My grandma told me the story of 금도끼 은도끼 (pronounced ghum do gi uhn do gi), or in English, Golden Ax, Silver Ax, when I was in elementary school after I was caught stealing Ritz crackers out of the prize box. This was a bedtime story that my grandma also told my mom when she was a child. Even though the main purpose of the story was to entertain my mom before she went to bed, my grandma was also trying to teach my mom not to lie and to be a good girl. In my case, my grandma was trying to show me that I need to be an honest person to have good things happen to me.
There was a man who cut trees for a living… a lumberjack. He was cutting trees in the woods when he accidentally dropped his ax into the pond. He was so sad because that ax was the only thing he had… so he started crying. Suddenly, a mountain god appeared. He had a golden ax, and asked the lumberjack, “Is this yours?” And then the lumberjack said, “No, the golden ax is not mine.” So the mountain god pulled out a silver ax and asked, “Is this one yours?” And the lumberjack responded, “No, that’s not mine.” So the mountain god was like, “Oh, you’re so honest. Then I’ll just gift you these axes and also give you your original one.”
But the lumberjack had a facial bump… like something was sticking out of his face. So people who had those were called a “혹부리,” (pronounced hok boori). But in their village, there is another bad guy with bump. So he heard that story and was like “Oh, then I’m gonna go” because the golden ax and silver ax are pure gold and silver, so you can be rich. So the bad man wanted that too, so he mimicked. He cut the tree, and dropped the ax and pretended to cry. The mountain god appeared again and asked, “Is this yours?” while holding the golden ax. And the man cried, “Oh yes that’s mine!” And then he held the silver ax and asked, “Is this one yours?” And the man said, “Oh yes that’s also mine!” The mountain god got really mad and said that the man was not honest, and he was very bad, so he gave him another facial bump instead.
This story contains classic cause and effect examples that hope to lead children to be good and not lie or be selfish. The good guy was awarded for his honesty, while the bad man who tried to deceive the mountain god did not get any axes, but was given a facial bump.
The story is very specific in its consequences for people who lie, but folk literature plays a large part in children’s growth to extract a broader lesson from stories. “Golden Ax, Silver Ax” could be viewed from a larger scope to be a story about being a virtuous person, and that there are positive consequences for good behavior. While those who are not virtuous, will face negative consequences.
To read a different variation of this story, read “Golden Ax and Silver Ax : Korean Folktales” (2009) by Dongwol Kim Roberson.