On European Wolves and Korean Tigers: A Guest Post from Saeyong Kim

Thank you, lovely Book Warriors, for inviting me to write a post. I will discuss a fierce folktale which most people know a variant or two of: Little Red Riding Hood (according to Perrault), or Aarne-Thompson (AT) tale type 333, The Glutton. My main purpose is to link it to the AT 333 type tale which is found in Korea, “Hae wa Tal i Toen Onui” (“The Brother and Sister Who Became the Sun and Moon”), and introduce the picturebook retelling of the tale in English, The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy: A Korean Folktale by Yangsook Choi.

I believe the Aarne-Thompson tale type index has been discussed somewhere else in this blog, but to put it briefly and roughly, it is an index made for folklore scholars to help them identify (plot) patterns and elements in the tales they research, so they can be organized and found easily. It is also a useful shorthand for storytellers and other interested folks to talk about similar stories, without always having to say, “you know, there are those stories where the hero is smaller or weaker in some way, but they triumph over a powerful figure who may or may not be evil, either by the use of their wits or by having a magical helper, which might also be a magical artifact, and the result can be either riches or marriage…” (For those who are not folklore scholars but are interested in folktales and their retellings, Margaret Read MacDonald and Brian W. Sturm’s The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children 1983-1999 is a handy resource which lists sources in English of various folktales from across the world, and has copious cross-references.)

I would like to emphasize that “Little Red Riding Hood” belongs to a type of folktale because similar stories are, and have been, told in many, many non-European cultures; some of them don’t have wolves, and many of them have no mention of the color red, or headdresses, at all. Alan Dundes was so annoyed (I imagine) by people (*cough*ibetpsychoanalysts*cough*) treating the “Red Riding Hood” tale as a single tale, examining it while ignoring all the folklore studies done on similar oral tales across the world, that he put together Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Hear him roar in the introduction:

In future studies of this or other folktales, the reader may realize the importance of consulting all available versions of the tale rather than unnecessarily and arbitrarily limiting the scope of investigation to one or two standard literary versions no matter how important the intellectual niche such literary versions may occupy in Western civilization. (xi)

Hear, hear. Or read, read. It’s a seriously interesting book. (You could also read Maria Tatar’s The Classic Fairy Tales, a collection of those fairy tales which are familiar to the “Western” reader, tales of the same type from different cultures, and related critical essays.)

But going back to the tale itself: briefly and roughly, again, AT 333 is very similar to AT 123, which is known to some as “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids.” What is similar is how the wolf tricks the victim(s), who are swallowed, and then rescued from the cut belly of the wolf, after which the wolf, you know, dies. If you take away the walk in the woods, the fact that the victim is tricked while away from their mother stands out more than whether it’s the mother who has gone away (the mama goat usually goes to market), or the child. Wolfram Eberhard’s article in the Casebook suggests that the two tales are cognates, while examining the Chinese example of the 123 tale, “Grandaunt Tiger”: The mother leaves the house, a tiger tricks its way in and may eat one of the children, eventually it is tricked by the remaining child and, you know, dies. A “Grandaunt Tiger” retelling you might have seen in North America is Lon Po Po by Ed Young.

Which finally brings us to the Korean example of this type of tale, which is very close to “Grandaunt Tiger” if you allow for a few cultural differences: mother leaves home, tiger tricks its way in, flight in terror, trickery and eventual death of tiger. A distinguishing aspect of the tale is that in the Korean version, the children are usually a brother and sister, and they plead to the sky for help, on which they are taken up to the heavens and become the sun and the moon. The tiger falls to its death and turns sorghum stalks red with its blood (interestingly, an actual condition of diseased sorghum seems to be stalks flecked or splotched with red!). So, if you think it plausible that “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids” could be the same type of tale as “Little Red Riding Hood,” then Lon Po Po and The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy could be, as well.

The-Sun-Girl-and-the-Moon-Boy-9780679983866The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy: A Korean Folktale, written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi, was published in 1997, and reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist. The illustrations are soft and evocative rather than sharp and dramatic (although this does not mean they are not scary when they need to be – they are murky and smoky), and the text, also, is on the calm side. Some interesting changes have been made to the story, such as a scene being added of the mother meeting the children in the sky, or the prayer of the children being deleted, neither of which occur in the oral versions of the tale (which would make these arguably non-traditional elements). I would love to see some more retellings of this tale, because it is both terrible and beautiful, but I haven’t seen any (perhaps the death and prayer scenes trigger censorship instincts in a North American context).

All titles can be found at the UBC library: The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy and The Storyteller’s Sourcebook at the Education Library, and the others at Koerner.

 Works Cited

Choi, Yangsook. The Sun Girl and the Moon Boy: A Korean Folktale. New York: Knopf; Toronto: Random, 1997. Print.

Dundes, Alan, ed. Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1989. Print.

Eberhard, Wolfram. “The Story of Grandaunt Tiger.” Dundes 21-63.

MacDonald, Margaret Read, and Brian W. Sturm. The Storyteller’s Sourcebook: A Subject, Title, and Motif Index to Folklore Collections for Children 1983-1999. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Print.

Tatar, Maria, ed. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: Norton, 1999. Print.

As you might be able to tell from this blog post, Saeyong Kim is an incredibly intelligent individual with a fabulous feel for folklore. What you may not have known is that she is now pursuing a second MA in Library and Information Studies at UBC, Vancouver. She first met most of The Book Wars team last year as she calmly defended her MACL thesis- “An Analysis of a Selection of English-Language Korean Folktale Picture Books”. We cannot stress how kind a person she is- after all, she did do this excellent post for us- so if you would like to get in touch with her about issues of a. folklore b. fairytales c. non-European stories d. how awesome she is, please contact one of us and we’ll forward your messages to her.

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