Friday, November 2, 2007

The Foolish Young Man and the Tiger (Korean)

In days gone by, no one but tigers lived on Fierce Tiger Mountain until the day an old hunter, his son, and his daughter-in-law settled there. They cleared an area, built a hut, and made it their year-round home. They were quite alone, for no one within thirty li dared to live near the mountain because of its infestation with tigers. Most of their days were spent this way: the old hunter bagged tigers; the daughter-in-law took care of the household chores; and the son didn't do much of anything besides gather firewood and lie around, smoking his pipe.

The old hunter was constantly after his son to go with him on tiger hunts and learn the hunter's ways, but the son had his own ideas. "Learn to hunt?" he would reply to his father. "What for? You're doing fine without me. After you have taken care of all the tigers, what will there be left for me to hunt anyway?"

Eventually the old hunter just shook his head and forgot about asking his son to join him. He continued his task of hunting down the tigers on the mountain. Two or three years went by, and all the tigers had more or less been eliminated from Fierce Tiger Mountain. People could now move in, and soon for the first time, the three had neighbors fairly nearby.

One day the old hunter came down with an illness, and within a few days he was gone. His son and daughter-in-law tearfully buried the old man. They were now on their own.

Not long after, the son was out gathering firewood one morning when he felt an icy wind. He looked up and saw a tiger emerge from between two great pines. The young man was scared out of his wits; he had never seen a living tiger before, let alone one within pouncing distance.

"Ah . . . ah . . . ah . . . w-what are y-you d-doing here?" he stammered. "Y-you t-tigers are supposed to be all g-gone!"

"Oh?" replied the tiger, smiling and licking his chops as he approached the young man. "No one told me! I guess I'm still here."

"Well, y-you c-can't eat me!" the young man said, with false courage.

"We'll see about that," said the tiger. "That dead father of yours killed off all my brothers and sisters, so it's only right that I eat you, his son."

"W-wait, Tiger! D-don't eat me now."

"Why not?"

"My. . .my . . . wife. My wife is waiting for me at home. Without the firewood, she'll be unable to cook; she'll surely starve, freeze. What would become of her? Please eat me here tomorrow at this time and place."

"Fine, fine. I shall be waiting for you here tomorrow morning. No tricks!"

"No tricks!" promised the young man and off he went. He ran all the way back home and breathlessly blurted out, "I'm done for! I'm to be eaten by a tiger tomorrow morning!" He then explained the whole story in detail.

"Well, it's actually your own fault,' she said. "If you had only listened to your father when he offered to take you hunting. There's not much to be done now except to take a rope with you when you leave tomorrow morning."

"A rope?" he cried. "I'm going to be eaten tomorrow! What shall I do with a rope?"

"Never mind, " said the wife. "Just take the rope with you."

The next morning, the son of the hunter showed up at the appointed time and place, and he had a rope with him.

"What kept you?" growled the tiger.

"What are you doing over there, you fool?" someone far off shouted.

Both the tiger and the young man turned their heads to see who was shouting in the distance. The tiger shuddered; standing off in the clearing was . . . the old hunter himself!

"Well, answer me!" the old hunter hollered. "We haven't all day."

"He's still around? He lives?" whispered the tiger. "Tell him you're just bundling up some firewood. Do this, and I promise not to eat you."

"I'm j-just bundling some f-firewood, Father!" the son called out.

"Yes, I see it. It looks like a lot. Do you need some help?"

"No, no!" whispered the tiger. "Whatever you do, don't let him come over here! Tie me up instead, and he'll think you're bundling the wood."

"N-no, Father! I just need to tie it all up!"

"Are you sure you don't need me to come over and help you?"

"Tell him you'll tie it up yourself!" the tiger hissed, gritting his fangs and sweating.

"I can handle it myself, Father!" said the son.

"Well, hurry and tie the bundle up! We have a lot of work to do today!"

"Yes, Father!" The young man now turned to the tiger and whispered, "This means I must tie you up now."

"So do it, then!" whispered the tiger. "Do anything to keep him from coming over here."

The son tied the tiger up firmly and securely. The ferocious brute now couldn't budge an inch.

"Have you got that wood secured or not, you dolt?" cried the old man. "We need to get a move on!"

"All done, Father!"

The old hunter then strode over to where the tiger lay bundled like firewood. The son's jaw dropped and the tiger let out a big sigh of despair. Those were the old hunter's clothes, indeed, but the person wearing them was not the dead old hunter but his very much living daughter-in-law.

"Well," she asked, wiping off her charcoal-drawn beard, "don't stand there gaping like a simpleton! Let's take him home. We could use a new rug."


(from The Wonderful Treasure Horse)

p. 402-404.

Many Chinese of Korean descent, the Chaoxian minority, live in the northeast of China, particularly in the Yanbian district of Jilin. In this story, we once again have a phenomenon so common in European folktales: characters who behave obliviously and mechanically, not exhibiting the slightest bit of common sense when it comes to survival. The son, for example, is prepared to appear dutifully the next day to be eaten. Neither does he entertain the notion of escaping from Tiger Mountain, nor does he question the apparent resurrection of his own dead father. Motifs: B211, "Talking animal"; K1837, "Disguise of woman in man's clothes."

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