Korean Fables From Your Childhood

Whether it be the Tortoise and the Hare or the Fox and the Grapes, everybody has folktales or fables that they remember from their childhood. These fables can give insight into the values and history of a particular culture, and often leave a lasting impression on people as they grow up - they may even teach them to their own children later on! With this in mind, we’ve compiled some well-known Korean fables that you’ll be sure to remember.

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1) Heungbu and Nolbu

The story of Heungbu and Nolbu has a long history of being passed down in verbal renditions.

Heungbu and Nolbu are brothers, yet lead very different life-styles - the former is poor, while the latter is rich. One day, a pair of swallows builds a nest and starts a family under kind Heungbu's roof. Heungbu later discovers a fallen baby bird with a broken leg. He treats it and nurses it back to health. As a token of thanks for his good deed, the swallow gives Heungbu and his wife a gourd seed which grows into a gourd filled with gold, silver and all sorts of precious things. This makes Heungbu a wealthy man.

Upon hearing of his brother's fortune, Nolbu breaks the leg of a swallow on purpose and then fixes it. Though he also receives a gourd seed, it only brings misfortune; making Nolbu and his wife lose everything they had.

2) The Sun and the Moon

The story of the sun and the moon is about a young brother and sister whose mother met a tiger on her way back from work. She was working at a fair on the far side of the mountains. She carried a basket of rice cakes on her head as she returned home.

Later, the tiger encounters the woman on while on her way home and says, "I won't eat you in exchange for a piece of rice cake."  The mother drops rice cakes piece by piece on her way back home, but she runs out of rice cake and is eaten. However, the tiger's appetite has not been sated, so he puts on her clothes and heads home to the children.

The children know that it's not their mother and climb up a tree alongside a well. The tiger attempts to climb the tree, so the children cry out to the heavens for a rope to be lowered to save them from peril. To the tiger's chagrin, a rope indeed appears and they ascend to the sky.

The tiger then asks for a rope for himself. He is also granted a rope, but it is rotten. As he tries to follow the children into the sky, he falls to his death. Ever since that day, the brother and sister have stayed in the sky as the sun and the moon.

3) The Fairy and the Woodcutter

The Fairy and the Woodcutter is one of the most popular of all Korean folktales. Almost all children in Korea grow up reading a version of this love story, following a fairy and a poor woodcutter who lives with his mother.

After helping a wounded deer, the deer repays the woodcutter’s good deed by helping him meet a fairy, and telling him to hide her winged clothing so she can’t fly back to heaven. Soon after, they fall in love and have two children; and the woodcutter goes to live in heaven with the fairy and their children.

However, he misses his mother too much, so the fairy gives him a winged horse to fly back to Earth and visit her. However, the woodcutter falls off of his horse, and is unable to return to heaven to be with his wife and children. As a result, he turns into a rooster that cries his grief in the mornings.

Do you remember any of these folktales and fables? Let us know in the comments below!

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