Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cinderella # 34, The Korean Cinderella (1993)

Heller, R. 
Lunar New Year February 3, 2011
 The Year of the Rabbit
Once upon a time, in Korea, “when magical creatures were as common as cabbages, there lived an old gentleman and his wife. For years they longed for a child to share their tile-roofed cottage. At last, a daughter was born. ‘Good fortune!’ the old man exclaimed, ‘I’ll plant a pear tree in the courtyard to celebrate this day! ‘ And Pear Blossom will be her name. '  the old woman added. “ As the years passed, the girl and the tree grew taller. The old woman tended the child carefully, adorning her hair for each season. In spring, when white blossoms appeared, Pear Blossom wore a white ribbon. In summer, when the pears were luscious and ripe, she wore a ribbon of “rosy gold”. In autumn, “ when leaves from the tree blew about the courtyard like scraps of sunshine”, her mother made her a sunny, yellow dress. “But one day, when the branches on the tree were still bear sticks, the old woman died.” The old man cried out loud. Some time later, he “went to the village matchmaker. She knew of a widow with a daughter.”  This girl was the same age as his Pear Blossom, and the matchmaker said, “ Three in one! A wife for you, and a mother and a sister for Pear Blossom.” They were married, and Pear Blossom learned to call her father’s new wife, “ Omoni, or Mother”, but the woman did not act like one. And her  new sister, though her name was Peony, was no pretty flower. They both treated her like a servant. “ To cold!” one called, and then when Pear Blossom had stoked the fire “until the lid on the kettle danced from steam” her stepmother screehed, “ Too hot! The noodles are scorching!” and sent her out to fetch water. And so her life went, hard work from daybreak until midnight, “with only the crickets for company.” Years passed, and one day, Omoni thought of a way to get rid of her stepdaughter. The girl was dressed in rags now, with only an old rope around her hair. They called her Little Pig, or sometimes, Pigling. Now Omoni ordered Pigling to fill a huge water quickly, and when Pear Blossom pointed to the large crack, and the hole in the bottom, her stepmother said, “ Stubborn little pigs get tied up and taken to market!” and stalked away. “Pear Blossom leaned against the tall jar. ‘Will none in this world help me?’she asked. ‘Jug-jug-jug!’ rumbled a hoarse voice.’ ‘A tokgabi!’ Pear Blossom gasped. ‘ A goblin!’. “ But it wasn’t, only a frog who squeezed himself right into the hole in the bottom. And Pear Blossom filled the jar and went home. But when Omani saw her, she said, “ Off to market Little Pig!”, thinking the girl had failed. When she saw the full jar, and heard that a frog had helped Pear Blossom, Peony peered into the jar. All she saw was her scowl reflected back, but suddenly the water flooded from the jar and soaked her! Now Omani forced Pear Blossom to “ crawl through the puddles, licking up the water.” The next day, it was a sack of rice that Omani scattered in the yard, telling Pear Blossom to gather it all. And when the girl called for help, “ a flock of sparrows flew out of the trees, calling,’Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!’ and pecked at the rice, separating husk from kernel. “ But when Peony came out, the sparrows tore her hair. As punishment for the birds actions, Pear Blossom was starved. Not allowed to eat herself, forced to fix food for the family to take to the big festival. All the  while her hateful stepmother taunted her, “ Dirty-Piglet-Stay-At-Home!” and told her she now must “weed the rice paddies.” And when Pear Blossom tried to obey, she saw so much rice growing that it, “rippled before her like a great, green, lake. “ Ohh, she moaned with misery. That’s when “ a whirlwind twisted through the fields and a huge black ox reared up from a cloud of dust. ‘Do-o-o-!’ it bellowed, tossing its great horns.” Before she knew it, the ox had weeded the paddies, and left her a basket “filled with fruit and honey candy.” Off she went to the festival. Just as she was entering the village, a commotion behind her made her jump. She was so startled, that her straw sandal fell off into the stream. When she ran to get it, the magistrate shouted. He, in his fine litter, was the source of commotion, and when he saw the lovely girl lose her shoe, and then saw the shoe floating down the stream past him, he called for his litter to stop. He retrieved the sandal and gazed after the girl with the black hair and basket of fruit. But Pear Blossom ran on to the festival, and spent the day marveling at acrobats and  musicians, and the brightly colored flags and banners. At day’s end, as the girl was eating her last orange, Omoni and Peony suddenly came upon her. They called her a thief, and shouted that she must have stolen the fruit, and now here came the magistrate! His noblemen came before him, holding up Pear Blossom’s straw sandal, calling for the girl who had lost it. Motioning to show them where she was,  Omani gleefully told her stepdaughter, “ Now you’ll get what you deserve” and shook her hard. But the magistrate saw Pear Blossom and said, “ Then she must deserve me as her husband, for this lucky shoe has led me to her.” And no matter how Omani tried, she could not change his mind. Now Peony ran to find the magic ox, but “ All she saw was a glimpse of its hooves as it galloped away. When springtime came, the magistrate sent a go-between to Pear Blossom’s old father to arrange a grand marriage. Pear Blossom’s wedding slippers were made of silk, and in the courtyard of her splendid new house, a dozen pear trees bloomed.” 
Climo, S. & Heller, R. The Korean Cinderella
Notes: This is a retelling of the tale, "that is based on three variations" of the story told in Korea. The language is vivid and beautiful, and the animals that come to Pear Blossoms aid are classic Cinderella helpers: a frog, little birds, and an ox. (Many European variations have the girl receive aid from a cow, of the same family.) Illustrations are brilliantly colored and a marvelous jump-off point for art follow-ups. But: The story features a truly vicious stepmother, who used humiliation and starvation as tactics against a child. I must question why she is let off punishment in this version? This is what  Bettelheim says, " In the traditional fairy tale, the hero is rewarded and the evil person meets his well deserved fate, thus satisfying the child's deep need for justice to prevail. How else can a child hope that justice will be done to him, who so often feels unfairly treated?" (The Uses of Enchantment, p 144). As a teacher who puts justice for children before all, I want to see Omoni go through it! Why not send her out to the rice paddies, with no lunch, to get some weeding done? It is this phenomenon of rewriting fairy tales to make them more palatable for modern children that sometimes takes away a crucial element. If children are tough enough to hear about Pear Blossom's barbaric treatment, they can handle a deserved unpleasant fate for her abuser. Other Korean Cinderellas to read include: Pigling: A Cinderella Story: a Korean Tale (Graphic Universe)Korean Cinderella; and  Congjui & Potjui (Korean Cinderella. Korean Folktales)
Montessori Connection 6-12: A. Rice, a lesson by Sister Christina Trudeau, SND; Ed.D., included in Curriculum for the Cosmic Plan of Education and Environmental Studies. Or, B. Biology: pear trees. Zoology: Animals of the Chinese Zodiac, including the ox. C. Zoology: Amphibians/Anura/frogs. Amazing Frogs & Toads (Eyewitness Juniors), or Amphibian (DK Eyewitness Books)

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