Pop Culture & Society
Pop Culture: The Fairy and the Woodcutter
by | August 1, 2010 | 138 Comments

One of the reasons girlfriday and I wanted to open up the blog to this Pop Culture series is because we’d sometimes like to depart from the norm and muse about stuff. It allows us to take something from pop culture or society at large and run with it. Girlfriday took on the piggyback ride in her first entry, and I thought this would be the perfect occasion to bring up something that’s always struck me as odd and fascinating and disturbing: a particular fairy tale.

The catalyst for this post was a song by FT Island called “The Angel and the Woodcutter.” I had been listening to a lot of FT Island last year (blame You’re Beautiful) and one of their songs caught my attention because it was catchy and fun. But then I checked the title, and all of a sudden I felt conflicted.

You see, The Fairy and the Woodcutter is an old Korean fairy tale that many/most Korean kids grow up hearing, and even back as a child it had bothered me. I didn’t realize back then why, I only knew that it seemed really… wrong. But listening to FT Island’s song brought back all those early memories, and when I played the song back and listened to the lyrics closely, I remembered all those reasons I’d been so unsettled by the original fairy tale.


FT Island – “천사와 나무꾼” (The Angel and the Woodcutter) [ Download ]

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“The Angel and The Woodcutter”

You dazzle the eyes because you look like an angel
Your steps are light, like walking on clouds
You’ve come down from heaven for a short punishment
You’ve caught my eye, my heart feels it would stop
I want to hold on to you forever
Hiding behind you and secretly stealing glances
I am the woodcutter

You’re an angel only for me, a gift from heaven
Let’s be happy forever, the two of us
You’ll be my only love, I’ll always make you smile
I hope you’ll forget about heaven

Don’t be sad
I feel uneasy that you’ll leave
My love must not be enough
If you want, I can do anything
Living only looking at you
I’m the woodcutter

You’re an angel only for me, a gift from heaven
Let’s be happy forever, the two of us
You’ll be my only love, I’ll always make you smile
I hope you’ll forget about heaven

Even though time goes on, my love never changes
Till the moment I close my eyes, I’ll only look at you

You’re an angel only for me, my one and only love
I wish that we’ll live beautifully and happily, just the two of us
You’re my only love, there’s nothing to be sad about
Live with me in this place
I love you
I want to hide your winged clothes forever

But before I get to the interpreting part, I’ve got to share with you the actual folk tale. Here’s a condensed version. (Note that this is in my own words, so don’t go around quoting it as the official story.)

There was once a poor woodcutter who lived in the mountains with his mother. One day he helped a wounded deer escape from a hunter, and in return for his kindness, the deer, who was actually a mountain spirit, granted him a wish. The man wished for a wife.

The deer told the woodcutter a surefire way to get his wish and outlined specific instructions. The woodcutter was to go to a mountain pond where fairies came down from their home in heaven once a month to bathe, aided by magical clothing that allowed them to fly. He was to steal one fairy’s clothing, stranding her in the pond, then offer to help her. If he brought her home, she would eventually fall in love with him and become his wife. The woodcutter must not reveal the truth about her clothing until she had borne him at least three children.

As ethics have no place in a love (or possession) story, the woodcutter did as ordered, and everything happened as the deer said. Hiding nearby, he watched as a group of fairies flew down from heaven and bathed, and stole one set of clothes. When it was time to return, one fairy couldn’t find her clothing, and her fellow fairies were forced to return to heaven without her.

The pervy woodcutter emerged from hiding to play the hero, offering her regular clothing and shelter. With no way to return home, in time she married him and bore him two children. And the woodcutter was happy. Selfish bastard.

But once a month — on bathing day — his wife would feel homesick and cry for her lost life. And while the woodcutter was a scheming pervy jerk, he wasn’t completely heartless and finally decided that he would tell her the truth, figuring that her love for him would be enough, because they were an otherwise happy family. Let’s just say some people define happiness differently from others.

When he showed her the hidden clothing, the fairy put them on, took up one child in each arm, and flew up to heaven. And the idiot woodcutter was sad. Boo effin’ hoo.

The reason for the deer’s instructions now became clear — if he had waited until they had three children, the fairy would not be able to carry all her children up to heaven, nor would she be able to leave any behind. The deer saw that the man was heartbroken and offered him a solution. Thanks to Mr. Woodcutter’s security breach, ever since the fairy had been stranded on earth the other fairies had ceased bathing in the mountain pool. Instead, once a month they lowered a bucket to draw up water to heaven. It must not be much of a heaven if they’ve got no water up there. Just sayin’. The deer advised the man to get into the bucket, which would draw him up and therefore reunite him with his wife.

