Three traditional Korean folktales are combined into one anthology, fully illustrated, with an introduction on the cultural background.
During his lifetime, storyteller and journalist Kim (1907-1981) published multiple books on Korean folklore. The three stories chosen for this anthology (“The Magic Gem,” “The Tigers of the Kumgang Mountains,” and “The Deer and the Woodcutter”) have been previously published as stand-alone books. Exploring the curiosities of nature, each of the three legends tells an entertaining tale while imparting cherished Korean beliefs and values. As with the Grimms’ tales, there are hard truths and feelings of hatred, jealousy, and desire. Two of the stories clearly value being kind to wild animals, with celestial rewards. They also involve filial devotion, with a return to family leading to mixed results. Some of the morals are ambiguous and complicated. For example, the woodcutter kidnaps a fairy and makes her his wife, a turn of events she accepts with calm. And, unfortunately, the story of the tigers, a revered symbol in Korean culture, also does not migrate well. In the tale, tigers assume human forms, such as a priest, an old woman, and a young married couple. In each case, a hunter, avenging the death of his father, shoots these people, whose bodies then transform back into dead tigers. There may be a story of persistence here, but the revenge story and gun violence seem louder.
These tales may miss the connection to a current Western audience. (Fairy tales. 6-10)