Korean Goblin Tale
The following informant is a 21 year-old musician from Seoul, Korea, currently residing in Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a standard Korean tale that has been passed down; they will be identified as M.
M: It’s like Korean version of genie. So instead of genie, goblin. Instead of a lamp, it’s a, like, bat. A goblin bat. I don’t know the exact story of it, but there was a guy, he was very good at singing, but he got a very big tumor on his face, and he was singing at the night, and suddenly out of nowhere, two goblins came, and they loved his singing, and they asked, “what’s the secret of your voice and the singing,” and he was so scared, but he noticed that they loved his singing, and he was very poor before that and then he just lied to them. “oh it’s all from the tumor, this one.”
The face tumor — it was a big one. The goblin trusted that, and said, “do you want to sell it to me, or trade it? Lets trade.” He said, “oh, why not?” For a bunch of gold, and then the goblin swing the bat, and a bunch of gold appeared. and they give it to him, and the goblin touched the tumor, and it just cut it. He become rich, and there was another guy, he was already rich but a very greedy person and got a similar tumor. There was two goblins, so only one got the tumor, and believed “now i’m good at singing,” but the other go to that rich person, but the first goblin told the other that it was a lie, “I figured it out,” but this goblin went to the rich person, they asked him about the secret of singing, but he heard about the previous guy, so he tried to lie and did the same thing.
The goblin figured it out, and was very angry, so they swung the bat at him, so the previous guy’s tumor was on his face, so he had two tumors. And he was already rich, but they took all the money from him and ran away. The greedy guy lost everything. So, the moral is “don’t get greedy.”
This interaction occurred on campus in a dining facility. I was sitting with informant M, as well as other Korean students from both USC and UCLA, whom provided additional contributions. During M’s performance, other individuals provided verbal and gestural affirmation, while one was not too familiar with the tale.
There is a lot to unpack here. For one, this Korean tale, most likely told to children, is alike to many Western tales that we tell our youth; the root is fear, whereby children will refrain from lying or becoming greedy out of fear of goblin-inflicted punishment. This differs from, say, Native American cultures, where humor is often used instead of fear. It is also interesting how they compared goblins to genies — this, perhaps, demonstrates a cognate relationship between the figures.
For further relevant information, I read and recommend:
Jong-dae, Kim. “Dokkaebi: The Goblins of Korean Myth.” Korean Literature Now, vol. 35, 5 Apr. 2017, koreanliteraturenow.com/essay/musings/dokkaebi-goblins-korean-myth.
In this, Jong-dae shows relationships to Japanese folklore figures; this is interesting, as part of a conversation that occured this day between the informant, their friends, and myself pertained to Chinese linguistic and cultural influence over Asian countries and cultures, and how these “stories” may be related.