He did, and the family reunited. And they were happy.

Alas, his poor old mother had been left alone on earth, and after some time the woodcutter felt bad and wanted to see her one last time before she died. His wife appealed to the king of the heavens, because apparently all incompetent men are given three chances to prove their incompetence. The king offered the woodcutter a way to say his last goodbye, lending him a winged horse that would deliver him home. However, he must not get off the horse or he would be left behind.

The woodcutter did, and his old mother was overjoyed to see her son. She wanted to feed him, as all Korean mothers do, but he told her that he wouldn’t be able to get off the horse. So she offered to bring the bowl of freshly made gruel to him so that he could eat it here before leaving. However, the idiot woodcutter spilled the hot gruel on the horse’s back, and it reared up on its legs, knocking him off its back. The horse returned to heaven and the woodcutter died sad and alone. (And may or may not have turned into a rooster that crows his grief to the skies.)

The end.

The song doesn’t have the same punch anymore, does it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing FT Island or the song. I like the song (with some reservation). It’s cute, and sorta interesting the way it extrapolates the woodcutter’s feelings to be a general love story — if you left out the references to the fairy tale, it could read like just another romantic pop song.

Can you see how my 6-year-old self was oddly uncomfortable with what is considered a perfectly ordinary bedtime tale before I even understand the words to describe what I was feeling? Perhaps one might argue that the kidnapping woodcutter died in the end, so it’s not like the story is holding him up as a role model. Only I’d disagree, because The Fairy and the Woodcutter isn’t told at bedtime as a cautionary tale; it’s just a story, like Cinderella. Sometimes the woodcutter is even painted in a sympathetic light — his rescue of the deer is highlighted, and he is described as a tragic victim of bad luck rather than his own stupidity.

Does a story HAVE to come with a morality clause? Perhaps not, but if bad behavior is depicted as the right course of action, the message becomes muddled. I doubt that this single story makes all Korean children grow up believing kidnapping is an effective method of courtship (although some dramas might have you scratching your head), but I think it’s problematic for fairy tales to put forth these behaviors and then treat them like there’s nothing wrong. It’s complicity by omission.

(Also note that I’m not saying Korean people are the only ones with messed-up folktales; there are a lot of Western fairy tales with arguably problematic messages, or at least motifs. It’s not a “this culture is better than that one” argument. I once had an English lesson wherein the teacher turned around the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to point out that the actual victim in the tale was the giant, and Jack was the jackass thief who invaded his home, stole his property, then cut down the beanstalk and killed him.)

The Fairy and the Woodcutter glosses over the part where the woodcutter detains the woman against her will by means of subterfuge and deceit. In some versions he is even described as handsome, and a dutiful son. Because he is sanctioned by a heavenly agent (the deer, or mountain spirit), the story condones — approves, even — his methods and justifies the means for the sake of the ends. The story makes it a point to indicate that the wife wasn’t really unhappy with her life on earth — husband knows best! — but merely homesick. And that even when she left him to return home, she still loved him and was happy to be reunited with him in heaven.

Some of the same ideas are present in modern dramas — they aren’t limited to antiquated storytelling. Possessiveness is seen as bad when the possessive person is not part of the One True Pairing; then s/he is relegated to the role of the troublemaking second lead. But when possessiveness is displayed by the hero, isn’t it romantic? Isn’t it understandable, acceptable, even admirable when the hero goes to extreme lengths to make his relationship work? We as the audience put up with a lot of crap from heroes (and heroines, to be equal opportunity) when we know that ultimately they’re Meant To Be. Gu Jun-pyo, I’m looking at you and your wounded-little-boy charm. (And I say that as someone who totally loved his jealousy and misguided attempts to win Jan-di over in all the wrong ways.)

It’s interesting because there are themes in the tale that could actually encourage thoughtful discussion, but typically don’t. For instance, in this interspecies coupling, neither spouse is 100% happy despite a supposedly happy marriage with lovely children — the absence of family weighs heavily. This is also a theme we see frequently in dramas.

Now, the song I’d really like to hear is the one from the perspective of the poor manipulated and coerced fairy. Sure the tale says she eventually grew to love her woodcutter, but there’s a term for making the best of traumatic kidnapping, and that’s Stockholm Syndrome.


138 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. otk

    I love these types of folk tale stories. Anymore to share :DDD ?

