2020 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place

The Three Gifts, a traditional Korean folktale, is retold by Heinz Insu Fenkl. The moral of this folktale is that you cannot measure something's value by what it is, but what you do with it. However, there are certain aspects of the story that could be changed in order to make the tale more engaging, while ensuring that it continues to teach the right lessons.

The Three Gifts is about three brothers who accept their poor father’s gifts after he dies and use the seemingly useless items to become rich. They all go off on different paths and become wealthy. The first son becomes prosperous by tricking thieves into thinking that they are being punished by the gods. The second son gets a gourd and a bamboo staff and becomes affluent by spending the night in a graveyard. A goblin finds him and thinks he is a skeleton because of the bamboo cane and gourd. The son then goes with the goblin and steals a rich girl’s soul. He takes the soul from the goblin, pretends he is a shaman, and brings the girl back to life. In doing this he gets a large sum of money from the girl’s father and becomes her husband. The third son finds a tiger who dances and makes his money by performing with the tiger.

The story of the second son is problematic because when he brings the girl back to life she has no choice in being his wife, and her father decides whether or not she will marry him. The father says,”See how she looks at you? Does she please you, young man? Would you take my daughter as your wife?” As the reader can observe the father does not offer the daughter a choice and gives her no voice. This will teach generations of young readers that women’s opinions don’t matter. Another area of concern is the lack of information about the second son. We know that the second son is a quick thinker due to his decisions and actions. Yet the reader does not learn much more detail about his personality or character traits. We barely know anything about him, but he has to make the most complex decisions which are key to the story. For instance, he has to decide whether or not to marry the rich man’s daughter.

Furthermore the father's judgement is questionable because he marries his daughter off to a man he doesn’t know. The father is potentially placing his daughter in danger and in the best case scenario he is risking her happiness. This demonstrates that the father is thoughtless and makes rash decisions. This connects to an earlier point which was that the reader does not know the second son’s character. Moreover we do not find out what fate befalls the daughter in her life with the second son.

All of the brothers are victims of chance yet they all get amazing rewards for doing very little. This will also teach readers that things will happen to you by chance and not through hard work. All three of the brothers are very smart, but do no actual hard work. This imparts the wrong lesson because to get anything in life one has to work diligently.

In conclusion, my version of the story would change three main things. The first one being that the daughter would get a choice in her marriage. This would allow for her character to play a bigger role in the story and add depth and strength of will to her character. The second thing my version would change is that we would discover more about the second son’s personality. If the reader knew what type of person the second son was it would make the story more engaging and fun. The reader would be able to relate more to how the character is feeling if we knew more about the second son and his personality traits. The third thing that I would change is that the three brothers would have to work harder and more diligently to get their rewards. The Three Gifts is a folktale that with some changes to the story could become more immersive while still conveying the right lessons.