Three Year Mountain Pass (삼년고개)



The three year mountain pass (삼년고개/ sam-nyeon-go-gae) is a traditional Korean folk tale.

“Once upon a time, there was the three-year mountain pass. The mountain pass had its notorious name due to everybody that fell on these mountain passages only having lived three years after falling. One day, a grandfather, who was a lumberjack, was carefully treading the three-year mountain pass when a hare suddenly appeared, scaring the grandfather and causing him to fall. Once realizing that he fell on the three-year mountain pass, he fell ill knowing that he had only three-years left. As the third year became closer, the grandson asked the worrying grandfather what the worry was about and the grandfather explained his fall in the three-year mountain pass. Then the grandson replied: “Then if you fall there again you will three more years and if you fall once more, would you not live six?” After hearing his grandson’s input on the situation, the grandfather went to the three-year mountain pass and proceeded to fall numerous amount of times and lived happily ever after”





I collected this from my high school friend who lives in Shanghai, China. Despite living abroad, I was amazed when I went over to his house because his bookshelf was filled with Korean children’s folktales. He stated in the interview that because he moved abroad to Shanghai at a young age of three, his parents feared that he would lose to ability to speak Korean or not be able to identify renowned traditional stories. So his father made sure to always buy books when he traveled back to Korea for business and carry them back in suitcases. Because he is the youngest child from both the maternal and paternal side of the family, he states that he has no younger cousins to give the books to so he plans to make sure his children read the same books as he did.

This story is significant to only only my friend, but to many people that attended Korean pre-school, kindergarten or elementary school, as the three-year mountain pass is one of the first stories children learn.




The tale of the three-year mountain pass, promotes thinking outside of box. If it was not for the grandson looking at the problem from a different angle, the grandfather would have passed away due to being fixated on the thought of only having three-years left in his life. It can also be interpreted to think simple, as the simple mind process of the child was what was able to save the grandfather.

Additional interesting factors are that this is a tale that is intended for children but it is a story of a child saving the day, despite the lack of knowledge and wisdom. It can have a moral to parents of not completely disregarding the children’s input on a situation, as well as showing kids that its okay to have courage to say what they believe is right to their parents.

On a final note, the story also has themes of worrying about impending doom, as the grandfather lies ill for the three years. The story gives a moral of not wasting times worrying about the impending doom as although the grandfather laid ill for three years, there was no information about the three years, implying that they all went to waste due to there being no relevant information during the three years, other than the fact that he was ill, to show that the grandfather did nothing significant for years due worrying about a factor that he thought he could not influence.