Do you know some Korean folktales?
Here are 6 interesting ones! These are the most popular folktales among Koreans.
Let’s get to know about Korea while reading them.
1. Two Brothers 형님 먼저 아우 먼저
A long time ago, there lived two brothers whose loving ways were the talk of the valley where they lived.
They took care of their widowed mother and upon her death they divided everything evenly.
Together they worked diligently from sunup to sundown to produce the most they could from their fields.
It never failed that come autumn they had the largest harvest in the valley.
One late autumn evening, after they had spent the afternoon sacking and dividing the last of the rice harvest, the older brother thought,
“Brother has lots of expenses since he just got married a few months ago. I think l wiIl put a sack of rice in his storehouse and not tell him. I’m sure he would never accept it if I offered it to him.”
So, late that night, he carried it to his brother’s storeroom.
The next day, while tidying up his own storage, the older brother was surprised to find he still had the same number of sacks of rice as he had before taking one to his brother.
“That’s odd,” he said, shaking his head, “I’m sure I took a sack of rice to Brother’s house last night.” He counted his sacks again.
“Well,” he was scratching the back of his head, “I’ll just take him another one tonight.”
So, late that night. he carried a sack of rice to his brother’s house.
The next morning, he was again shocked to find he had the same number of sacks as before.
He shook his head over and over and decided he would take his brother another sack that night.
After a late dinner he loaded the rice and set out for his brother’s house.
It was a full moon and he could see the path quite clearly.
Soon he saw a man carrying something bulky coming down the path.
“Why, Brother!” they both called out at the same time.
The two brothers put down their sacks and laughed long and hearty for they both understood the mystery behind their unchanging number of sacks of rice.
The younger brother thought his older brother could use the rice because he had a larger family.
2. The Disobedient Frog 청개구리 이야기
A young frog lived with his widowed mother in a large pond. A rascal and a trouble maker, he never listened to his mother and caused her much grief and embarrassment.
If his mother said go play on the hillside, he went to the seashore. If she said go to the upper neighborhood, he went to the lower. If she said do this, he did that. Whatever she said, he did the opposite.
“What am l going to do with that boy?” she mumbled to herself. “Why can’t he be like the other boys? They always listen and do what they are told. And they’re always kind and respectful. I don’t know what will become of him if he keeps behaving like this. I have to do something to break him of his bad habits.” Mother Frog sighed deeply.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” Little frog laughed. “Hush all that mumbling. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m doing fine just the way l am.”
“Is that so?” said Mother Frog. “Then why can’t you croak properly? You don’t even sound like a frog. Let me teach you.” With a smile, she puffed herself up and let out a loud Kaegul! Kaegul! “Now you try.”
Grinning broadly, Little Frog puffed himself up and let out a loud Kulgae! Kulgae!
“Why you impudent little rascal! You’re going to be the death of me!” cried Mother Frog. “You’ll Iisten to me if you know what’s good for you. Now you…”
“Kulgae! Kulgae!” croaked Little Frog, hopping away.
Day after day Mother Frog scolded her young son but he continued to do as he wished and just the opposite of what she said. She fretted and worried so much about him that she became ill. Still he continued to misbehave.
One day she called him to her bedside. “My son,” she said, “I don’t think I will live much longer. When I die, please don’t bury me on the mountain, bury me beside the stream.” She said this because she knew he would do the opposite of what she said.
A few days later Mother Frog died. Little Frog cried and cried. “Oh my poor mother! I worried her so much by misbehaving. Why didn’t I listen to her?” he scolded himself. “Now she’s gone. I killed her. I kiIled her.”
Little Frog thought about his mother and all the trouble he had caused her. Then he told himself, “I always did the opposite of what Mother said because it was fun. But this time l will do exactly what she told me to do.”
So Little Frog buried his mother beside the stream, even tough he did not think it was very wise.
A few weeks later there was a storm. It rained so much the stream overflowed its banks. Little Frog could not sleep for worrying that his mother’s grave would be washed away. At last he went to the grave to keep watch.
In the pouring rain he sat, crying over and over, “Kaegul! Kaegul! Please don’t wash my mother away!” And that is what he did every time it rained.
And ever since then, green frogs have cried Kaegul! Kaegul! when it rains.
3. The Sun And The Moon 햇님 달님
Once upon a time, there lived a poor woman with her son and daughter. She did chores for other families for a living. One day, she went to work for a rich man’s party and got some rice cakes there.
“My children must be hungry,” said the woman hurrying home.
On the way home, she met a big tiger. “Give me a piece of rice cake. Then I will not eat you,” said the tiger. The woman gave a piece of rice cake to the tiger. But the tiger kept following the woman.
“Give me a piece of rice cake. Then I will not eat you,” repeated the tiger. The woman gave another piece of rice cake to the tiger. The tiger kept asking her for more rice cakes. She gave away all the rice cakes to the tiger. Now she had no more rice cake. So the tiger ate her.
Now the tiger put on her clothes and went to her house. He pretended to be the children’s mom. “Open the door, dear,” said the tiger.
“You are not my mom. Your voice is too hoarse. Her voice is soft,” said the brother.
