Tag Archives: silver

Korean story: The Woodcutter and the Axes

Nationality: Korean
Primary Language: Korean
Age: 68
Occupation: retired, former pastor
Residence: Seoul, South Korea
Performance Date: 24 March 2024

Tags: woodcutter, ax, god, greed, lake, gold, silver


Once upon a time, there was a woodcutter who would chop down trees and sell them for firewood and such. One day, while he was chopping logs, his ax slipped out of his hands and into a lake. As the woodcutter went to retrieve his ax, a god appeared out of the lake, with the woodcutter’s ax in hand as well as a shiny new gold and silver ax. The god asked the woodcutter which ax he had lost, and though the woodcutter was enamored with the gold and silver axes, he truthfully said that he had lost his normal one. The god was pleased with the woodcutter’s honesty and gave him all 3 axes as a reward. Word of the woodcutter getting the new axes spread throughout the village, including to the ears of a rival woodcutter, who got jealous and sought to do the same. Thus, one day while cutting logs, the greedy rival woodcutter threw his ax into the same lake, where the same god came and asked him the same questions as the other woodcutter. The greedy woodcutter lied and said that he had lost the gold one, so the god got angry at his dishonesty and drowned him in the lake.


H. is a born and raised South Korean citizen, and has had experience with telling stories through giving sermons in his church. This was simply one of the stories he told me when I was young in Korea. H. was aware that there were other versions of the story, and just said he told me the one that he knew the best, thinking about whether he should include the part with the greedy woodcutter.


Obviously, this story is derived from the story of the Woodcutter and Hermes, adapted in a Korean setting where the god is unnamed and some small details are changed. The aspects of being honest and not being greedy are pretty common lessons that still hold up in modern Korean society, and this is another good example of a story being changed throughout time and place from its original version.