    Has this story every been made into a movie or cartoon? I feel like it should. Sometimes folk legends inspire me to write novels, but I always end up spacing out after 1 paragraph. xD

    • 1.1 Iamastonished

      This is the caveman approach to wooing a wife. Here is a western story of a women who was also detained against her will. This is the nursery rhyme that bugged me as a four year old.

      Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
      Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;
      He put her in a pumpkin shell
      And there he kept her very well.

      Cute huh? Great big misogynistic message for little girls and big enforcer of male privilege for little boys.

      I like your story best. I feel for the naked fairy and I’m glad the horse left that peeping tom covered in hot gruel.
      (No hot water in heaven then it is not heaven)

  2. OhBobbi

    What a wonderful post, Javabeans! I had never heard of this fairy tale before, but I’m inclined to agree with your view of the story. It’s interesting that the less acceptable parts of the story (kidnapping, deceit, etc.) are often “glossed over,” as you say, when presenting the story to children. It makes me think of the story of Rapunzel, which is often ‘toned down’ from the original version (which is full of sex and violence, actually, and the witch isn’t a total villain). And what is this fascination with catching people bathing? Aren’t there several Greek myths involving that kind of scenario? Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thank you for all the time and thought you put into this site.

  3. Koe

    There is actually a Japanese anime and manga called Ayashi no Ceres that was based upon this fairytale I believe.


  4. Lorna

    interesting…sometimes I wonder about these fairy tales and nursery rhymes -_-
    It kind of reminds me of the creepiness that is peter peter pumpkin eater…

  5. pengork

    fascinating. i love fairy tales precisely because they’re often so simple and usually simply told, and yet there’s so much room for thought and question. in this particular folktale, the woodcutter is so obviously deceitful and selfish and idiotic, i think koreans must, once they consider the story from a more adult perspective some years down the line, question this behaviour. on the other hand, it’s also all part of storytelling, so the way they’re told the story would definitely influence their perspective of the woodcutter’s actions. what an asshole, though, really. some spirit, too.

    ft island ftw! <3 i dig their first korean album so much.

  6. n

    Various parts of Europe, China and Japan have similar tales. Wiki has some info.
    Anyway, to otk, the anime/manga, Ayashi no Ceres, immediately came to mind and is loosely based on this story…wiki also lists other works.

  7. tambok

    Oh what a lovely post! As always.
    Enjoyed it to bits. Especially the song translation. Very lyrical. Very Wordsworth-y.

  8. tinysunbl

    Hero glorified by possessiveness… Am I the only one who think of Jun pyo in BBF here?

  9. peachys2sleep

    When I heard the story as a young kid I thought that the guy was totally messed up for lying and “forcing” her to marry him. When she flew up to heaven with her kids I went “good! he deserves it. I was kind of sad when he died alone though.

    I feel a little uneasy when I see extreme possessiveness in male characters because it holds the potential for young girls to be cultivated into thinking that this kind of behavior is admirable and romantic. Also, when a guy is possessive why is it considered romantic but for female characters, its considered psycho behavior?

    Javabeans, did the first three pictures that you show in this post come from a book? Where did you get the last three?

  10. 10 Ari

    Oh, well, this story sounds pretty much identical to Norse mythology! Well, I could be wrong, but I remember reading somewhere (wiki, or a book), that Valkyries came down to Earth from Valhalla to bath in rivers, and if their clothes happened to get lost they wouldn’t be able to come back home. There’re several fables were men become “bewitched” at their beauty and steal their clothes, to make them their wives – only at the end most of the Valkyries find their clothing again and leave back to Valhalla. The end of those men were usually more violent than the one of the woodcutter, though.

  11. 11 Angela

    haha. I love your interpretation of the fairytale. Hilarious, but true! 😉

    I also immediately thought of Yuu Watase’s, Ayashi no Ceres, when I was reading this… particularly because a lot of it is from the “fairy’s” revenge-driven kill-the-jerk-who-imprisoned-me POV, which I’m sure you could appreciate, considering your disdain for the woodcutter. It’s like a feminist got a hold of the tale, and thought, “I know *just* what to do with this.”

  12. 12 Phi

    There is a manga series based on the fairy tale by Yuu Watase called Ceres: Celestial Legend. The mangaka seems to take javabean’s point of view and does show the “poor manipulated and coerced fairy” ‘s perspective indeed.

  13. 13 Jenju


    I really appreciate this post as someone that just loves stories in general. Thanks so much for this, you gave me wonderful brain food to munch on.

