The Woodsman’s Hatchet


Korean Fairy Tale


Kyujin Sohn was born in Korea but moved to the United States as a young child. The majority of his family is from Korea, and many of them still live there. Although he has spent most of his life in the US, he has visited Korea often and identifies closely with Korean culture.

Original Script:

Essentially there’s a, there’s a… woodsman, and woodsmen in Korea are for some reason, like very traditionally like characterized as very pious people, like they work hard and like they’ll like, do the most to like get buy and survive, but, like they’ll never steal from people and they won’t do like bad – it’s just like, it’s this characterization that exists. But essentially this man was working, this woodsman was cutting down some tinder because he has to sell the wood so that people can have wood to burn flames with, right? Because it’s going to be winter soon. But anyway, he’s working next to a lake, and he accidentally tosses, like, the hatchet, and it falls into the lake. And this happened, this particular lake is imbued with like a spirit, so the spirit comes up, and he says ‘I think you dropped something.’ And he’s like ‘Yes I dropped my hatchet.’ So the spirit goes down, and comes up with a silver hatchet, and says ‘Is this your hatchet?’ and the woodsman says ‘no that is not my hatchet.’ And so the spirit says ‘Okay’ and so he goes down again, and brings up a gold hatchet, and he says ‘is this your hatchet?’ and so the woodsman says ‘no that’s not my hatchet, my hatchet is just a wood and iron hatchet.’ So the spirit goes down and brings up the actual hatchet and he says ‘Is this your hatchet?’ and the woodsman says ‘yes.’ And the spirit is confused because he’s like ‘I offered you a better hatchet, a more expensive hatchet, that you could have easily sold, and lived the rest of your life happily with.’ Right? Like a golden hatchet, that thing must weigh plenty, right? And so he’s like ‘why did not take the golden hatchet?’ and he was like, ‘because it’s not mine to take.’ And so the spirit, being so impressed with the piety of this man, gives him all three hatchets. Now the woodsman’s brother, who is a farmer, hears about this story, and wants his brother’s success so he goes into the woods, and intentionally drops the hatchet. But he doesn’t realize that, like, the reason that he got all three hatchets is because he chose not to take any of the hatchet. And so when the spirit comes up and provides the same test, he denies the silver one, but he accepts the gold one. And so, the spirit being angry at the greed of the man, curses him, and blinds him.”

Informant’s Background Knowledge and Relationship with this Piece:

It was the first Korean Story that kyujin ever learned. He learned it as a young boy from his grandmother on a visit to Korea.

Thoughts About the Piece:

Kyujin mentioned in the script that woodsmen are typically seen as very good, honest people in Korean culture. However, Kyujin’s grandma (who he learned it from) was a farmer, so I don’t believe that farmers are perceived as dishonest people. I would imagine that the farmer just represents the Korean average Joe, and so the story holds this moral lesson about how anybody could be tempted by such a trial, and that they could be punished for letting their greed make decisions for them.