Okay, so this is, by far, one of my favorite Korean folktales. First of all, I found it in a book of Korean folktales for children that I teach in my Korean classes. But it’s kind of like the Hansel and Gretel of Korean folktales, everyone knows it and I guess there are lots of various twists on it. I’m just going to give you the version from my storybook today because it is awesome enough as it is.
So, once upon a time, there was a poor woodcutter. He was out doing his thing one day, when he heard a voice calling for help. “Someone please save me. There’s a hunter after me.” He looked around and saw a deer. The woodcutter hid the deer behind his stack of wood.
Sure enough, a moment later, a hunter showed up. He looked around and asked the woodcutter, “Have you seen a deer?”
The woodcutter nodded and said, “Yes, a deer just went that way.” He pointed off into the woods. The hunter ran off in that direction, leaving the deer safe.
The deer looked at the woodcutter and said, “Since you saved my life, I’m going to repay the favor. Tell me something that you have been hoping for.”
The woodcutter admitted that he really wanted to get married and the deer smiled, knowingly. “There’s a ravine high up in the mountains. Two days from now, on the full moon, go there. Girls will descend from heaven to bathe in the water of the ravine. They will remove their special wing dresses that let them fly back up to heaven. You just need to hide one of those dresses. If the girl doesn’t have the dress, she can’t leave. Then you can take her home and marry her.”
The woodcutter nodded excitedly. After a moment, the deer added, “But make sure you don’t show her where the dress is until the two of you have had at least 3 children.”
Two days later, the woodcutter hid near the pool of water in the ravine. As the deer had said, three beautiful girls descended from heaven wearing wing dresses. Once the girls had begun bathing, the woodcutter crept over to where one of the dresses was laying and stole it. After it was well hidden, he returned to pool.
Two of the girls were slipping back into their wing dresses, but the third was crying. “Where’s my dress?” she sobbed. Her sisters patted her on the back and hugged her, but then, since there was nothing they could do, they simply flew back up to heaven and left her. After they were gone, the woodcutter revealed himself. He commiserated with her for a moment, and then took her home to be his wife.
They lived together happily for some years with their two children. One day, the wife asked her husband, “Won’t you tell me where my wing dress is? I would really love to look at it.” Her face was so sad that eventually the woodcutter agreed.
The wife rushed to put on the dress, grabbed their two children, and flew up into the air. The woodcutter was beside himself and sobbed and cried for her to come back. She did not.
The miserable woodcutter sought out the deer for advice. The deer said, “After that incident with your wife, the girls in heaven have been lowering a bucket down into the ravine to get their water for bathing. All you need to do is wait until they lower it, climb in, and ride it up to heaven.
The woodcutter thought this sounded like a good plan, so he went back to the ravine on the next full moon. Just as the deer had said, a bucket lowered from heaven and dipped down into the water of the ravine. The woodcutter dashed into the water and climbed into the bucket.
The bucket was hauled back up into the sky and the woodcutter rode it all the way to heaven. Amazingly, his wife was happy to see him and he and his family lived happily ever after in the heavens.
김용택.(2015) 전래동화 50 Korean Folk Tales. 은하수미디어.