  14. 14 diane

    Loved this. Thank you for posting. Yes, I have read a few tales similar to this one. Although I understood the mans longing for a woman to love, I never understood how he could be so callous as to steal something precious of hers and enslave her to him in the name of love.

    One of the tales I’ve read,(Native American) the woman was so heartbroken that she actually withered and started to die.The husband would always promise to give back to her what he had stolen, in some imaginary time in the future. Her son had mercy on her and gave her back her sealskin coat. She promptly returned to the sea and became rejuvenated. Needless to say the husband lost out.

    You were a very intelligent child to know that something wasn’t right about this fairy tale. The song, while not as blatant as the tale, gets it’s point across-stay with me for I will love you and only you. Please don’t think of what you loved before me.

    Yes, I think there are great morals to be learned from these wonderful stories. They touch the soul.
    I hope they continue until the end of time.

  15. 15 cassie

    I´m from Europe and here is actually a similar tale. I can´t remember the details, but the similarities are remarkable.

    But it´s not really well-known. At least not in Germany. I found this tale only because I´m interested in fairy-tales. It´s a nice surprise to see a connection between the european and the korean culture. I´d prefer a much less disturbing example, though…

  16. 16 sarah

    I think the lesson in this fairy tale is:
    – any realtionship which startred wrong will end up wrong.
    – you will be given chances to make it right in every wrong thing s you did to make it right
    – but chances also runs out you go back to where you started

    – the main story??? if you want to get something do it yourself fairly and squarely.


    Fairy tales is just fairy tales…for whatever purpose it was created only the authors know…

    But I like fairy tales as well…it’s not usual ending of happily ever after but..it’s good to read…

  17. 17 Tieu

    I think this myth is probably told throughout Asia, although with slight changes to each story depending on the place. As a child, I remembered the exact story told, however, I did not ever hear the bucket part. Once his family left him, he was left to live by himself and died alone. I can’t say I felt pity for him either since in my story, he basically forced her to stay with him. She knew he hid it and was only lucky to have found her robes and was able to escape back to heaven with her children. It might just be me being mean, but a guy forcing someone to be his wife doesn’t deserve a super happy ending, but that’s just me =)

  18. 18 Tieu

    Maybe not just Asia =P

  19. 19 Sobia

    “And the woodcutter was happy. Selfish bastard.”

    I love your translation!

    But seriously, this was a really interesting article, and I loved your explanation of the story and why it made you so uncomfortable as a kid. I took a class on fairy tales in college, and it was amazing all the crazy themes — death, sex, perceptions on changes in society — that are packed into them, whether wittingly or not. The tales we tell children…

    But I do think we are not that far off from a time where the idea of kidnapping a woman and then somehow convincing her to marry you was not that crazy of an idea. And I know of certain cultures where it still is not an idea that is completely laid to rest, and the law actually addresses what to do in these situations (like, the man gets less of a monetary penalty for his crime of kidnapping if the woman eventually marries him, but more if the woman refuses his offer of marriage). I have a feeling that these kidnappings are most common in cultures that are prone to deep-rooted tribal and ethnic conflicts, since such kidnappings would be the only way people could really marry outside of their local clan or tribe to expand their territory. I know it’s not relevant to the story, but your post just made me think of this, and maybe it has bearing on why kidnapping romances are so common in fairy tale literature.

    Anywayz, all I can say is that things can really suck for women in this world sometimes… Poor Stockholm syndrome-stricken fairy.

  20. 20 Chocopie

    Hi. I was just lurking around and saw this post. The story is rly good heheh. What’s surprising is that we have one folk tale A LOT like this one, and I’m from SEA. Though it’s not a woodcutter, but a prince.

    Though the story goes kinda like this: The main character is a prince who went kinda psycho after he had a vision in his dream of 7 heavenly princesses. One day he told his father the king he wanted to go ‘hunting’ and so he went. All his companions died along the way, before he found her clothing floating in the river along with her ring (in some version he stole it). When he met the princess she told him the one who found her clothing is her soulmate (kinda) and they get married on earth. But in our story the princess fled back to heaven not because of homesickness but because her husband was always too busy gambling and fooling around with girls outside the palace (he’s a young prince mind you) that he didn’t even bother to return even when his wife gave birth to a son. Feeling sad and angry (and definitely homesick now) the princess took her flying cloth and flew back to heaven, only to be put into marriage by his father to another heavenly prince. The human prince feeling sorry now found a way to heaven (by means of a garuda; that’s the giant bird) and made his way into the heavenly palace. He bonded with his son (whom he never seen before), and won back the heart of his wife. Together they return to earth (after some conflict with the obsessive heavenly prince) and lived happily ever after 😀

