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Today’s tale comes from Korea, first written down 300 years ago. It seems to be a well-known story in Korea, one every child is told.

Heungbu and Nolbu are brothers. Nolbu, the older, is a mean nasty man, greedy and vicious, but very rich. Heungbu, the younger, was a hard worker, kind and generous, but poor and he, his wife and children were always hungry.

One day whem Heungbu returns home from work, he finds a snake devouring a nest full of swallows. Only one swallow escapes being killed, but it’s leg was injured in the fall from the nest. Heungbu takes care of the little bird’s leg, covering it with ointment and then wrappig it. The swallow heals and flies south in winter. The following spring, however it returns to Heungbo’s and drops a gourd seed on the ground. Heungbo of course plants the seed.

Soon the plant grows and produces five unusually large gourds. Heungbo and his wife cut them open. The first is filled with rice, more than enough to fill five large containers. The second is full of gold. The third holds a beautiful nymph who calls bottels out of the remianing. The first bottle holds carpenters the second timer and soon Heungbo and his family have a huge new home. Then the nymph and carpenters disappear, leaving behind the home, gold and rice.

After that, Heungbu became a man of wealth. He and his family lived happily and wanted for nothing. However, when his elder brother Nolbu heard the news, he came immediately to Heungbu’s house. He demanded to be told how his younger brother had managed to become so rich in such a short span of time. “Hey, you! How on earth did you do it? It’s a miracle. Tell me now how you did it.” Heungbu told him all about the injured swallow and what had happened afterwards.

Nolbu, evil man that he is, thinks he can do the same thing, so he breaks a swallow’s leg in order to fix it. Just like his borther’s swallow, this one flew away in winter and returns in the spring with a gourd seed. When the gourds grew, Nolbu wasted no time cutting one open. However, out came a batch of little imps wielding sticks. “We must punish you for your greed,” they said and beat him mercilessly then disappeared. Nolbu is still hoping for gold but out of the next gourd comes some debt collectors.    “Give us money. Repay your loans or else we will take everything from you.”  They took everything and left. Nolbu hasn’t learned yet, and opens the third gourd, out of which pours dirty, smelly water, flooding the house.

Nolbu is desperate and runs to his brother’s house. Heungbo, taking pity on his brother greets him warmly. Nolbu reflects on what a horrible person he had been, feels sorry, and changes his ways. Then Heungbo splits his fortune equally with Nolbu and they both live happily ever after.

It’s interesting how the two brothers have similar tales, but one is rewarded for his goodness, the other punished. But the punishment happens in the middle of the tale, giving him time to repent, to change his ways so that they both can have a happy ending, not someting that would happen in most European fairy tales. The good brother is the young one, which is common enough, but his goodness is capable of influencing the bad guy. I like that. You’re not good or bad and just stuck with, as in so many European fairy tales. You can change, you can become a better person.

There are many variations of this story, several of which can be read, or watched, on-line.


Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

The A to Z Challenge is hosted at its own blog.


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