A Story From: Korea
Read Time: ["10 to 15mins"]
For Ages: 5 to 7yrs., 8 to 10yrs.
When the boy was still small he already decided deep in his heart that when he grew up, he would be the one to shoot down the tiger that had overpowered his father. As soon as he was allowed, he trained rigorously with the gun and became almost as good a gunman as his father had been.
When he was fifteen years old, the boy went to his mother and said, “Mother, I’m ready now to set out for the Kumgang Mountains to find the White Tiger and defeat him. Please, let me go.”
The mother did not want to lose her son, too. With tears in her eyes, she said, “Even a famous marksman like your father was lost to the terrible White Tiger. Please, son, quit dreaming about such nonsense and stay safe here at home.”
“Don’t worry, Mother,” the son cried. “I shall find the White Tiger, I know it!”
Finally the mother said, “Very well, as you wish. But first let me ask you one thing. Your father used to have me stand with a water jug on my head. Then he would shoot off the handle of the water jug from one mile away without spilling any water. Can you do the same thing?”
When he heard this, the young son immediately tried to match his father’s skill. He had his mother stand one whole mile away, with a water jug on top of her head. He took careful aim, but missed. So he gave up his idea of going to the mountains and instead, practiced three more years with the gun.
After three years, he tried again. This time he succeeded in knocking off the handle of the water jug on his mother’s head without spilling a drop of water. Then the mother said, “Actually son, your father was able to shoot the eye out of a needle from one mile away. Can you do this?”
The son asked his mother to place a needle in a tree trunk. Then he walked back for one mile. Taking careful aim, he let go a shot, but missed. Once again, he gave up the idea of going to the Kumgang Mountains and settled down to another three years of practicing even harder. At the end of three years, he was 21 years old by that time, he again tried the same trick. This time, with the crack of his gun, the eye of the needle fell to the ground.
Now in fact, what the mother had told her son about the amazing feats his father used to be able to do, were all lies. The mother had thought that if she told him impossible tales about the father, that the boy might give up his crazy idea of seeking the terrible White Tiger. But now that he had actually succeeded in performing each of the feats she told him her husband could do, the mother could not help being impressed with his determination. So she gave permission for him to leave for the Kumgang Mountains.
The son was thrilled. He immediately set out. At the foothills he came across a small inn. An old woman, who was the innkeeper, asked the young man why he had come. He told her that his father had been a victim of the White Tiger years ago and that he had practiced for many years to avenge his death.
The old innkeeper then said, “Ah, yes, I knew your father. He was the greatest gunman in all the land. Why, he stopped here at this very inn, many years ago, before venturing into the Kumgang Mountains. Can you see that tall tree over there in the distance? Why, your father used to turn his back to that tree and then shoot down the highest leaf on the highest branch from over his shoulder. If you can’t do the same thing, how can you expect to defeat the White Tiger?”
The hunter’s son, when he heard this, said he also would try. He placed his gun over his shoulder and took aim and shot. But he missed. He knew then that he still wasn’t ready, and he asked the old innkeeper to let him stay with her a while. From that day, he kept practicing shooting over his shoulder at the tree. After three more years, he was finally able to shoot down the highest leaf on the highest branch.
Then the old innkeeper told the hunter’s son, “Just because you can do that, it still doesn’t mean you can outshoot your father. Why, your father used to set an ant on the side of a cliff and then, from a distance of three miles away, he would shoot that ant off without even scratching the surface of the cliff. No matter what a fine gunman you may be, certainly you can’t match that.”
The young man then tried to do what the old innkeeper said his father had done. Again he failed at first and had to practice three more years. Like the young man’s mother, it turns out that all that the old innkeeper had told him had been made up because she, too, only wanted to save his life. But the hunter’s son, not questioning her once, had practiced until he could do the tasks she said his father had done. The old innkeeper was filled with amazement.
“With your skill now, surely you will avenge your father’s death.” So saying, the old innkeeper prepared a bag with many rice balls for him to eat along the way. The hunter’s son thanked her and started out along the path leading into the heart of the Kumgang Mountains.
The young man pressed deeper and deeper into the mountains. For days and days he wandered through the wilderness. After all, the Kumgang Mountains have twelve thousand peaks and stretch over a vast area, and he had no means of knowing just where the White Tiger was hidden. So he wandered on through the vast mountain ranges.