    Umm, hope everyone’s not asleep now (not bedtime story) 😛

  21. 21 kaedejun

    “Some of the same ideas are present in modern dramas — they aren’t limited to antiquated storytelling. Possessiveness is seen as bad when the possessive person is not part of the One True Pairing; then s/he is relegated to the role of the troublemaking second lead. But when possessiveness is displayed by the hero, isn’t it romantic? Isn’t it understandable, acceptable, even admirable when the hero goes to extreme lengths to make his relationship work? We as the audience put up with a lot of crap from heroes (and heroines, to be equal opportunity) when we know that ultimately they’re Meant To Be. Gu Jun-pyo, I’m looking at you and your wounded-little-boy charm. (And I say that as someone who totally loved his jealousy and misguided attempts to win Jan-di over in all the wrong ways.)”

    Wow – totally agree to the above paragraph. it’s so true and i didn’t think of it that way. it’s possible that this story – which is so widespread that i’m sure there’s a chinese version of it somewhere – influenced so many people’s minds that it happens naturally in dramas. I think this fairy tale in general can spark off a lot of stereotypes that we make about certain ethnicities, whether it’s the Korean and European or Chinese version. For example, I feel there’s always the stereotype that Asian men are possessive and dangerous in some way, and hence need to be avoided – and it’s perpetuated by Western media (back in the day). So even if this story is a harmless fairy tale, it packs in the same punch as propaganda….

  22. 22 Maggie Y

    I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times and didn’t realize that it was about this! Hahaha. I would have never known if you hadn’t made this post. Thanks for the eye opener!

  23. 23 Lahlita

    Javabeans, wow. Talk about biased storytelling. Your contempt and disgust for the poor unfortunate woodcutter bled into every sentence … and I loved it. Evil @$$hole woodcutter b*tch. Good job, JB. 🙂

    @ 9 peachys2sleep

    I have the same problem with extreme male possessiveness being glorified in dramas. Unfortunately many — not all, but many — girls and women the world over (Western world included) have already been socialized to find such male behavior attractive because there doesn’t seem to be a delineation between a confident man who goes after what he wants, and a narcissistic man who takes whatever he wants no matter the consequences or the pain caused to others. The feelings of the victims are given short-shrift while we speed along to the happy ending, all brought about by the “heroic courage” of the man who went after what he wanted — which conveniently happened to be what the women wanted too! She just needed to be kidnapped, verbally abused, wrist-grabbed and/or trapped into arriving at the same conclusion, and then they can live happily-ever-after. Hoo-effing-ray.

    Unfortunately, these ideas and tales don’t come about in a vacuum. They’re reflective of the cultures from which they arise. So while I bemoan some of the insulting, heartbreaking, enraging tripe that passes for entertainment, if entertainment is a reflection of the status quo, or at least the innermost desires of the zeitgeist, then we humans of the world (the whole world) have a loooong way to go.

  24. 24 kotatsulove

    I’ve actually read the first volume of a Korean manwha about this, but I really can’t remember the name. All I can recall is the word “Faery” in the title.

    This really reminds me of the Irish folktales about the selkie. Selkies were seals that could shed their skins when on land and become beautiful women, of course. Along the same lines of the Korean version, a man steals away her skin when she’s on land and then forces her to marry him. She eventually runs off, I think, leaving her kids. There’s a movie called The Secret of Roan Innish that touches on this legend.

    • 24.1 pgirl

      i think it is faeries landing

  25. 25 danni

    Yeah, the Jun-pyo/Domyouji character instantly came to mind with this fairytale. I also thought of Jin-soo of CH, though he wasn’t like that all throughout the drama, but I was thinking of ep17 particularly when he went to extreme lengths to get Eun-young. Personally, I never thought it was romantic and a little bit creepy if the main male character was obsessed with the lead female. It’s just unnatural and when the female eventually accepts it, that’s even stranger. I feel that it dumbs down the female. However, when this type of male does show up in dramas or any culture, he is usually acknowledged to be a little psychologically twisted for some reason or another so I don’t know if he could be seen as heroic or romantic instead of just crazy. Thanks for this jb!

