Summary of “Should Wizard Hit Mommy” by John Updike: 2022

Jack and his four-year-old daughter, Jo, had a custom of their own according to which Jack told Jo a story every day. This started when Jo was two years old and now Jack’s head felt empty as he had created a new story every day. However, all the stories followed the same pattern- a creature, usually named Roger, had some problem. He went to the old wise owl to seek for a solution. The owl sent him to the wizard who performed a magic spell that solved Roger’s problem. After his problem was solved, the wizard always demanded more money than what Roger had, but at the same time, he told Roger where he could find the extra money. After making the payment, Roger happily played games with other creatures and went home to his mother, where they waited for his daddy to come home from Boston.  The story sessions were exhausting on a Saturday because Jo never fell asleep any more.

This time Jo wanted her father to tell her a story about Roger Skunk. Having a new animal to talk about made Jack a little more enthusiastic. He began his story about the small creature named Roger Skunk who smelled really bad. None of the other little creatures played with him because of his unpleasant smell. Recalling the humiliations of his own childhood, Jack narrated the miserable condition of the Skunk. Tears would fall from his eyes. Jack traced with a forefinger along the side of Jo’s nose one of Roger Skunk’s tears.

Jo hurriedly asked her father if the Skunk was going to see the owl. But Jack wanted to tell her something true and something that she should know. Continuing the story, Jack said that the Skunk walked to a big tree and finally met the old wise owl. Mr Owl heard his problem and advised him to go to the wizard. Even though Jo was ecstatic that the wizard would finally help the Skunk get out of his misery and live a happy life, she had something else in mind. She started questioning her father if magic spells are real, to which Jack answered that they are really only in stories. He added that the owl asked the Skunk to go through the dark woods, under the apple trees, into the swam, over the crick to the wizard’s house.

The Skunk did the needful and finally got to meet the tiny little old wizard with a long white beard and a pointed blue hat and told him his problem.  The wizard took his magic wand and asked the Skunk what he wanted to smell like. Roger thought a lot and answered that he wanted to smell like roses. The wizard chanted some words and made Roger smell like roses. After granting Roger Skunk his wish, the wizard demanded seven pennies from him but he had only four. Jack heard the noise of some rumbling furniture downstairs and felt that Clare shouldn’t be moving heavy things as she was six months pregnant. But he didn’t end the story yet. Coming back to the story, Jack said that the wizard told Roger Skunk where he could find the money. He asked the Skunk to go to the end of the lane and turn around three times and look down the magic well. Roger followed the instructions, found the money and gave them to the wizard.

Roger happily ran out into the woods and all the other animals gathered around him because he smelled so pleasant. He played a number of games with them all afternoon. Jo thought that the story had ended but Jack did not want her to take anything for granted. Continuing the story, Jack said when Roger Skunk returned home to his mommy, she was furious at the awful smell coming out of her son’s body. Jo was surprised and thrilled. Roger Skunk’s mother asked him who made him smell like that. When Roger said that it was the wizard who made him smell of roses, his mommy took him to the wizard right away. She even hit the wizard over the head with an umbrella. She felt that Roger smelled exactly how a little Skunk is supposed to smell.

Jo was agitated at the sudden turn of events. She attempted to give the story an ending that was acceptable to her. She said that the wizard hit mommy on the head and did not change the Skunk back. But Jack said that nothing of that sort happened and the Skunk smelled bad again.  He added that Roger Skunk went home with his mommy and they heard the train bringing his daddy home from Boston. They had dinner together and when Roger Skunk was in bed, his mommy hugged him and felt relieved that he smelled like her little baby Skunk again. And that was the end of the story.

Jo, however, was not convinced. She was worried that if Roger Skunk smelled bad again then other little animals would run away from him, again. But Jack said to her that eventually all the other animals got used to his smell and that they did not mind anymore. Jo thought that mommy Skunk was stupid to do something like that. But Jack defended mommy Skunk as if he was defending his own mother. Jack said that Roger Skunk loved his mommy more than he loved all the other animals and she knew what was right for him. But Jo wanted a different ending according to which the wizard hit the mommy.

When Jack went downstairs, he saw that Clare had spread the newspapers and was painting the chair wearing his old t-shirt on top of her maternity smock. Clare declared that the story was a long one. He watched his wife labour with the woodwork, a cage of mouldings and rails and baseboards. He felt that he was caught in an ugly situation. He felt as if both of them were trapped in a cage. He did not want to speak with her, work with her or touch her.                                                                                                                                  

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