2015 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place tie
The Woodcutter's Nymphet

“Cleverly-played satire on a tale Nabokov stumbled upon or agonizingly unfortunate folklore?” I asked myself after reading the folktale. This acclaimed tale indolently grazes every crook and nook of my young childhood memory, and I have always been an infatuated victim as a young reader due to its romantic nature of the reversed Cinderella effect–– the alluring goddess and the destitute but generous man who stumbles upon and marries her. But reading it now, after so many years, I cannot say that it is as charming as it once seemed to the young me. In fact, I drew the conclusion that this innocent folktale reflects the notorious novel “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, which portrays the love affair between a thirty-seven-year old man and a twelve-year-old girl.

If as the woodcutter dies of heartbreak and stands an immortal rooster to forever weep the loss of his dear wife, the male reader does not howl, or his frigid counterpart not sniffle, many will frown upon them for being insensitive. And truly, it is difficult not to feel guilt-ridden for the helpless woodcutter, who is clearly an altruistic man who feels appalled for stealing the maiden’s clothes and helps the deer that is being hunted by a cruel hunter. However, the truth is to be uncovered from beneath the woodcutter’s view. The woodcutter is revealed to be a man of commiseration, shown when he saves a deer’s life, and the latter thanks him by telling him of a way to get a heavenly maiden as a wife–– by embezzling her clothes and forcing her to live with him. They trade a woman, free of will and a stranger, as if she were merely a charming trophy. And the man, very much like Humbert, the protagonist of Lolita, tricks the woman into living with him with disadvantageous facts: no way of returning home, no one to trust, and nowhere to go. Humbert also indirectly threatens Lolita that he is her only family left in the world, her mother just died, and she has nowhere else to go. The feelings of the girl are frivolous to the plot, and therefore are waved away with a “They were happy,” and a “But each day the heavenly maiden would sigh and lament the loss of her clothes.” When the woodcutter can clearly see that she is very unhappy, he does not do anything for years until she has no choice but to have his children.

“However,” you might argue, “he could not bear her sorrows and gave her back her clothes, and she callously left him with their children.” Well, that argument could go for Humbert’s actions of raping a minor three times consecutively, insisting he loves her, and Lolita escaping, just as the maiden does. The fact that she gets away from Humbert in the end does not change the fact that he ruined years of a little girl’s childhood which should have been filled with books and peers and family but was instead taken from her by an abominable man, which is no different from the folktale. The heavenly maiden never comes back to Earth to carry him with her or at least visit, which further shows that she never loved him.

The woodcutter paints himself as an abject creature with his wife and children gone for eternity, although the maiden was a victim and hostage of an insanity of a devious man and deer, who again toy with the idea of sending the woodcutter to the Heavens in search for a reunion with his unhappy wife. By considering the indolent details, we notice that the sisters no longer take baths likely due to the fear of being captured by the woodcutter. When the plan succeeds, the maiden is yet again portrayed as helplessly in love with her husband, and she begs him not to go for he may not be able to come back. We discover from this passage that the woodcutter is very self-centered and true to only his own whims and wants: he weds by force, and widows knowingly, leaving her likely scarred from their de trop marriage, or from the fact that he lied to her for years.

In the end, the curtains enveloping the story close in the prior order, with the maiden in Heaven and the woodcutter on Earth. Perhaps men and goddesses are not meant to be, just as men and nymphets (pubescent girls) are not. But in both tales, the couples are only physically where they were at first. In the folktale, due to many brutal choices he makes, they are both widowed. In Lolita, the girl is psychologically disfigured from being raped at such a tender age by her stepfather. Perhaps we are to see this children’s tale as a warning that tells of the modern world, where men in countries such as Afghanistan who wed girls without their consent and bring them into a life of woe are considered normal.

The woodcutter spends the last moments of his life weeping on Earth with his beloved poles apart, crippled by his own inhumanity, as is Humbert Humbert halfway across the world a long time later, in a cell with tongue sliced from no one to speak to and nothing to say. Perhaps the most dismal component of the tale is that the woodcutter still believes what he feels is love when even Humbert the Pedophile realizes he kept a girl by his side against her will and deformed her soul and that he is nothing but a rapist and murderer. The woodcutter’s contorted views of love and its obsessions, selfishness, and trickeries show us the genuine meanings of love as well as the modern world where these abhorrent views are still existing and beautified. This folktale should make all of us employ greater vision and attention to our duty of forming a generation free of, in the most extreme but not impossible cases, Lolitas and heavenly maidens.