  26. 26 mems

    My mind is too tired to write anything thoughtful but I also took a fairy tales class in which the professor dissected the unabridged perversity in stories like Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin. Creepy how these negative ideas can be painted normal in light of a fairy tale…

    Love this post, btw. <3

  27. 27 last_thread

    A lot of fairy tales have negative motifs. It’s kind of disturbing, actually. I don’t know about Korean fairytales (or any other cultures, really, lol) but for a lot of Western ones, fairy tales weren’t originally meant for children. They were stories told for adult entertainment (there’s a quite old version of Sleeping Beauty where the prince rapes her in her sleep and leaves her pregnant. in this version, one of her children awakens her, and the villain is the prince’s jealous wife, not an evil stepmother. older versions of little red riding hood get pretty sexual, too). I guess some of the more negative aspects of fairy tales might be remnants from the adult tales being converted to child-friendly or cautionary ones.

  28. 28 someone

    the moment i saw the title of this blog post, i immediately thought of ft island because i love this song! after reading the fairytale, i felt like ehhh…well, a bit uneasy. but it’s so interesting what you say about the possesiveness being romantic because if you think of it that way, (given in romantic scenarios displayed in dramas) i can see it in a totally different way.

    i think the main difference is in the story and it’s details. the fairytale is told simply and in a way that leaves the characters more open to interpretation. when kdramas are twisted into this (or any) situation, we get a load of scenes that show us how the characters are feeling and what their intentions are, good or bad. then there are those special circumstances that just make it seem ok. it becomes more complex and harder for us to blame the “hero” (or heroine) for doing whatever misdeeds they’ve done for True Love. LOL at that whole Meant To Be thing, but it’s probably because of this idea that we accept all the shenanigans (i’m totally guilty of this).

    anyways, great post! 🙂 i’ve loved ft island since ‘you’re beautiful’ too! hehe

  29. 29 Nano

    hahaha, looking at the title, i thought this was folktale where the woodcutter drops his axe into the river and a fairy rises up to ask him what’s wrong. but then i saw the picture, and was a bit disappointed because i kind of hated this folk tale. but the rant on it was all good 🙂

  30. 30 Ddalgi

    Just curious, but is it stockholm syndrome when the person doesn’t know they’ve been rescued by their kidnapper? Isn’t that why she becomes happy? Because, she doesn’t know her husband is the one who wronged her. I guess it would be really interesting to see if she would forgive him nowadays. I think that some woman would forgive the husband eventually, and the other half would be vengeful and possibly hateful. Has there ever been a drama that played out this scenario? I would like to see how this fairytale would be addressed in a drama. Because, there’s always at least one triangle. Would the husband be painted as the bad guy or the hero??!!

  31. 31 888

    LOL! i love your point of view here, and I totally agree. I’ve always felt it was kinda weird, the way the woodcutter “courted” the fairy.

  32. 32 Lahlita

    I feel the need to quickly clarify that I’m not calling K-dramas “insulting, heartbreaking, enraging tripe!” If I believed that, I wouldn’t be here. Phew, glad I cleared that up.

    I find myself in the odd position recognizing that certain male-hero behaviors are kind of vile (constant fighting, verbal abuse, wrist-grabbing, duplicity), and yet I still find said heroes charming (Gu Jun-Pyo). But it doesn’t always work. I wasn’t really into Sam-shik from MNIKSS, and I was absolutely repulsed by eight-years-later Ki-hoon from Cinderella’s Sister. But my inability to automatically hate male heroes when they display extreme possessiveness and duplicity probably means that I too have been socialized into finding some of the this stuff forgivable, especially if I find the offender attractive. Oh, dear.

    @ 25 danni

    Good point with the fact that many now take dramas take pains to acknowledge how psychologically fubar’d many heroes are. Families dead by their hands (accidentally, of course), childhood abuse, neglect, etc. And yet that usually freaks me out even more. I’m like, get thee to a therapist post-hate, thou psycho!

    @ 27 last_thread

    I grew up on the Disney version of fairy-tales and lived in a magical world until I was thirteen. That’s when I found a massive book full of original fairy-tales as written by The Brothers Grimm and other original authors on an elderly neighbor’s bookshelf. Fairies were rather evil beings, and the villains were huge fans of kidnapping, torture and rape. Always the rape. Fairy-tales were ruined for me for life.

  33. 33 All American Korean Girl

    Sigh. This fairy tale irks me the most and I like to just remember it as a nice story but your post has made me see it in a bad light. Knowledge can be such a burden sometimes.

    I think you’re reading way too much into this. I agree with your points. They are valid but at the same time I feel conflicted at having a childhood story of mine attacked. LOL.

    For me, the story was just always about obedience and how the consequences of not following the rules can get you into trouble.

    I really don’t think its the fairy tale at fault but the Korean dramas that take it to a whole new level. Some of the dramas I see make me wonder how loosely or closely they are based on real life.