One day, while the hunter’s son was seated on a big rock nibbling a rice ball, a ragged old woman stumbled up to him and said, “Excuse me, sir. Could you spare an extra rice ball for me?”
The hunter’s son handed the old woman several rice-balls, which she ate ravenously. Then the old woman said, “We don’t see many strangers this deep into these mountains. What brings you here?”
When the hunter’s son explained, the old woman shook her head vigorously from side to side. “Nay, good fellow,” she said. “Forget about shooting the terrible White Tiger. He is too quick. As soon as the tiger desires to pounce, his next prey is gone. From one day to the next, we never know whether we are going to survive to see the morrow. You are a young man. You ought best to leave these mountains at once and go back home while you’re still alive!” Then the hunter’s son replied that no, he would not be persuaded to leave. He described how hard he had practiced for so many years, and that now, with his skill, he knew he could smite the White Tiger after all. “Well,” sighed the old woman, “if you are so sure, then you should know that the only way to shoot the White Tiger is to shoot him when all you see is but a white dot on the horizon. If you wait a single moment too late,” here she shook her finger, “or if you miss your first shot, believe me, all will be will be lost for you.”
The old woman left. The hunter’s son immediately took to scanning the horizon until he was entirely familiar with every curve and shadow on each mountainside far and wide. Thus he waited for hours, his gun at readiness. While the sun was setting, a single white dot appeared in a fraction of a moment on a distant mountainside. No dot had been there the moment before, the young man was certain of that. Instantly, he fired at the white dot. His heart pounding, he raced toward the mountainside where he had aimed his shot.
And there he came upon the felled White Tiger, nearly as big as a mountain itself. It had collapsed with its mouth open, ready to swallow its next prey — him! Astonished by its size and thrilled that he had actually defeated the legendary beast, the son stepped into the dead tiger’s throat. Inside the tiger’s mouth, he followed a black tunnel. Eventually, he came to a vast room as large as a fairground. This was the giant White Tiger’s stomach.
Then the young man came upon an unconscious girl who lay huddled in a heap. The young hunter took the girl in his arms and nursed her until she awakened. The girl looked into his face and thanked him with all of her heart. She then revealed that she was the daughter of the king’s highest advisor, who was famous in the capital city. The young girl told him how just the night before, the great White Tiger had stolen her away while she was washing her hair outside on the veranda of her home.
Suddenly, the two of them heard what sounded like a human voice. Puzzled, they groped in the dark toward it. When lo! The voice belonged to an old man crouched in the corner. Who was it but none other than the boy’s father! He had survived all these years inside the White Tiger’s stomach on the prey swallowed by the great beast. The father and son rejoiced in having found one another at last. Then together with the young girl, the three of them escaped through the tiger’s mouth and found that they were in the middle of a large field. The young man skinned a portion of the tiger, for he wanted to take home as a remembrance the beautiful white tiger-skin. Taking the young girl by one hand and his father by the other, he proudly returned home, where his mother was waiting for him. Words cannot describe her joy to see not only her son come safely back home, but her long lost husband, too!
Then the young hunter took the maiden to her home in the capital city. Her father cried tears of joy to see his daughter returning safe and sound. In gratitude, her father welcomed the young hunter into his family to become his daughter’s husband and to be heir to his name and fortune.
The young man’s mother and father proudly attended their son’s wedding day. And the young man and his bride lived happily ever after in the grand mansion of the king’s highest adviser.
If You Like This Story You Will Love:
Retold by Elaine Lindy.
The Kumgang Mountains form a range of mountain peaks located along the east coast of North Korea, south of Wonsan. The mountains cover an area of about 75 square miles. Its highest mountaintop is 5,373 feet. The Kumgang Mountain Range, also known as the Diamond Mountains, is known for its remarkable geological formations, having many beautiful scenic wonders. The mountains are also notable as a former center of Buddhist religion for centuries.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON THE STORY:
According to Frances Carpenter, who wrote Tales of a Korean Grandmother, Korean Tigers are larger than tigers that dwell in warmer climates. Their fur is thicker and longer to protect them from the sharp winter cold in the high mountain sides where they live. Many years ago, these huge beasts were the terror of the Korean northern countryside. In the summer, they fed upon mountain deer and wild boar.