"The Bottle Imp" is a short story by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. At the time that Stevenson wrote the story, he had moved to Samoa for his health. Although it was written in English, the story was first published in a Samoan translation in 1891, Stevenson said that he intended the story for Polynesian readers. "The Bottle Imp" was serialized in the New York Herald between February and March 1891 and in the British magazine Black and White between March and April 1891. It was published again in Stevenson's 1893 collection of short stories Island Nights' Entertainment.
The story concerns a Hawaiian who comes into possession of a magical bottle that makes all wishes come true but at a terrible cost.
A silent movie based on "The Bottle Imp" was released by Paramount Pictures in 1917 but the film has now been lost. Stevenson's story was loosely adapted as an episode of the American radio series CBS Radio Mystery Theater called "The Imp in the Bottle" which first aired on September 3, 1974.
The story centers around a bottle in which an imp, a little demon, lives. The imp grants every wish of the person who owns the bottle but anybody who still has the bottle at the time of his or her death is cursed to eternal punishment in Hell. In order to avoid the curse, the owner of the bottle has to sell it at a loss. The bottle must be paid for in coins, not in paper money or by check. It cannot be thrown away or given away for free. The bottle's original owner, a legendary Asian king, paid a vast fortune for it many centuries ago but at the beginning of the story its price has already been reduced to eighty dollars.
The main character in the story is a Hawaiian named Keawe. As a sailor, Keawe visits San Francisco where he buys the bottle from a sad old man. Keawe tests the bottle's power by immediately wishing for his money back. His next wish is for a mansion. When he returns to Hawaii, Keawe finds that his wish has been granted but at a price. His uncle and cousins have died in a boating accident and Keawe has inherited his uncle's money and land. Keawe builds his mansion and sells the bottle.
Keawe meets and falls in love with a woman named Kokua but soon afterwards discovers that he has leprosy. In order to wish his disease away, he decides to seek out the bottle again. He finds that the bottle has passed through several hands since he sold it but eventually tracks down its current owner who paid only two cents for it. Keawe buys the bottle for one cent, wishes his leprosy away, but then believes he will be cursed to Hell for being unable to sell the bottle.
Keawe marries Kokua and lives happily for a while. However, he cannot remain happy for long, believing that he is unable to sell the bottle and is destined for Hell. After Keawe confesses his troubles to his wife, she suggests that they travel to Tahiti, a French colony where there are coins in use which are worth less than one American cent. However, when they arrive in Tahiti, all of the locals sense that Keawe and Kokua are in possession of something evil and want nothing to do with them. Kokua knows that Keawe would never sell the bottle to her but decides to secretly take the curse upon herself. She bribes an old man to buy the bottle for four French centimes and then buys it off him for three.
When he discovers what his wife has done, Keawe decides to take the curse back upon himself. He persuades a drunken European sailor to buy the bottle for two centimes, so that he can buy it again for one. However, once he has the bottle, the European sailor refuses to part with it. He is not bothered by the prospect of going to Hell, already being resigned to going there anyway.
The curse having been lifted from them, Keawe and Kokua are free to live out the rest of their lives in happiness.