  34. 34 sogba

    That was a very good read thanx for that!!! ^^

  35. 35 Lucille

    This was a really interesting topic. I am currently really into Japanese manga and Korean manhwa right now and I see this theme a lot. The men kidnap, force, yell and scream at the women, etc and the women forgive them every time and sometime feel guilty for not understanding that this is how they express their love. Creepy, but as a reader I am entranced at the depth of these emotionally immature people. I can’t put them down. It is the same with earlier dramas. No one ever says what they really mean, they guy always drags the girl away by her arm, the girl always give into the man, etc and we love it. We keep coming back.

    I thinks stories like this exist (romeo and juliet, the little mermaid) because on some level we all want a crazy love. We want to be so wrapped up in each other that we only see each other. We want a guy who loves (in his mind) us so much that he will do anything for us and do anything to keep us. We also want to return that love in full and be just as lost, but the reality of that is scary.

    In my town, a man held the people inside of Wal-mart hostage, because his girl friend wanted to break up with him. He ended up stabbing the girl. At last check she was in intensive care in the local hospital.

  36. 36 momosa

    Most fairy tales have these strange reasonings behind them which I can’t explain or try very hard to ‘justify’ to my daughter when I read to her. They don’t seem to fit in modern days civil code of law. I believe a lot of mothers are in the same position like me, as much as I would like my child to hear them, I do feel uncomfortable reading them.

    But kids these days are so well exposed/inform, they can come up with their reasonings – like ‘didn’t snow white know that she shouldn’t accept food from a stranger!’ – there you go, save me from providing an explanation, or ‘if the Queen of heaven sent a guard to steal the pearl, then she is a thief, not queen of heaven!’ – there you go again…….

  37. 37 asherlev

    My reaction to the whole thing is pretty much a big fat “Eh”. As a child I was an avid reader and books were pretty much my best friend (to an extent, of course). I adored fairy tales – especially the dark ones, because they were pretty much my only outlet of experiencing more adult content (I didn’t watch any risque tv and I went to a private school). I know what you’re saying about “not all stories have to come with morality clauses, but there should be a clear line between good and bad” and what-not but I think part of what makes these stories so interesting is that the main character isn’t a goodguy-goodguy. He’s a flawed guy who has made mistakes and in the end, he generally has to pay for them. It’s essentially escapism – the reader gets to experience these out-of-world mistakes that involve magic, and he/she is able to stick with the decisions that are made to the ultimately tragic or happy ending.

    Sure, no one should condone kidnapping via a bedtime story, but I think that part of the charm of these magical-backstory based fables/tales is that the mistakes the characters make, while essentially representations of every-day mistakes people make enhanced to a large, mythical scale, also represent the kind of adventures most people never have. It isn’t so much about the good/bad and what the meaning of the entire tale as it is about immersing oneself into an alternate reality.

    – Just my opinion. Lol, can you tell I love fables/fairy tales?

  38. 38 Meru

    I’ve listened that FT Island’s song so many times and I had no idea about the whole fairy tale around the title. I just thought it was just another one of their love songs. I knew the title was based off a fairy tale, but I never wondered about what that fairy tale was about. After reading your post, the story does sound familiar. I probably have heard/seen a variation of the story before…my mind keeps thinking I must have saw an adaptation in a Chinese drama before as a child. I still try not to think too much about the fairy tales of my childhood. They bring back such beautiful memories. I don’t mind if they don’t make sense.

    Very interesting post!

  39. 39 omo

    Thanks for the post, JB. A great read.

    What about the stupid deer who gave those stupid instructions? I wonder if the deer was the woodcutter’s conscience personified.

  40. 40 Tyme

    Strangely, the only part of the story I remembered when I saw the post initially was the first half, when he steals her clothes and she becomes his wife. I dug out the old book from its spot on the dusty shelf and skimmed it again.

    I never recall the story bothering me, although I must have read it plenty of times when I was younger. I suppose the concluding moral is that stealing from others to achieve one’s goals is wrong. The story is a reflection of old Korean culture, and because it has been around for so long, no one questions it. Many old folk tales have questionable bits, but that doesn’t do anything to keep them from being told.

