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I discovered ‘The Story of Hong Gildong‘ recently. It is a 77-page novella. I just finished reading it.

One day, Hong Mo, a high-ranking minister in the government has a vivid dream. He sees a fantastic vision in a beautiful landscape in his dream. After having this dream, the minister gets intimate with his concubine and she gets pregnant. When their baby is born, he looks very beautiful. He is given the name Gildong. As the years pass, this baby grows up to be a wonderful young man. He is great at studying and acquiring knowledge, he is also great at acquiring martial and magical skills. The only problem is that because he is a concubine’s son, he can’t become a government official like his father or join the military as a soldier. All official avenues are closed for him. Gildong is frustrated because of this. He can’t even call his father as father, and his brother as brother. His father loves Gildong but laments his son’s fate. There is a senior concubine at their home who is jealous of Gildong and his mother, and tries to plot against him and kill him. But the assassin she hires is not aware of Gildong’s strength and knowledge and skills and how he can summon magic. After this incident Gildong decides to leave home and bids goodbye to his parents. While roaming in the forest, he meets a community of robbers and joins them. What happens after that and the fantastic events that ensue are told in the rest of the story.

The Story of Hong Gildong‘ is the story of a son who yearns for respect and legitimacy, a ‘Robin Hood and outlaws’ type story, and also an Arabian Nights style magical fantasy, all woven into one. It is a pageturning, fast-paced, wonderful read. I loved the character of Gildong’s mother, Chunseom. She comes only in a few scenes, but she is gentle and kind and beautiful. When the story starts, she is a maid and then she becomes a concubine and a mother, and then a robber’s mother. By the end of the story, she is the Dowager Queen with three daughters-in-law who love her and respect her. I cried when I read the scene in which she meets her daughters-in-law for the first time.

The edition I read had an interesting introduction by the translator Minsoo Kang, in which he discusses  who was the actual author of the story and how old the story is and whether it is the first ever story written in Korean script (hangeul). All very fascinating to think about.

I think ‘The Story of Hong Gildong‘ would be even better experienced as a movie or a TV series or as a mahwa comic. I want to watch the movie / series and read the comic sometime.

Have you read ‘The Story of Hong Gildong‘? What do you think about it?

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