“Oh, is it? Hmm, I have a cold.”
“Then, show me your hands,” said the sister.
The tiger showed his hands to them.
“Your hands are too hairy and dark. Her hands are white,” said the brother.
The tiger covered his hands with flour. And he showed his white hands to the children. Then the children opened the door. The tiger entered the house saying “I will make dinner. Wait here.”
Then, the brother saw the tiger’s tail.
“It’s not Mom. It’s a tiger,” said the brother.
“What should we do?” said the sister.
“We have to run away from here,” said the brother.
The children ran out of the house and climbed up a tree near the well. The tiger looked for them here and there. Then, he saw the children’s face reflected on the water inside the well.
“Oh, you are in the well. I will scoop you up with this bowl,” said the tiger.
The sister in the tree laughed at the tiger. “Oh, you are in the tree.”
The tiger tried to climb up the tree but he could not do it.
“How did you climb up the tree?” said the tiger.
“We used oil,” lied the brother.
The tiger rubbed some oil on his hands. And he tried to climb up the tree. But he only slid down. Laughing at the tiger, the sister told the secret of how to climb up.
“You could use an ax,” said the sister. Then the tiger made small cuts on the tree with an ax. Then, he could climb up the tree.
The children were frightened so they prayed to God. “If you want us to live, please hand down a rope,” pleaded the children as they looked up towards God.
Then a rope came down from the sky. The children held onto it and went up to the sky.
The tiger could not catch the children. The tiger prayed to God, too.
“If you want me to catch them, please hand down a rope.”
Then another rope came down from the sky. The tiger held onto it and went up to the sky. But the rope was rotten. The tiger fell down.
The children went up to the sky.
The brother became the sun and the sister became the moon.
“I am scared of the night,” said the sister.
“I will be the moon for you instead,” said the brother.
So the brother became the moon. And the sister became the sun.
4. The Silver AX and The Gold AX 금도끼 은도끼
A long time ago, a magician lived in the lake. One evening, when the woodman cut down a tree with an iron ax, he dropped the iron ax in the lake, so he cried because he didn’t have another ax or enough money to buy one. He cried nearby the lake. Just at that time, the magician appeared there, and said, “Why are you crying?”
The woodman said, “I dropped my iron ax in the lake”, and then the magician disappeared into the lake.
Afterwards he appeared standing on the lake with a silver ax and he asked, “Is this yours?”
The woodman answered, “It’s not mine”, so the magician again went into the lake and then appeared in front of the woodman with a gold ax. But this gold ax was not his, so the magician went into the lake and appeared with his ax. Only then the man said, “It’s mine”.
The magician said, “You didn’t lie so I’ll give you all three axes, your ax and the gold and silver axes. Afterwards, the man sold his axes for a lot of money; so then he became a rich person.
Another woodman heard this story. So this woodman went there and intentionally dropped his iron ax and then he pretended to cry, so the magician also appeared in front of his eyes, and he asked, “Why are you crying?”
He answered, “I lost my ax.” The magician went into the lake after the conversation and appeared with a gold ax.
He asked, “Is this yours?”
He answered, “Yes”, so the magician disappeared at once. The man had nothing, not even his ax.
5. Blind Man’s Daughter 심청전
Many years ago there lived a poor blind man called Shim. He and his wife were childless, and never a day went past when the couple did not pray to the spirits for the blessing of a child. It was only after many years that their prayers were granted, and Shim’s wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter whom they named Shimchong. But sadly, the mother died soon after giving birth, and poor blind Shim was left to bring up the child alone, as best he could.
The years went by, and Shimchong grew into a beautiful young woman, devoted to her father.
One day, Old man Shim was walking out alone when he fell into a deep ditch that brought water to the fields. Every time he tried to scramble out, he slid back again into the mud. He had started to think that he would die in that ditch, and he was bemoaning his fate when he heard a voice speak to him from above.
“Old man,” said the voice, “We have heard you complain many times about your blindness. If you will give 300 sacks of rice to the temple as an offering to Lord Buddha, then we monks will pray for you to be able to see once again.”
The old man cried out, “Good monks! Only save me now and return me safely to my daughter, and I will gladly offer you whatever you ask to give to Lord Buddha!”
No sooner had he spoken, than he felt gentle but firm hands lift him up and out of the ditch – to the blind old man it seemed that those hands had reached down from heaven itself. Shim was so grateful for his rescue that he thanked the monks again and again, and swore that he would bring the 300 sacks of rice to the temple.
It was not until later, when he was already home and dry, that he realised that he had no chance of keeping his promise to the monks.
“Oh Shimchong,” he said to his daughter, “What shall I do? We are so poor that I could not offer three bowls of rice, let alone 300 sacks. Now what a terrible fate will befall us? I have offended Lord Buddha himself!”
Father and daughter both began to weep, for neither of them could think of any way to pay their debt to the temple. That night, as Shimchong lay awake, unable to sleep, her mother appeared to her and said, “Go down to the harbour tomorrow. There you will find a merchant looking for a young girl. Go with him, and he will provide the 300 sacks of rice.”
