Folktale – Korean

Korean Folktale: The Disobedient Frog

“This is probably the most widely known Korean folktale because like almost everyone I talked to heard about it. So there was this young troublemaking frog who lived with his mother. He never did anything his mother told him to do. In fact, he always did the complete opposite just for the sake of being disobedient. Like if his mom told him to go to sleep, he would run around and stay up really late. If she told him to hop around on the grass, he would go swim in the river. Stuff like that. So pretty much he would always do the opposite of what she told him to do. She always scolded him for being so disobedient and warned him that she wasn’t always going to be around to take care of him. He didn’t seem to care at all as he kept on disobeying her. Eventually, she couldn’t handle any more of his rowdiness and defiance that she became very sick. Regardless of her sickness, the disobedient frog kept being rebellious. When she realized that she was about to die, she called for her son to give him directions for her burial. She wanted to be buried on the mountainside on dry land, but she knew that her son would do the opposite of whatever she asked him to do, so she asked him to bury her beside the river. He didn’t realize how serious his mom was, until she finally passed away just a few days later. The disobedient frog was so sad that he couldn’t stop crying because he knew it was his fault that she died. He regretted being so disobedient to her requests while she was alive, so he decided to listen to what his mother said for once. So, he buried her beside the river. The next day, a huge storm came. The river became flooded and washed away his mother’s grave. The frog was so overwhelmed with guilt and sadness that he let out a series of loud croaks. So that’s why it is said that frogs croak loudly when there’s a storm.”

Eunice Lee, my roommate, told me this particular story because she feels as though this is the most widely known Korean folklore there is. She stated that every Korean person she asked, somehow heard of this story. She learned it when she was in elementary school from her parents, and she hasn’t forgotten it since then. Her parents sat her down and explained to her this story when she refused to do her chores. After hearing the story, she said she felt extremely guilty about not listening to her parents and rushed off into her room to make her bed. She thinks that folktales such as the one mentioned above are vital to an individual’s childhood because they provide imaginative stories as a means of teaching a vital life lesson that will be engraved in the listener’s heart forever. In other words, it is a very effective tool of getting a point across. She hopes to be able to tell her own children this story someday.

I also heard this exact same story when I was younger from both my Korean school teacher and my mother. My teacher told our entire class this story in the beginning of the year to introduce us to the Korean culture and to tell us to pay attention and be obedient to her. My mother told me this story when we were having dinner one day. She said she read it in a children’s book, and also heard it from her own mother. After telling me the story, she stated that she is not going to be around forever so I should respect her requests and be obedient. I took this story to heart because it instilled in me a new appreciation for my mother, because she reminded me that she would not be around forever.

This folktale is mentioned in the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales & Fairy Tales, edited by Donald Haase.[1] The author summarizes the plot of this story as “a son who fails to respect and obey his mother is doomed to a life of grief and regret after her death.” The author also states that Korean tales reflect Confucianism ideals that express loyalty to family, veneration of ancestors, typically privileging sons over daughters, self-discipline, and considerate social behavior. All of these themes are present in the story of “The Disobedient Frog.”

[1] Annotation: Haase, Donald, ed. “Korean Tales.” Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales & Fairy Tales. 3 vols. Westport: Greenwood P, 2008.