    It was very interesting reading this post. I appreciate you writting it up. 😉

  41. 41 asianromance

    I’ve heard other Asian and European versions of this tale! I guess some fairy tales are universal! For me, the lessons to be had in this tale are: 1. like someone else had said- it’s partly about obedience. If he had followed the deer’s orders, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened 2. it’s about things being too good to be true- what kind of world is it that some mountain spirit handing you something. In a lot of stories about the supernatural, any time something magical GIVES you something, you should be suspicious. Get a wife the normal way! 3. it’s comeuppance for being a thieving jerk.

    and i do wish in korean dramas that they would dispense with the wrist grab thing. Guys have longer legs and can often run faster than girls. Why can’t he just run in front of her and shout “WAIT!” or steady her by the shoulder? or say “please come with me”? Or do a funny dance to both get the girl’s attention and disarm her?

    • 41.1 Mac

      “and i do wish in korean dramas that they would dispense with the wrist grab thing. Guys have longer legs and can often run faster than girls. Why can’t he just run in front of her and shout “WAIT!” or steady her by the shoulder? or say “please come with me”? Or do a funny dance to both get the girl’s attention and disarm her?”

      Please write some screenplays for dramas so I can watch them. I would pay cash money to see this.

  42. 42 ck1Oz

    ‘Sure the tale says she eventually grew to love her woodcutter, but there’s a term for making the best of traumatic kidnapping, and that’s Stockholm Syndrome.’

    I wasn’t to post and just enjoyed the read but THAT sentence just about killed me….OMG…that is too funny.

    Emm…..yes,I recall reading a Chinese version of that.I found out when I was an adult about the ‘original’ versions of Brothers Grimm’s fairytales.

    This is another childhood delusions shattering….”crash,ping and almighty tinkling sound”

    I would now go back to my ‘ostrich head in the sand’ mode because I liked my fairytales.

    What can we tell children these days?Aesop’s Fables?And no I don’t do Thomas the tank stories or others of the similar vein(please don’t get upset fellow readers,just a personal preference.The question is genuine though)


  43. 43 Selli

    Originally, Sleeping Beauty had to be raped BY HER FATHER (!) in order to awake O___O Really, people in the past sure had some strange tastes in stories!!! XD That’s really very creepy.

  44. 44 gailT

    Thanks, JB! I’ve heard of a modified version of this when I was young in the Philippines. Perhaps other cultures have some form of this tale (as pointed out by other commenters).

    Maybe there should be a drama in the point of view of the fairy. 😀

  45. 45 blahblahblah

    “I want to hide your winged clothes forever” ..err yeah, creeepy.

    I have never heard of this fairytale or anything like it, but it was interesting to read about your interpretation and I agree with it all. Especially the part where in dramas it’s alright for the male lead to be all possessive, but if those same acts were done by a secondary character it’s viewed at creepy. Weird.

    “…kidnapping is an effective method of courtship (although some dramas might have you scratching your head)” Out of curiosity, is there a drama that literally has the male lead kidnap the heroine to force her to love him? I’ve never seen such an extreme act in a drama. Does anybody know of any?

  46. 46 amyrza

    yeah… I remembered our Malay Literature text back in highschool – Hikayat Malim Deman. The story is mostly similar with seven heavens maid come down to earth to bathe (what a smelly heaven it might have been) and Malim Deman stole and hid one of them. They got married and hava a prince but sadly Malim Deman forget his responsibilty- busy with gambling and had a mistress. So when the dissapointed and unhappy heaven maid found her special clothes she didnt hesitate to fly back home bringing her son with her.

    Malim Deman regretted his misdeeds and decided to go in a quest to search for his wife and son. He was helped by another Princess who lend him a flying horse -with condition set by the Princess that he will marry her when he was successful with his quest – he managed to get to heaven and win back his wife’s heart. He then returned to earth with his wife and son and stop by to marry the other Princess before returning with his new expanded family back to his country.

    So yeah…. not only this was a school textbook but the content of the story also irritate the ‘female’ out of me – it is no wonder i didnt get high mark in my Malay Lit ^_^

  47. 47 pea

    The chinese have a similar version.

  48. 48 me

    We have the same fairytale here in Indonesia. but our’s ended when the fairy went back up and left the woodcutter alone.
    Didn’t know that Koreans has the same fairytale with us..
    I’m amazed…
    thanks JB..^^

  49. 49 Qwenli

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Agree to all your stockholm syndrome, detained against will, deceit and incompetent/selfish analogy. Must have been a male writer!

    All these wierd fairy tales.

    Yep Hansel and Gretel was eerie too.

  50. 50 Qwenli

    Actually I remember the chinese have something similar too.

    Its call 嫦娥奔月。Chang e ben yue.

    Cant remember the story though, but it was the wife that took off herself to the moon. And there was a rabbit living on the moon!!

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