2021 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place
Folktale: The Curse of Three-Year Hill

In 2020, COVID-19 took the United States, together with the rest of the world, spiraling quickly downhill. All of a sudden, stores and airports shut their doors. People couldn’t go to school or work, and hospitals were filled with sick patients. Previously vivacious communities became ghost towns. More than 560,000 lives were lost in the US alone, and family members mourned in isolation. In many epidemics throughout history – the Black Death bubonic plague in 1346, the yellow fever in 1793, and the Spanish Influenza in 1918, to name a few – the same happened: people stayed locked up in their homes, worrying and waiting in fear rather than taking action. In reality, however, positivity and perseverance are the keys to solving a problem. The importance of viewing the world with optimism and not giving up when faced with challenges is reflected in the Korean folktale “The Curse of Three-Year Hill.”

Retold by Dr. Dongwol Kim Roberson and Jimmy D. Roberson, “The Curse of Three-Year Hill” is a story about an old farmer and his fortune. At harvest time, he journeys to another village and trades successfully. On the way home, the farmer is so happy that he forgets about caution and falls on the cursed Three-Year Hill. The old farmer and his family think he only has three years left to live, and they mourn the remaining days of his life. Then one day, a mysterious young boy comes to the farmer’s home, informing him that he can live longer by falling on the hill again. Initially, the farmer is suspicious, but he soon proceeds to rolling down the hill several times. A divine voice from behind a tree scolds him for being foolish and lying around in grief instead of enjoying the time he had left with his family. The farmer learns to look at the bright side of life, and he lives many content years longer than the mere three he thought he had.

“The Curse of Three-Year Hill” tells readers about the importance of being open-minded and listening to different viewpoints. After falling on the hill, the farmer gave up on life. Then the young boy visited him, giving him hope, and the farmer was able to turn a negative situation into a positive one. Some may think real life isn’t as easy as having a “guardian angel” who tells them what to do, yet there are many occasions in which this has been the case. At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, many scientists including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins said that vaccines were coming soon, that everyone should wear masks and social distance, and that America would overcome this. Just like in the folktale, the “guardian angels” turned out to be right. In December 2020, the first vaccine, from Pfizer and BioNTech, was approved for emergency use, and with the other two vaccines – Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – the US is gradually recovering from the pandemic.

“The Curse of Three-Year Hill” is also about being able to see things optimistically instead of negatively. The old farmer was horrified when he first fell on the hill, and rather than attempting to find a solution, he focused on the fact that he was destined to die soon. Unlike the old farmer, who thought falling on Three-Year Hill was a tragedy, the young boy believed it was an opportunity. The boy inspired the farmer to believe in a bright future, and because of this, the farmer was able to enjoy longevity. In both the folktale and real life, a positive mindset and the decision to take action are important. While COVID-19 is a disaster, it also brought a breakthrough in science: vaccines that normally take a decade to develop became available in just nine months, and treatments including monoclonal antibodies came into existence, saving countless lives. Indeed, stories and reality often have major connections with one another.

“The Curse of Three-Year Hill” represents the importance of learning to view life with optimism along with the power of perseverance. In the same way this mindset helped the old farmer regain strength and passion for life, the timeless lesson of staying positive and not giving up will surely help society recover from COVID-19 as well as many future catastrophes. The world is turning the corner around this unprecedented pandemic. Soon enough, stores will open, airports will be buzzing with travelers, schools will be filled with the laughter of children, economy will regain its prosperity, people will be completing checkups at hospitals, and neighborhoods will become lively again. For that bright future, let’s not forget the moral of “The Curse of Three-Year Hill” and continue to advance uphill.