2015 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place
third place, junior essay division
Whenever I think of folk tales, I think of the morals contained inside of them. The ability of folk tales to teach such important values is actually rather amazing. Folk tales are not true; they are simply imagined by writers and storytellers. Yet the way they can depict how characters change and adapt to situations, mirroring the behavior of real, living people, has the potential to teach readers important lessons about how to live. It is also because of the way characters develop in these stories that folk tales are adapted and changed over time. Korean folk tales, for example, have been retold countless times so that the actions of the characters inside them reflect how people really act in that specific culture, time, or place. Only if these fictional characters’ actions parallel the actions readers would take in real life can a moral be conveyed. It is by learning from these characters’ mistakes that readers learn a lesson. However, in The Queen Swallow’s Gift, the characters’ actions and the consequences of those actions do not clearly convey a moral to be learned. Therefore, I believe the ending of The Queen Swallow’s Gift should be modified to clarify the lesson it teaches us, the readers.
As they are currently written, the natures of the characters in The Queen Swallow’s Gift make it difficult to determine the moral of the story. They are characterized simply: Nol-bu is the greedy older brother, and Hûng-bu is the selfless younger brother. Throughout the story, Nol-bu is portrayed as a completely evil character. He leaves his younger brother to starve, he exploits his brother’s knowledge of the gourds to try to gain more wealth, and he breaks the baby swallow’s leg to advance his own self-interest. Yet at the end of the story, Nol-bu appears to have a surprising and sudden change of heart after experiencing the loss of many of his prized possessions, going to his brother and asking for help. Hûng-bu decides to forgive the brother that left him homeless even before an apology. Because Nol-bu immediately receives his brother’s forgiveness, the folk tale never shows that he really regrets his actions, simply that he claims he has. Although it is possible that he did change, his sudden, unnatural shift from “bad” to “good” isn’t very effective at portraying how people act in real world situations. Although a bad experience, such as the one Nol-bu had with the gourds, can be sobering, it usually does not cause a change of character in people who are so heartless they are willing to let their brother die to save money. The folk tale does not explain whether Nol-bu truly learned his lesson or was simply motivated by the need for food and other basic necessities, since all of his belongings had been destroyed. From the beginning, Nol-bu’s actions were completely selfserving; I believe that the folktale failed to prove that he changed at all.
The ending of this folk tale did not make sense to me, making it impossible for me to learn a lesson from it. I decided that Hûng-bu was overly kind and dedicated to his family, but because he never changed over the course of the story, I determined that the lesson of the story was to come from Nol-bu’s actions. However, I could not say for sure whether Nol-bu had learned something from the consequences of his actions. In fact, the story provides no evidence as to whether Nol-bu really did learn his lesson or not. What if Nol-bu was actually just lying to gain Hûng-bu’s care? What if he never truly regretted his actions? The Queen Swallow’s Gift leaves room for all of these doubts. I assume that the folk tale is trying to convey the lesson that one should be kind to others even if it is not to one’s benefit, as one may also fall on hard times someday. Therefore, like countless others before me, I would like to retell a folk tale so that it better conveys its message.
I would make the choice to change this folktale’s ending to create a more accurate portrayal of humans and their nature. It is not very plausible that Nol-bu would suddenly undergo a complete personality change after just one bad experience, but if he were to experience some of the hardships he subjected his very own brother to, he would be better able to comprehend the magnitude of his actions, leading him to true regret. Hûng-bu and his family originally were forced to serve as slaves for Nol-bu’s family. In the existing folk tale, Nol-bu asks for Hûng-bu’s help and relies on him, suggesting that he feels as though he is deserving of his brother’s help. However, if Nol-bu had really learned from his past mistakes, he would probably recognize that he did not deserve and had no right to his brother’s resources. In my version of the ending, he would refuse his brother’s help until he could make up for all of the wrong he did to his brother by becoming his slave for a time. This change would provide future readers of The Queen Swallow’s Gift with more context with which to grasp the moral of the story.
I myself have learned various lessons from fairy tales and folk tales, and that is why I believe that the current ending of The Queen Swallow’s Gift should be improved: there is a possibility that other people can be impacted positively by a modified version of this folk tale. Other Korean folk tales like The Green Frog have taught me about respecting and loving my family, and Western fairy tales like The Boy Who Cried Wolf have taught me about the significance and consequences of lying. Those tales might feature fictional characters and events, but they can still teach readers just like me important real-world values and morals. My version of the ending of The Queen Swallow’s Gift can thus continue a long tradition of learning from folk tales.