Legends of Animals and Non-Living Objects
This category of legends narrates stories about real or imaginary animals and obejcts.
In Korean culure, animals are portrayed as agents of divinity or sorcery, playing the role of medium between humans and gods; between the world of the living and the underworld; between the self and the universe. Tigers and dragons are the most commonly featured in folk narratives, followed by horses, cows, snakes, chickens, turtles and dogs. These tales explain the origins of an animal’s appearances or traits; depict their intelligence, wit or foolishness; or narrate stories of competition, transformations or of their relationships with humans, often involving animals repaying their gratitude.
Tales of animals, both real and imaginary, include those of dragons competing for ascension; of the monster serpent imugi who ascends to the heavens after helping a human; the ferocious three-legged dog Samjokgu, capable of defeating a thousnad-year-old fox; the metal-eating monster Bulgasari (Impossible-to Kill); and the lesser cuckoo (jeopdongsae) with the mournful cry, associated with the story of a daughter-in-law who starved to death.
The diverse animals featured in Korean culture deliver a vast range of universal cultural information as a complex set of symbols and signs, which serve as the key to solving ancient cultural mysteries.
Non-living subjects portrayed in Korean legends range from complex and large-scale elements like natural phenomena, geographical features, historical remains and relics, to specific singular objects like a marble, calligraphy brush, pipe, or ruler. Among legends about geographical features, many narrate the origin of place names, and a large number of them are also associated with dragons.
The following are some examples of legends about specific objects, usually related to sacred tokens that serve as evidence of a national progenitor’s legitimacy and authority: Gojoseon’s founder Dangun received from his father Hwanung the Three Seals of Heaven (Cheonbuin); Silla’s King Jinpyeong always wore a golden belt embroidered with jade (geumsaokdae), which he claimed was sent by Okhwangsangje (Great Emperor of Jade); King Sinmun of Silla acquired from a dragon Manpasikjeok (Pipe That Calms Ten Thousand Billows), which provided his kingdom protection from the invading Japanese; and the legend of Yi Seong-gye’s golden ruler (geumcheok), acquired through a dream, which brought Yi, a man of ordinary standing, nobility and honor.