The Curse of Three-Year Hill

retold by Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson and Jimmy D. Roberson

Once upon a time, a plump old farmer named Yoon lived with his wife and young son in a small village that was located in remote valley in southern Korea. They sang happy songs as they toiled each day in their fields, planting rice, turnips, and cabbage in the spring, and finally harvesting them in fall.

At harvest time, Farmer Yoon loaded the rice, turnips, and cabbage on his jeegae (an A-frame carrier) and journeyed over a hill to another village near the sea. At this village market, he traded his rice, turnips, and cabbage for salt, fish, and dried seaweed to feed his family.

The hill he had to climb was the only path to reach the other villages. This hill was known as "Three-Year Hill." It was believed that if anyone were to fall while climbing on this hill, that person would be cursed to have only three years left to live.

Therefore, the farmer was extremely careful each time he journeyed over Three-Year Hill on his way to and from the market.

One beautiful autumn morning, the sun was bright and the wind felt crisp. Farmer Yoon decided to take some of his bountiful harvest to the other village to trade at the market. He piled high his jeegae with bags of freshly harvested rice, bundles of white turnips and large green cabbages. He bid farewell to his wife and son and climbed very carefully over Three-Year Hill to the next village near the sea. There, he met an old fisherman with a wooden barrelful of salt, a crate of fresh fish, and a large crate of dried seaweed.

"How are you?" Farmer Yoon called to the old fisherman. "I have freshly harvested rice, fat turnips, and beautiful cabbages." Farmer Yoon and the old fisherman talked and laughed together and exchanged their harvest. Each was satisfied with their trade.

After lunch, Farmer Yoon said goodbye to the old fisherman. He lifted his heavy jeegae on his back and started walking toward Three-Year Hill. As he walked on the narrow path over the hill, he was thinking how happy his wife and son would be to have salt, fresh fish, and dried seaweed for dinner.

With his thoughts on a happy homecoming, he failed to see a loose pebble that had rolled onto the path in front of him. Alas! He slipped on the loose pebble and fell hard on the ground! The salt, fish, and dried seaweed were scattered everywhere!

When Farmer Yoon came to his senses, he realized that he was not hurt. He dusted himself off and began to gather up the salt, fish, and seaweed. Then, to his horror, he remembered the curse of Three-Year Hill! Suddenly, it seemed as if the world went dark in front of his eyes and time stood still.

"Aigoo! Aigoo! I have fallen down on the Three-Year Hill! Now I have only three years left to live!" he cried. Poor Farmer Yoon forgot about his jeegae, salt, fish, and dried seaweed and started to run down Three-Year Hill and back to his home in the village.

The exhausted farmer stumbled through the gate to the courtyard of his house. His wife and son were startled and came hurrying to meet him. They were frantic when they saw his face had no color. His wife cried, "Husband, husband, what is wrong? What happened at the village?" Everyone in his family started wailing, for they all knew about the curse of Three-Year Hill.

From that day forward, Farmer Yoon and his family mourned the remaining days of his life. He cried and worried so much that he could not eat or sleep. Day by day, his health began fading away, despite the good care given by his family and being tended to by the village herbal doctor. It seemed that nothing could save Farmer Yoon from the curse of Three-Year Hill. Soon, the news of Farmer Yoon's misfortune traveled far and wide throughout the village.

Then one day, a strange young boy mysteriously appeared at the gate of Farmer Yoon's house. The farmer's wife asked the boy what he wanted. The young boy said that he had come to visit Farmer Yoon, having heard of Yoon's plight.

The farmer's wife invited the boy into the house and he went directly to farmer Yoon's room and bowed respectfully. "Grandfather!" he said. "Don't worry so much about falling down on that hill. There is a way to overcome the curse and live forever and ever."

Suddenly, the old man came to life as if jolted by lightning. His eyes sparkled and he sat straight up in his bed. "What are you talking about? You really mean I can live longer than three years?" But then he cast a cautious look at the boy and said, "How dare you tease me! Are you saying that I can be saved from that dreadful curse? I wish it were true! I wish it were true!" He sadly looked away from the boy's gaze.

"Grandfather, please do not worry! Just remember the ancient golden words: ‘Keep your mind sharp to survive, even though you are being carried away by a tiger to his den.' It is quite simple! Doing nothing but grieving is not going to help you! Go back to the hill and fall one more time!"

"You wretched little boy! You are teasing this desperate old man! Fall one more time on that cursed hill? Falling once is enough! Fall again? Nonsense!" He was going to hit the boy with his wooden pillow. "Are you cursing me, too?" yelled the angry farmer.

"Grandfather, let me explain, please!" begged the young visitor.

"You! You wicked boy! You have been very disrespectful to this old man. Get out! Get out of my sight, right now!" Farmer Yoon screamed.

"But, Grandfather, I have been trying to show you the bright side of this problem. Think! You live only three years after one fall. Right? Then, fall twice. You can extend your life to six years; three falls will make nine years, and so on … that is why it was named Three-Year Hill." The young boy continued, "Listen! Go to the hill, and fall again, with all your strength."

"My, my, my! Why did I not think of that? What a bright way of looking at life! You are so right! Thank you! Thank you!" shouted the jubilant farmer as he hugged the young boy tightly. Farmer Yoon's eyes were filled with tears of joy.

"All along, I was trying to explain this to you," the boy said.

"I know! I know! All I thought was I had only three years of life to live. I'm going to the hill now and roll, roll, and roll," exalted Farmer Yoon.

The ecstatic farmer ran up to the top of hill and rolled down again, again, and again. As he rolled, he yelled, "Heavenly Father! Please let me live three time longer than the number of my falls."

Suddenly, a booming voice came from behind a tree.

"You foolish old man! You were thinking of nothing but what might go wrong rather than what might go right! You were lying around in deep grief, waiting to die in three years instead of enjoying the life you have left with your family. The legend says Dongbangsak the Great Monk rolled down the hill 60,000 times and lived to be 180,000 years old."

"Oh my! Dongbangsak rolled 60,000 times?" Farmer Yoon asked. He was overjoyed, and celebrated his life by rolling down the hill every day. Farmer Yoon learned to live looking at the bright side of life, and he lived many, many happy years longer than the mere three years he thought he had.

reproduced courtesy of Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson, Ed.D.

back to Korean Folktales Index