“The Snail Woman”

“Okay, a long time ago, there was this young guy who lived by himself. He was working in the rice field one time and was talking to himself aloud, saying things like “Why don’t I have a family or a wife?” He then hears this voice, okay, that’s like “I’ll be with you” or something like that. He looks around and he can’t see where it’s coming from, but he hears it again, and it’s by his feet. All he sees is a snail, so he just picks it up in case it means something. The next day, he wakes up and there’s this feast on the table, like all this delicious food and he doesn’t question it, he just eats it. Later, he thinks more about it and decides that he wants to know who it is so after work, he hides and in the middle of the night he sees this beautiful woman come out of the snail shell and she makes him food and cleans and stuff and then she goes back into her shell. After some nights of him hiding and watching her, he decides to keep her so one day after he eats breakfast and pretends to go to work, he hides again and waits until the woman comes out and he grabs her before she could go back into her shell.

The guy asks her to marry him and she says yes and then she tells him that she’s the daughter of the Dragon King which means something later. They then get married and fall in love. One day later though, this rich noble guy comes by and sees the woman and thinks to himself that he wants to marry her so he challenges the husband to a contest, and the rich guy proposes to race in cutting down trees. So the guy’s worried cause he loves his wife, but then the wife whispers to him to go visit her father the Dragon King.

The guy goes to visit the Dragon King who lives underwater and the king gives him a bag. When the guy returns then and the contest starts, the guy opens the bag and little men come out and cut the trees for him and so the guy wins. The rich guy gets mad of course, and demands to compete again, this time with riding horses. The guy goes back to visit the Dragon King and he is given a really old, pathetic looking horse. When the guy comes back though and they race, the horse, of course, is super fast and totally wins. Then there’s some other contest…I think a boat race, yeah that’s it. Again, the guy visits the King, comes back with this super tiny boat that can, like, barely fit him, and he still beats the rich guy’s bigger boat. So the guy won 3 contests in a row, and the rich guy gets so mad that he starts jumping up and down on the boat and it tips over and he dies in the water. The other guy, of course, lives happily ever after with his wife in his rice field.

I heard that as a kid, and just thought it was funny. Sometimes when I see snails, I think of that story too.”

[This story, more or less matches up with the version in the book Korean Folk-tales, retold by James Riordan. The snail at the beginning repeatedly says “Share it with me,” instead of ‘I’ll be with you.’ Also, the rich guy is a magistrate, and it seems the Dragon King turned his daughter into a snail in the first place to punish her, but most of the basic information is there.

Riordan, James. Korean Folk-tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.]

This story to me is first, about the proper spheres of man and woman, especially in the household, and second, about character. The woman is in charge of being beautiful, cooking and cleaning while the man works in the field and protects the relationships within the household. The woman continues to be the supporter as she tells him to go see her father in order to accomplish these tasks and keep her. This way, the man is supposed to be the one in charge of taking action and being the executive help like the father. The snail woman has little say over whether her husband or the magistrate want to keep her, though she was allowed the choice to choose the young man as her husband. In terms of character, the magistrate represents self-entitlement, so Korean society does not admire that. It is clear that the hero to sympathize with is the young, lonely, hard-working man which in character, has that humbleness that many Asian cultures admire. The humble character was able to accomplish extraordinary tasks, and for that the qualities of the young guy, and the beautiful, loving, supportive snail woman are qualities that the children hearing these stories should aspire to as they grow up.