It so happened that the Dragon King of the East Sea was angry with a rich merchant, and he had sent storms to sink the merchant’s ships on the way to China. After losing ship after ship in this way, the merchant had consulted the high priest of the Dragon King’s temple, who told the merchant that he must take a beautiful young maiden out to sea and sacrifice her to the Dragon King.
The merchant offered a great quantity of gold to any family that would give up their daughter to the Dragon King of the East Sea – but none would enter into such a terrible deal. Then Shimchong appeared at the harbour, and she went to the merchant and offered herself in return for 300 sacks of rice to be sent to her father. The merchant could not believe his luck. 300 sacks of rice was nothing to him – a low price indeed!
Although the merchant sent 300 sacks of rice to the temple, and the monks did indeed pray for the return old man Shim’s sight, nothing happened. Now not only was he poor and blind, but he had lost his daughter too – he was utterly alone.
Shimchong boarded the merchant’s ship, and the ship put out to sea. At first the waters were calm, but then the Dragon King began to thrash his tail and the waves started to toss the ship to-and-fro.
The merchant told Shimchong to put on her brightly coloured wedding dress, and then he brought her out of the hold and up onto the deck. Shimchong quietly said a prayer, and then leaped over the side of the ship and into the waves. As soon as she had disappeared the violent sea grew calm again. The sailors wept because they had never seen a girl at once so beautiful and so brave.
Shimchong sank deeper and deeper into the icy cold sea. When she opened her eyes, she was surrounded by bright fish of every colour and shape, and they lead her to the palace of the Dragon King of the East Sea. There she lived, happily at first, but it was not long before she began to miss her father deeply, and she began to look sad, and sometimes there were tears in her eyes.
At last, the Dragon King could no longer bear to see the lovely girl looking so sad. Her devotion to her father touched his heart, and as a reward for her goodness, he sent her back to the world above, only first he transformed her into a lotus flower.
A fisherman found the giant lotus blossom in the mouth of a river, and he was so overcome by its beauty, that he decided to make it a gift to the king of the land above. His queen had recently died, and he was in deep mourning. When he saw the flower, his eyes lit up in wonder. He thanked the fisherman with gold, and set the flower up in his room, and every time he felt sad, he stood and looked at it, admiring its beauty.
What he did not know was that each night, when the palace was asleep, Shimchong would come out of the blossom and walk through the many beautiful chambers and halls, and at first light, she would merge back into the flower.
One night, the king could not sleep so he got out of bed and drew the blinds to let the moonlight into his room. He turned around and was amazed to see the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld.
“Who are you?” He asked, “Are you a spirit?”
The girl tried to merge back into the lotus blossom, but it had vanished. She could not say who she was, for surely the king would not believe her story. The king could not help but fall in love with her, and she was moved that so powerful a man could be so gentle and so sincere.
Not long after, they were married, and on their wedding day he said to her, “My blossom. Now you are my Queen. Anything you wish, I shall grant. All you have to do is tell me your desire.”
Shimchong replied, “There is only one thing I wish for. Let there be a great banquet to celebrate our marriage, and may all the blind men of the kingdom be invited to dine with us.”
His bride’s wish was strange and unexpected, but the king gladly granted it. They held a banquet, and blind beggar men came from all four corners of the land to feast at the table of the king. The new queen watched from behind the silk curtains, hoping to catch sight of her father. Though hundreds and hundreds of blind men came into the banqueting hall – not one was her father.
The queen had given up all hope of seeing him. “He must have died of grief when I went away,” she thought sadly to herself. But one of the king’s kindest and most faithful stewards called out, “Do not close the doors for there is one more beggar for the banquet.”
An old man entered the hall, and leaned on one shoulder of the steward. His clothes were ragged, he was covered with dust from the journey, and he was so weak he could hardly walk.
Shimchong came out from behind the curtain and held his hand. “Father,” she said, “It is I.”
When the old man heard that familiar and much loved voice of his daughter, he opened his eyes and could see.
And that was the story of the Blind Man’s Daughter.
6. ANGEL AND WOODCUTTER 선녀와 나무꾼
Once upon a time, an honest woodcutter lived in the mountain. He lived alone; in addition, he was too old to marry.
He always cut wood. He was diligent, honest, and kind, and he had a warm heart.
He always wanted to get married.
One day, he went to the mountain to cut the wood and suddenly, a deer appeared in front of him.
And the deer asked, “Please help me, please, hide me. A hunter is following me. Please. help me!” so he hid the deer.
The hunter came to the woodcutter. The hunter asked about the deer.
He answered, “I don’t know about a deer, I didn’t see it.” The hunter went back. The deer could talk.
The deer said, “Thank you very much. Please, tell me your hope. I can help you.” The woodcutter answered, “I’d like to marry with someone.” The deer said, “There’s a pond up the mountain; on the 15th midnight, an angel comes down and takes a shower.
At that time, you can conceal her clothes but you don’t have to return her clothes until you get three babies.” He promised.
On the 15th midnight, he went to the mysterious pond, and he took the angel’s clothes.
So the angel couldn’t fly back to the sky. He concealed her clothes. After that, they got married, and lived happily.