Three-Year Mountain Pass
The legend of Samnyeongogae (Three-Year Mountain Pass) narrates the story of a mountain pass that carried a curse that if a traveller stumbled and fell on the pass, the traveller would die within three years.
An old man was walking home on Samnyeongogae, a pass across a mountain somewhere in Gyeongsang Province, when he fell down. In despair that he would die within three years, the old man called in his children to deliver his will, but his neighbor, who was a doctor, told him that falling down on the same trail would extend his life, the more times he fell, the longer he would live. Convinced, the old man went back to Samnyeongogae and rolled down the trail again and again, praying that his life would be extended. Then he heard a voice from the sky, saying, “Do not worry. Even Dongfangshuo (symbol of longevity) fell and rolled down a thousand times here on this pass.”
In this legend, the wisdom of the old man’s neigbor and offspring helps him overcome the curse of shortened life, in effect emphasizing the importance of overturning myths. The narrative was transformed, in the course of oral transmission, into a fable about expelling superstition, and in some variations, the scheme to send the old man back to the mountain is proposed by his son or grandson to emphasize filial piety.
Similar legends are also transmitted in Japan, around temples and cemeteries. The basic plot is almost identical, except for the part where the protagonist escapes the curse through sorcery, not a reversal of perception.
In Korea, the Three-Year Mountain Pass was for a long time included in official elementary school textbooks, which served as an obstacle to oral transmission and the narrative has not developed further. But its place in the Korean oral tradition, rich in tales about extended lifespan, wise children, and filial piety, remains significant.