Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications. Many of the tales in this collection included introductory and/or end note text which has been moved to the Notes section for each tale.

Literary Man of Imsil, The

IN THE year 1654 there was a man of letters living in Imsil who claimed that he could control spirits, and that two demon guards were constantly at his bidding. One day he was sitting with a friend playing chess, when they agreed that the loser in each case was to pay a fine in drink. The friend lost and yet refused to pay his wager, so that the master said, "If you do not pay up I'll make it hot for you." The man, however, refused, till at last the master, exasperated, turned his back upon him and called out suddenly into the upper air some formula or other, as if he were giving a command. The man dashed off through the courtyard to make his escape, but an unseen hand bared his body, and administered to him such a set of sounding blows that they left blue, seamy marks. Unable to bear the pain of it longer, he yielded, and then the master laughed and let him go.

               At another time he was seated with a friend, while in the adjoining village a witch koot (exorcising ceremony) was in progress, with drums and gongs banging furiously. The master suddenly rushed out to the bamboo grove that stood behind the official yamen, and, looking very angry and with glaring eyes, he shouted, and made bare his arm as if to drive off the furies. After a time he ceased. The friend, thinking this a peculiar performance, asked what it meant. His reply was, "A crowd of devils have come from the koot, and are congregating in the grove of bamboos; if I do not drive them off trouble will follow in the town, and for that cause I shouted."

               Again he was making a journey with a certain friend, when suddenly, on the way, he called out to the mid-air, saying, "Let her go, let her go, I say, or I'll have you punished severely."

               His appearance was so peculiar and threatening that the friend asked the cause. For the time being he gave no answer, and they simply went on their way.

               That night they entered a village where they wished to sleep, but the owner of the house where they applied said that they had sickness, and asked them to go. They insisted, however, till he at last sent a servant to drive them off. Meanwhile the womenfolk watched the affair through the chinks of the window, and they talked in startled whispers, so that the scholar overheard them.

               A few minutes later the man of the house followed in the most humble and abject manner, asking them to return and accept entertainment and lodging at his house. Said he, "I have a daughter, sir, and she fell ill this very day and died, and after some time came to life again. Said she, 'A devil caught me and carried my soul off down the main roadway, where we met a man, who stopped us, and in fierce tones drove off the spirit, who let me go, and so I returned to life.' She looked out on your Excellency through the chink of the window, and, behold, you are the man. I am at my wits' end to know what to say to you. Are you a genii or are you a Buddhist, so marvellously to bring back the dead to life? I offer this small refreshment; please accept."

               The scholar laughed, and said, "Nonsense! Just a woman's haverings. How could I do such things?" He lived for seven or eight years more, and died.

                Im Bang.


The calling of spirits is one of the powers supposed to be possessed by disciples of the Old Philosopher (Taoists), who reach a high state of spiritual attainment. While the natural desires remain they cloud and obstruct spiritual vision; once rid of them, even angels and immortal beings become unfolded to the sight. They say, "If once all the obstructions of the flesh are eliminated even God can be seen." They also say, "If I have no selfish desire, the night around me will shine with golden light; and if all injurious thoughts are truly put away, the wild deer of the mountain will come down and play beside me."

               Ha Sa-gong, a Taoist of high attainment, as an old man used to go out fishing, when the pigeons would settle in flights upon his head and shoulders. On his return one day he told his wife that they were so many that they bothered him. "Why not catch one of them?" said his wife. "Catch one?" said he. "What would you do with it?" "Why, eat it, of course." So on the second day Ha went out with this intent in heart, but no birds came near or alighted on him. All kept a safe distance high up in mid-air, with doubt and suspicion evident in their flying.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Literary Man of Imsil, The
Tale Author/Editor: Bang, Im
Book Title: Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies
Book Author/Editor: Bang, Im & Ryuk, Yi
Publisher: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1913
Country of Origin: Korea
Classification: unclassified

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