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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #1 (January 3, 2006), page 17.

Eccentric charms

The Tigers of the Kumgang Mountains: A Korean Folktale

By Kim So-un

Illustrations by Jeong Kyoung-Sim

Tuttle Publishing, 2005

Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95

By Josephine Bridges

This retelling of a Korean folktale, "told by grandparents to their grandchildren, huddled on the heated floors of Korean homes in the bitterly cold days of mid-winter, with snow-laden winds raging outside; repeated in the yards of Korean homes to children seated on straw mats in the cool of a summer evening; and shared by farmer folk as they rested from their work in the fields in the shade of a nearby tree," has many eccentric charms, including that not one of its characters has a name. Choose the role you want to step into, the story seems to be encouraging young readers, thereís a place for you and your friends and family here.

When a young man sets out to shoot the tiger responsible for his fatherís death, both the boyís mother and an innkeeper in the foothills of the tiger-infested Kumgang Mountains tell him tall tales about his fatherís marksmanship, delaying his quest and improving his skill with a gun beyond their own expectations. But the young man finally reaches the legendary mountains, where he meets and summarily dispatches a priest with fangs, an old woman with paws, and two young people with tails.

"Pleased with himself for having got rid of four tigers in such a short time," the young man is undaunted when he discovers, and is swallowed by, a tiger "as big as a mountain."

The adventure has just begun. With the help of a girl he finds "huddled in a heap" in the tigerís stomach and nurses back to consciousness, the young man plots not only the pairís escape, but the tigerís comeuppance.

Kim So-un has done a wonderful job of making this wild tale accessible to an audience beyond his native Korea. Thereís an unusual modesty in his words, particularly given the fantastic nature of the story.

Jeong Kyoung-Simís illustrations are jaw-droppers. From the very first page, where one enormous tiger and three others, small only by comparison, crouch in the mountains, to the young man and the innkeeper looking up at these mountains in apprehension, to the confrontation between hero and villain, to the very last page, where not a single tiger threatens the young manís "happily ever after," these paintings vibrate with energy and excitement.

May The Tigers of the Kumgang Mountains prowl long and far.

 

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