piper, a smooth-talking traveling salesman of farm machinery. She is unrealistic and driven by fantasy, the first of many ways in which she and Polly share both characteristics and experiences. Another example - like Polly, Rowena is desperate to be liked and appreciated by someone (Piper) whom she ultimately realizes is not worthy of her, although in Rowena's case, she was at least partly convinced that her regard was reciprocated; Polly has no illusions that Agatha and Eunice care for her at all. Also like Polly, Rowena comes to realize the value of a friendship, or at least the regard, of someone who has thought positively of her all along. In Polly's case it's the twins; in Rowena's case it's the farmhand, Sam Waxman. Finally, and again like Polly, Rowena's story can be seen as manifesting the book's central thematic consideration relating to the value of reality over lies and manipulation. Rowena, with the support, insight and wisdom of Sam Waxman, realizes just how false and calculating Henry Piper is and abandons her dreams of a life with him. Unlike Polly, however, Rowena realizes fairly early in her story the amount of responsibility she bears for her circumstances, not only in terms of having brought the situation about through her wish, but also in terms of how blind to reality her illusions have made her.

Adam Fiskeappears in All Sections

Sixteen year old Adam is the central character in the third of the book's three "Tales ..." He is, in many ways, very different from the other two central characters, Polly and Rowena. Where the first two are initially portrayed as selfless and irresponsible, Adam is portrayed as steady and conscientious. He, it must be noted, makes a wish that he believes would benefit not only himself, while Polly and Rowena's wishes are made from fundamentally selfish desires, but also his family. He is also different from the girls in that he is not taken in by others. While Polly and Rowena are fooled by the manipulative appearances of their classmates (in the case of the former) and the traveling salesman (in the case of the latter), Adam is very aware of the strengths, weaknesses, and truths in the lives of both his parents. Finally, when his wish goes wrong, Adam is very sensitive to how others are affected by his wish. Neither Polly nor Rowena are particularly worried about how other people are being affected by the negative effects of what they have done. Even Rowena, whose wish has turned another person into a tree, is more concerned about having been manipulated by that person, rather than with how that person might be suffering. Adam, by contrast, is fully and painfully aware of the suffering his wish has brought into the lives of his hard working parents. This means that, ultimately, his story is less a warning about the dangers of foolishness than are the stories of both Polly and Rowena.

Stew Meat

Stew Meat, who in the Prologue gives his real name as Stewart Meade, is the narrator of the Prologue and Epilogue and the key figure in the resolution of the troubles that change the lives and perspectives of the three central characters (Polly, Rowena and Adam). He is also, ostensibly, the narrator of the three tales that make up the main body of the book, although the author has shaped the writing of those tales differently from that in the Prologue and Epilogue (see "Style - Point of View"). Stew Meat is an older man (narration never specifically indicates how old), wise and watchful but, at the same time, curious and so vulnerable to a good sales pitch that he disregards his instincts to be careful around Thaddeus Blinn. He comes across as fairly conservative and traditional in his values and perspectives, in particular referring to witches and their activities as being directly related to and/or defined by the presence of Satan.

Thaddeus Blinn

Traveling salesman Thaddeus Blinn is described, in Stew Meat's narration, as initially appearing inoffensive and perhaps a bit foolish, but is eventually revealed to be manipulative and, in Stew Meat's perspective, ultimately evil. In this, he is another embodiment of the book's thematic perspective on the dangers of being taken in by illusion (see "Themes").

Leland and Lenora Wickstaff

Twins Leland and Lenora appear primarily in Polly's story, "Jug-a-rum." They are portrayed as poor but outdoorsy and fun, sharp tongued but compassionate, wise but intolerant of bad behavior. As Polly eventually comes to realize, they are her true friends, key sources of support and wisdom who, even before she makes her wish, strive to help her realize the risks associated with being too sharp tongued and / or hot tempered.

Agatha Benthorn and Eunice Ingersollappears in All Sections

Agatha and Eunice are the two snobby rich girls at Polly's school whom she initially is desperate to emulate, but who eventually reveal themselves as superficial, nasty and pretentious. They, like Thaddeus Blinn, are embodiments of the dangers associated with buying into illusion and false dreams.

Mrs. Kemp, Miss Morasco

Mrs. Kemp is Polly's widowed mother, hard-working and tolerant, perhaps too much so, of her daughter's initial attitudes. Miss Morasco is Polly's teacher, patient and sensitive, outspoken with both her compliments and her criticism.

Mr. and Mrs. Jervis

Mr. and Mrs. Jervis are Rowena's parents. Mr. Jervis is a farmer, the target of Henry Piper's sales pitches. His business is the reason why Henry courts Rowena so charmingly; Piper thinks that if Rowena thinks well of him, she'll sway her father's opinion. Mrs. Jervis, by contrast, is not taken in at all by Henry's charm and has no patience whatsoever for Rowena's dreaminess about him. She can be seen as a narrative representation of the wisdom and/or value of being wary of what seems superficial and charming - in other words, wary of the kind of illusion that so many of the other characters become troubled by.

Sam Waxman, Henry Piper

These two characters are, essentially, rivals for Rowena's affection. Sam is the hard-working, respectful, wise and patient farm hand whom she eventually comes to love, while Henry is the glib, superficially charming, manipulative traveling salesman with whom she is initially infatuated. Over the course of the story in which Rowena is the central character, she comes to realize the value of the former (i.e. someone who lives a life of honesty, without illusion) over the latter (i.e. someone who lives a life DEFINED by illusion).

Adam's Pa and Ma

Adam's parents are portrayed as hard working and proud, quirky and essentially wise, and ultimately very close to their son, very loving. In particular, Pa's compassion, wisdom and forgiveness at the close of Adam's story can be seen as an embodiment of the narrative's thematically central contention that honest insight and affection can, and will, have much more important and lasting impact on a person's life than the superficial appeal of quick fix artists like Thaddeus Blinn.

Uncle Poot

Uncle Poot is a dowser (see "Quotes", p. 131 - also "Objects/Places - Dowsing"), brought to the Fisk farm in an effort to find water. His failed attempt is a factor in Adam's decision to wish for there to be water "all over" the farm, and also in Adam's decision (as revealed in the Epilogue) to both explore and make a living at his own talents as a dowser.

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