On Rod Serling’s “The Big, Tall Wish”

“In this corner of the universe, in a shabby, sparsely furnished bedroom inside an aging and decrepit brownstone tenement, stood a prize fighter named Bolie Jackson, staring at himself in the dresser mirror” (81, opening lines).

The image of thirty-three-year-old, one hundred and sixty-three-pound Bolie Jackson is inseparable from the iconic performance by Ivan Dixon in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode of the same name. He is an “over-the-hill aging relic,” a former boxing champion who is past his prime, but is nevertheless worshipped by a local neighborhood boy named Henry Temple, a starry-eyed boy who makes “big, tall wishes” for people.

“It was almost as if he could funnel all the fights into a giant, vast moment of recollection and the result was one mass of remembered pain. The shocking, incredible, blinding agony of the broken nose; the dull throbbing ache of the kidney, the rib cage, the stomach that went on for weeks after a bad one. It all went through his mind as he walked slowly down the steps” (85).

On this particular evening, after getting prepped at St. Nick’s by Joe Mizell and his sleazy manager-for-the-night named Harvey Thomas, Bolie Jackson gets into a fight with Thomas in the locker room that tragically winds up smashing his right fist into the concrete wall, breaking his knuckles. Still, he decides to carry on with the fight. And just when all hope seems lost as Bolie is knocked down by his opponent Jerry Corrigan, little Henry Temple, watching the fight from home, whispers a “big, tall wish” and miraculously the next thing Bolie knows, he has won the fight. The crowd erupts into an avalanche of cheers and no one seems to have noticed that Bolie actually fell down at one point.

Bolie arrives home, triumphant, as neighbors and friends congratulate him on a hard-fought victory, but Bolie simply wishes to speak with Henry Temple who is perched atop the tenement rooftop. Henry explains that what happened tonight was magic, and that he made a “big, tall wish” to save Bolie. He tells Bolie that he, too, must believe in magic otherwise his victory will be taken away, but Bolie simply laughs and proclaims that he does not believe in magic. Suddenly, the scene disappears and Bolie is back on the floor of the ring being counted out while Corrigan is proclaimed the victor. He returns home, sullen and defeated in search of a new future.

“Mr. Bolie Jackson shared the common ailment of all men… the strange and perverse disinclination to believe in a miracle” (105).

This somber modern fairy tale told in short story format, carries with it all the beauty and emotion of its accompanying Twilight Zone episode. The only noticeable difference I could discern between television show and short story is Bolie Jackson’s weight (in the television episode, he is 183-pounds, whereas in the short story, he is 163-pounds). Otherwise, they both run mostly parallel –“The Big, Tall Wish” is another triumph for Rod Serling.

Serling, Rod. More Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “The Big, Tall Wish.”

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