Tales of a Korean Grandmother

Tales of a Korean Grandmother by Frances Carpenter Read Free Book Online

Book: Tales of a Korean Grandmother by Frances Carpenter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Frances Carpenter
    "Ordinarily, a tiger would not have bothered with a morsel so small as this puppy. Nothing less than a cow or a pig or a man would have attracted his notice. But the village folk had been so watchful that he had had no food in days, and his stomach was empty.
    "Lashing his great tail and snarling deep down in his throat, he fixed his flaming eyes on the mud wall before him, beyond which his prey lay. The mud wall was high, and there were sharp, jagged rocks along its top. But the tiger thought he could leap it. Gathering his strength, he made one mighty bound. And over he went.
    "But no puppy was there. With a sharp yip of terror the little dog had run out through the gate hole into the street. The tiger could only see the tip of his tail.
    "There was nothing for Mountain Uncle to do but to leap over the wall after him. With another great effort the yellow-and-black tiger made the high jump. But, of course, this time again he found no puppy there. The little fellow had wisely run back inside the gate."
    The children laughed in delight at the picture their grandmother painted of the tiger leaping back and forth, back and forth, and of the puppy running in and out, in and out, of the gate hole.
    "That was good, Halmoni," Yong Tu cried.
    "And what finally happened?" Ok Cha asked eagerly.
    "What finally happened? Well, as you all know, there is no braver beast than a fierce tiger, nor one more stubborn. But the tiger's great head can hold only a single idea at a time, and this beast thought of nothing but of his own hunger. Over and over the high wall he leaped, over and over, until at last his strong heart gave out. And that's how it was, so this story goes, that next morning the villagers found the tiger lying dead outside in the street, and the little puppy fast asleep in the hole in the gate.
    "Half the year the Koreans hunt the tiger, and half the year the tiger hunts the Koreans, so the Chinese say," Halmoni told her grandchildren. "When a tiger kills one of our hunters, the man's soul becomes the slave of the beast. His spirit is forced to take on again his human form. He walks along the mountain path and lures other hunters into the thickets where the tiger can kill them. Only when a second man is eaten by the tiger, may the soul of the first one go freely up to the Heavenly Kingdom."
    This Korean grandmother remembered tales of men who turned into tigers and of tigers which turned into men. In all the tales the tiger was strong and the tiger was brave. That is why on the Korean flags of those times there was often a tiger with a flaming tongue, or with a firebrand in his claw. That is why tiger heads were embroidered on the caps of the palace guards. That is why, too, these leaping beasts were shown in the designs on embroidered screens and inlaid chests of yangban homes like the Kims'.
    But in most of Halmoni's stories, also, the tiger was shown to be far less wise than he was strong. That is the reason, so this Korean grandmother said, why a weak little puppy was able to get the best of the mighty King of the Mountains.

    Ancient Korean warriors swallowed medicines made of powdered tiger bones to give them more courage and strength.


    O NE day late in the autumn a farmer caught a wild goose," Halmoni said to her grandson Yong Tu. "I tell you about that goose, blessed boy, because it will help you remember your lesson."
    The boy was sitting with his feet tucked under him on the warm floor of his grandmother's apartment. In his hands was a book whose Korean name meant "A Primer for the Young." Over and over, half aloud, he had been repeating the words " In-eui-ye-chi-shin." As he said them, they were all run together like one very long word. But they meant five different things: love, right behavior, good form, wisdom, and faith. These were the five virtues which every Korean child was taught to remember.
    At his grandmother's words Yong Tu put his primer aside. Her story would be

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