Korean Folk Tale: Three Years Hill (삼년고개)

Written by on February 21, 2014 in Arts, Special Report

If you’re anything like me, you probably worry too much, and even though you worry, probably know that it doesn’t do you any good! Perhaps the cure for that is a good, old-fashioned folk tale! Folk tales are always interesting because they provide these insights but they do so in a novel fashion that often makes you stop and reconsider your troubles. One such story (and one of my new favourites!) is the Korean folk tale “Three Years Hill,” or Sam Nyun Gogae (삼년고개).

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A long time ago, in a small village nestled deep in the heart of the Korean countryside there lived an elderly man. The elderly man lived in a small house in the small village and in the center of his small village there was a small hill. Although the man was not very old and the hill was not very big, the elderly man always made certain that he stepped carefully when he walked up the hill.

This would appear to any ordinary man to be an ordinary hill, but this elderly man was no ordinary man and he knew that this sloping hill was no ordinary hill. It was called “Three Years Hill” because legend said that if someone fell down the hill that they would only live for three years. Knowing this, the elderly man always tread carefully when he was near the knoll’s grassy slopes.

The old man began to walk up Three Years Hill

The old man began to walk up Three Years Hill

One day the man had no choice but to cross over the hill. The day was fine and the sun was shining as he started to head up Three Years Hill. His journey went smoothly until he had nearly reached the top. He was enjoying the birdsong from the trees nearby and the gentle breeze in the air, when suddenly a fluffy brown rabbit jumped across in his path. Caught off-guard by the hopping hare, the old man stumbled and fell, tumbling head over foot and foot over head all the way down to the bottom of the hill.

The old man fell head over foot and foot over head

The old man fell head over foot and foot over head all the way to the bottom of the hill

When the old man finally stopped rolling and landed at the bottom of the slope, he was dizzy and worried sick. What had he done? Now that he had fallen down Three Years Hill, his life would surely end, and in three years no less! The old man was so sad and so upset about his clumsy mistake that he worried himself ill. Soon he was lying in bed, feverish with anguish.

A little boy who had heard of the elderly gentleman’s unfortunate tumble decided to pay his senior a visit. Entering the old man’s home, the boy found the old man tearfully fretting, wondering what to do with his three short years.

03 Old Man and Boy

The boy found the old man tearfully fretting about his three short years

The little boy smiled and said, “But sir, that’s not what happens! You mustn’t worry!” and he told the man what he meant.

“If you fall down the hill once, you will live three years,” the boy explained somberly. “But if you fall down TWICE, you will live for SIX years! The more you fall, the more you live, so please don’t worry!”

With a grin and a laugh, the old man jumped up and hugged the boy and the pair ran as fast as they could for the hill. They spent the rest of the day racing up and tumbling down the hill, laughing the whole way. From that day and for the rest of his long life the old man never worried again.

04 Man and Boy Hill

They spent the rest of the day racing up and tumbling down Three Years Hill

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Retold (with embellishments!) by Jessica Steele for The Korea Blog. Content may not be reproduced without permission. No rabbits were harmed in the retelling of this folk tale ^^

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About the Author

Jessica Steele

Jessica Steele is a Canadian expat teaching, writing, and adventuring in Busan, South Korea. She has lived in Korea for nearly four years, but her travels aren’t finished yet. Her favourite things in Korea are the festivals, neon lights, and of course, kimchi.