2019 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place
The Curse of Three-Year Hill: An Ode to the Old and an Anthem to the New

“A tradition without intelligence is not worth having.” These words, spoken by the poet T.S. Eliot, are the basis of my reading of The Curse of Three-Year Hill. The characters and plot in the Korean folktale, retold by Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson and Jimmy D. Roberson, demonstrate the contrast between established beliefs and open-minded reinterpretations, along with the resulting conflict.

Farmer Yoon represents a deference to a fixed way of thinking, following the same routine each year—farm everyday with family, collect the crops in the fall, and trade their bounty with a neighboring village at harvest time. His lifestyle is steady, untouched by anything more than the slightest amount of change, and he takes comfort in knowing that what he is doing has been done for the last few decades. However, the moment he slips on Three-Year Hill, a drastic change is introduced into his life—he has only three more years to live. Due to the deep held stigma surrounding the Hill, he believes that slipping on the hill was an event of catastrophic consequences, rather than applying his own judgement to the situation and realizing it wasn’t so bad. His fixed mindset leads to him spiralling down into despair, and he becomes inconsolable in his grief.

Meanwhile, the strange young boy that comes to help Farmer Yoon in his time of misery represents a new way of looking at things. He comes into the farmer’s life out of nowhere, and offers a suggestion for Farmer Yoon to do something that seems completely out of the ordinary. He asks Farmer Yoon to fall down the hill again. The suggestion seems to mock Farmer Yoon’s predicament, and as such, Farmer Yoon reacts with spite. His established beliefs clash with the new ideas brought by the young boy, and he refuses to accept this novel interpretation of his situation. The boy has to beg and plead with the farmer in order for Farmer Yoon to finally listen to him. The farmer rolls down the hill several times to have three more years added to his lifespan each time. After doing so, a divine voice booms out of a tree and admonishes Farmer Yoon for his lack of wisdom until then.

While at first glance the folktale may be arguing for the importance of positivity in negative situations, the actual message of the story goes deeper. The Curse of Three-Year Hill is preaching the necessity of being able to see things from a different angle, to understand both the perspective of others and new arguments even when not fully agreeing with them. Farmer Yoon’s mindset would have only led to disaster, as he would have continued to believe until death that he would only have three years to live.

At the same time, asking for a new perspective must still lie within the realm of reason. To tell a man who has believed something his whole life to discard that belief off of nothing is unreasonable, and not what The Curse of Three- Year Hill is arguing for. Even in this folktale, the young boy isn’t a complete twist from what Farmer Yoon’s traditions dictate. He shows respect to his elder, calling him Grandfather, and quotes “the ancient golden words” to support his claims. His interpretation of what the Three-Year Hill was completely radical to how Farmer Yoon thought, but the core beliefs around which his perception of the hill grew were the traditional ones. Rather than simply obeying convention, he chose to revisit it with fresh eyes and more positive viewpoints on life. What The Curse of Three-Year Hill is suggesting is for people to think more like that young boy, to be able to have a flexible mindset and propose new ideas based off of what has been previously believed.

The Curse of Three-Year Hill is a folktale created for a wide and varied audience. Even when looking at its face value, it teaches the importance of positivity and creativity in the darkest of situations, a commonality among many stories of its genre. When you look beneath the surface, The Curse of Three-Year Hill is a complex study of the interplay between a long-established way of thinking and a fresh reassessment. The farmer and the boy are symbolic representations of different groups of people in society—those who hold to conventional beliefs, and those who build from them. A slight ironic twist to this story, however, is the fact that many would have most likely sympathized with Farmer Yoon in his terrible predicament as well. The readers, upon learning his fall on Three-Year Hill, would look for resolutions like a blessing from a hidden god or some magic that would resolve his problems. But that was entirely different from the real ending. The story could also be poking fun at the reader in a subtle manner, pointing out that they too are foolish for thinking in the same way as Farmer Yoon.

In the end, some may argue that The Curse of Three-Year Hill has no impact on our present day society. But they couldn’t be more wrong. This folktale is dedicated to the entrepreneurs of today. It’s an anthem to those who take old ideas and turn them into something incredible, innovators who constantly push the limits of our imagination. As Steve Jobs said, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently... they push the human race forward.” And The Curse of Three-Year Hill teaches us to be those crazy ones.