This category of folk tales feature personified animals as the main characters.
The Korean tradition of animal tales goes back to [Dangun](/topic/Dangun, FounderofGojoseon) myth, chronicled in Samgungnyusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), which features a bear and a tiger as mythological animals, competing inside a cave to become human. Other early publications of Korean animal tales include “Tale of Rabbit and Tortoise” in the chapter on Kim Yu-sin in Samguksagi (History of the Three Kingdoms), and in Joseon, Sunoji (Fifteen-Day Record) documented many animal tales including “Groom for a Mole, ” and “The Bat’s Role, ” which is a version of the Aesop’s fable “The Birds, the Beasts, and the Bat.”
Korean animal tales can be divided into origin narratives, strategem narratives, narratives of returned favor, and otherwordly animal narratives.
Origin narratives generally focus on how an animal came to take on its physical features, from the tails of a tiger, rabbit or quail, to the specific features of catfish, crabs or monkeys. There are also tales about an animal’s cries. These biological features are explained from a strictly human perspective through imagination.
Stratagem narrarives depict weaker animals that use their wits to overthrow or triumph over stronger or dominating animals. One of the most widely known is the story of the rabbit who defeats a tiger with its scheme. It can be read as a fool’s tale from the tiger’s point of view, but from the perspective of the rabbit, who is the weaker party, the focus is on the scheme that eventually leads it to triumph.
While other forms of animal tales exist outside of the animal tale category, narratives of returned favors are distinctive to the animal tale category, perhaps indicating that the dynamic involving returned favors can be captured more effectively when animals take the place of humans. There are myriad tales that feature a wide range of animals, each seeking to return the favor they received, including cat, dog, magpie, pheasant, stork, snake, toad, tiger, fish, mosquito and fly.
Narratives of otherwordly animals are similar to shape-shifting tales, and feature animals that are believed to possess otherwordly powers. These animals include foxes, tigers and serpents. Many animals in tales of returned favors also have otherworldly traits. These narratives can be understood as tales that have been developed within the tradition of totemism and animal god worship.
Animal tales are in the end stories about humans, told through the borrowed imagery and persona of animals. In other words, the animals in these tales make readers examine human behavior and emotions in a wide range of contexts, asking ultimate questions about human identity and subjectivity.