[LECTURE] 2015 September lecture: Crafty Creatures and Colorful Characters in Oral Literature작성일   2015-08-20

Korean Folktales: Crafty Creatures and Colorful Characters in Oral Literature

Lecturer: Charles La Shure

Associate Professor, Seoul National University

   Korea has a rich traditional culture that spans fields such as art, literature, music, architecture, food, and clothing. An understanding of traditional culture is important not only for a historical perspective, but as a way of examining the roots of the Korean society and culture that we see today. Literature in particular offers keen insights into a culture: what is important to people, what they fear, and what they hope for. Often overlooked, though, is the oral heritage of a culture, the knowledge and tales that have been handed down from generation to generation. While a novel may be recognized worldwide as a crowning cultural achievement, folktales are often thought of as stories simply told for entertainment, or to teach lessons to children. They are indeed these things, but they are much more. Unlike a novel, which—while certainly influenced by the cultural and social background of the author—is ultimately the product of a single individual, folktales have no single author. They are told and retold, with each teller keeping what he or she sees as necessary and proper, and discarding that which does not fit the teller's needs. Thus they are a reflection of the values, ideas, and beliefs of the community that tells them, and the more widely they are told the broader the insight we gain into that society.

    ​Korean folktales feature a diverse and colorful cast of characters. Talking animals are common. The tiger is one favorite character—in fact, the Korean version of “Once upon a time...” is “Long ago, when tigers smoked pipes...”—and he often appears as a creature to be feared but also a character that ends up being the brunt of jokes or getting the short end of the stick. The supernatural is a common element as well, with fantastical creatures such as long-lived nine-tailed foxes, ogres with magical clubs, and fairies from heaven making appearances. Popular are tales of supernatural brides; “The Snail Bride” or “The Fairy and the Woodcutter” are two tales that run deep and wide in traditional Korean folklore. And of course there are also stories of lowly characters who turn the tables on those who consider themselves their “betters.” People have long enjoyed telling tales of the exploits of these trickster figures, and they will likely continue to tell them as long as their social distinctions between people.​

    In this lecture we will examine some of the most popular traditional Korean folktales, starting with retellings of these tales in English and the moving on to a discussion of what they might say both about traditional society and society today. On the one hand, they provide insight into the uniquely Korean aspects of life, society, and culture here, but on the other hand they also show that, as human beings, we all share some things in common, no matter where we might come from and what language we might speak. These tales will hopefully not only lead to a better understanding of Korean culture, but also bridge some of the seemingly wide gaps between Korean culture and other cultures.

Charles La Shure received his PhD in Classical Korean Literature with a specialization in oral literature from Seoul National University; he returned to the Department of Korean Language and Literature as an assistant professor in 2014. In addition to teaching Korean literature and culture, he also translates Korean literature into English, and he taught Korean-English translation at the graduate level for six years.





Education room (1st floor), Seoul Museum of History

55 Saemunan-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul


Date and Time

September 14th, 2015 (Mon)

11:30 A.M. to 13:00 P.M




Lunch Fee (optional)

10,000 won(Sandwich & drink)

* Reservation for lunch is required.

* Donation receipt can be issued.

* Wire transfer to KEB a/c#631-000503-181 (YÉOL) or at the venue in cash


Contact (Registration required)


T: 02-745-5878

F: 02-736-5878