A few months ago, I was excited to hear that Penguin Classics would be publishing its first Korean classic, The Story of Hong Gildong.
Several friends mentioned that they had never read or heard the story in its entirety, but they were familiar with the plot and that the story is perhaps of the most well-known in Korea.
- It is often referred to as the “Korean version of Robin Hood”.
- 홍길동 will often be placed on forms as an example name, similar to “John Doe”
- It is known as the first Korean novel written in 한글
- The story has been adapted as a drama (naturally) as well as anime (great for those who like to read and compare adaptations!).
Seeing as the story has cultural significance, I lobbied the library I currently work at to have it added to our collection once it was released.
If I’m completely honest, at the beginning of the story it wasn’t really grabbing my interest. However, once the action (and by action I mean the chopping off heads) began, I was hooked. This story provides a great view of life and social attitudes of the Joseon Dynasty
Now, if classics are not your cup of 차, you will be glad to hear that the story itself is relatively short. You could easily make this an afternoon or weekend read. Another helpful part of this book is that terms that are either outdated (not in common speech) or expectedly unknown to a foreign English-speaking audience are explained in the back with a reference glossary.
All in all, I think The story of Hong Gildong is a great place to start for anyone interested in learning more about Korean history and culture.
Ad astra per aspera,