The Golden Ax and Silver Ax

retold by Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson

Long, long ago a poor young woodcutter lived with his aged mother in a remote village near a thick forest in Korea. He made his living by selling firewood. Each day, he went to the forest and chopped down trees. Every evening, he sold the wood at the market near his village.

One cool, crisp and beautiful autumn day, the woodcutter started out to the forest to cut down trees for the evening market.

The cloudless cobalt-blue sky was high and clear. The woodcutter carried his rusty old ax in his hand and had a jeegae, an A-framed carrier, on his back. He hummed as he walked through the thick, colorful foliage of red, yellow, brown, green, and purple. Soon, he arrived at his favorite spot on the shore of a beautiful lake.

Usually, the water in the lake was as calm and clear as a mirror, so he could almost see the bottom. Today, however, the water was dark and murky.

He set down his jeegae and diligently began to chop down the trees near the edge of the lake, for he wanted to get back in time for the evening market. He had also promised his mother that he would bring home some rice and fish so that she could prepare their supper. She always waited anxiously for him to bring the food.

He chopped down trees for a long while, and his hands became tired and sweaty. Although his jeegae was almost full, he decided to chop just one more tree to finish his day. He gave one last hard swing.

Alas! The rusty old axe slipped from his hand and flew into the murky lake. This was the only tool the woodcutter had to make a meager living for his mother and himself.

He sat down at the edge of the lake and stared in disbelief. Devastated and confused, he began to cry, not knowing what he should do.

Suddenly, an old man appeared from out of nowhere. He had long white hair and a long white beard and was dressed in a flowing white robe.

Quickly, the bewildered young man dropped into a deep bow, almost touching his forehead to the ground. He recognized the man as Shilyongnim, a heavenly being who could, if he wished, make everything right.

"My child, why are you so upset?" Shilyongnim asked with a gentle smile.

"Oh, Shilyongnim, my rusty old ax fell into the lake, and I don't know how to get it back! I can't see the bottom of the lake today. Now, I'm in big trouble. The ax is the only thing I have to make a living for my mother and me," the woodcutter said, his voice quivering.

The solemn Shilyongnim listened with sympathy. Then, he said in a soft voice, "My child, don't be so upset! Maybe I can help you find your ax."

With that, he disappeared–just like magic–into the murky water. No sooner had he vanished before he appeared, holding a shiny golden ax in one had. "Young man, this must be yours," he told the Woodcutter.

The woodcutter was very surprised to see the glittering golden ax. "Oh! No, no! That golden ax is not mine. Mine is just an old rusty ax."

Shilyongnim submerged once again into the lake. This time he brought up a brand new silver ax that shimmered in his hand.

Once again, Shilyongnim said, "Son, this has to be your ax." The woodcutter was even more surprised to see another ax that was not his. Again, he answered, "Oh! No, no! That silver ax is not mine, either. Mine is just a rusty old ax." And Shilyongnim went into the lake for another try.

This time he appeared clutching the woodcutter's rusty old ax in his hand. The young man was very excited to see his rusty old ax in Shilyongnim's hand.

"Yes! Yes! Yes! That is mine! Thank you very much!" he shouted with joy as he gave a deep bow of thanks.

Shilyongnim smiled to see such a happy young man. "My child, you are a very honest man for not taking what you believe belongs to someone else. As a reward for being honest, keep both of these–the golden ax and the silver ax."

With that, Shilyongnim was gone, leaving the perplexed woodcutter holding golden ax, the silver ax, and his own rusty old ax in his hand.

reproduced courtesy of Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson, Ed.D.

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