Rat Transformed Into a Man

Rat Transformed Into a Man

Headword

쥐의 둔갑 ( Rat Transformed Into a Man )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Folk tales

Writer KimSunpoong(金善豊)

This shapeshifting tale narrates the story of a rat who transformed itself into the master of the house but is eradicated in the end.

This narrative usually starts with the rat’s transformation, achieved by eating a broken tip of the master’s fingernail or toenail. Everyone in the family thinks the rat is the master, and the magistrate rules that the real master is fake, expelling him from the house. The master drifts here and there, then receives advice and returns home with a cat, which kills the fake master, transformed back into a rat, and the real master resumes his position. His children chide and ridicule their mother, saying, “Can’t you tell between Father’s prick and a rat’s prick!”

In some variations of this tale, the rat takes the master’s position while the real master is away. There are versions where the person offering advice to the master is a woman, or the master thinks up the idea of taking a cat without someone advising him. In some versions, the rat turns into a young groom or son, or the rat is able to transform into a human by using clothes that are strewn about the house, or by someone else’s mistake, like a daughter-in-law feeding food to the rat. The classical novel Onggojiseon (Tale of Ongjojip) combines the narrative of this tale with story of a miser who mistreats a monk seeking donation, to make up a cautionary tale against ingratitude toward one’s parents and against the anti- Buddhist social atmosphere.

Of special note is the version of this tale that features a daughter-in-law feeding food to the rat. She feeds the first spoon from the day’s first pot of steamed rice, which is reserved for the eldest member of the family, and she continues to do this for a year out of pity for the starved rat. After consuming the food reserved for the master of the house, the old rat wants to become the master and in the end he does. The daughter-in-law practiced a good deed on the rat without any intent of doing wrong, but in the end the act made her an undutiful daughter-in-law.

In the shamanic myth “Changsega (Song of the Creation of the Universe), ” the rat is a divine creature that explains to Mireuk (Maitreya) the origin of water and fire during the creation of the universe; in “Origin of Twelve Animal Signs, ” the rat is the most intelligent animal after humans. Under the Confucian monarchy of Joseon, however, the rat is degraded to a negative creature. Scholars like Jeong Yak-yong used the rat as an analogy for corrupted provincial officials pillaging or wasting grain that should go to the people.

This tale is also related to the folk belief of grain worship and the Confucian idea of viewing one’s body as an inheritance from one’s parents that should consequently be handled with the utmost care.

Rat Transformed Into a Man

Rat Transformed Into a Man
Headword

쥐의 둔갑 ( Rat Transformed Into a Man )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Folk tales

Writer KimSunpoong(金善豊)

This shapeshifting tale narrates the story of a rat who transformed itself into the master of the house but is eradicated in the end.

This narrative usually starts with the rat’s transformation, achieved by eating a broken tip of the master’s fingernail or toenail. Everyone in the family thinks the rat is the master, and the magistrate rules that the real master is fake, expelling him from the house. The master drifts here and there, then receives advice and returns home with a cat, which kills the fake master, transformed back into a rat, and the real master resumes his position. His children chide and ridicule their mother, saying, “Can’t you tell between Father’s prick and a rat’s prick!”

In some variations of this tale, the rat takes the master’s position while the real master is away. There are versions where the person offering advice to the master is a woman, or the master thinks up the idea of taking a cat without someone advising him. In some versions, the rat turns into a young groom or son, or the rat is able to transform into a human by using clothes that are strewn about the house, or by someone else’s mistake, like a daughter-in-law feeding food to the rat. The classical novel Onggojiseon (Tale of Ongjojip) combines the narrative of this tale with story of a miser who mistreats a monk seeking donation, to make up a cautionary tale against ingratitude toward one’s parents and against the anti- Buddhist social atmosphere.

Of special note is the version of this tale that features a daughter-in-law feeding food to the rat. She feeds the first spoon from the day’s first pot of steamed rice, which is reserved for the eldest member of the family, and she continues to do this for a year out of pity for the starved rat. After consuming the food reserved for the master of the house, the old rat wants to become the master and in the end he does. The daughter-in-law practiced a good deed on the rat without any intent of doing wrong, but in the end the act made her an undutiful daughter-in-law.

In the shamanic myth “Changsega (Song of the Creation of the Universe), ” the rat is a divine creature that explains to Mireuk (Maitreya) the origin of water and fire during the creation of the universe; in “Origin of Twelve Animal Signs, ” the rat is the most intelligent animal after humans. Under the Confucian monarchy of Joseon, however, the rat is degraded to a negative creature. Scholars like Jeong Yak-yong used the rat as an analogy for corrupted provincial officials pillaging or wasting grain that should go to the people.

This tale is also related to the folk belief of grain worship and the Confucian idea of viewing one’s body as an inheritance from one’s parents that should consequently be handled with the utmost care.