The Three Little Girls
Triptych total size 228 x 100 x 4cm
Acrylic on canvas
The sides of the paintings are finished in gold enamel
This painting is available from StART Art Korea, Seoul
The Three Little Girls – A Korean Folktale
Deep in the mountains there stood a lonely hut. In this hut lived a mother and her three small daughters. The eldest girl was named Haisuni, the second Talsuni, and the youngest Peolsuni.
One day the mother had to leave home to take some firewood to a distant market to sell. Before she left she called her three daughters and said: “Listen, Haisuni, Talsuni, and Peolsuni. Do be careful while I am gone, for there is a very bad tiger roaming the woods nearby. Don’t ever open the door to anybody until I get back. Otherwise you might be eaten up by the bad tiger.” So the mother stepped out the door and went on her way.
Just as she was leaving, the bad tiger happened to pass the house. He was very hungry and was in search of food. He saw the mother leave the house and thought: “Ho ho! Now’s my chance! Now that the mother’s gone, I’ll be able to eat those three young girls of hers. They should make a tasty dinner for me. How nice that would be!”
The tiger waited a while to make sure that the mother would not return. Then, when he thought the time was ripe, he crept up to the house and called out in his sweetest voice: “Haisuni, Talsuni, Peolsuni – Mother has just come back. Please open the door.”
Of course, no matter how sweetly the tiger spoke, his voice was not the voice of their mother. So, the eldest girl, Haisuni, asked: “Is that really you, Mother? It doesn’t sound a bit like you.”
“Why, of course I’m your mother,” the tiger answered. “I was invited to a feast and there I sang so many songs that my voice has become hoarse.”
The second daughter, Talsuni, then asked: “If you are really our mother, then show us your eyes. We would be able to tell for sure.”
Hearing this, the tiger put his blood-shot eyes to a knothole in the front door and peered into the house.
Talsuni saw the red eyes and drew back in surprise. “Oh my! Why are your eyes so red?”
The tiger, a bit confused, hurriedly explained: “I dropped in at Grandfather’s house and helped grind some red pepper pods. Some of the pepper got into my eyes, and that’s why they are so red.”
The third daughter, Peolsuni, next asked: “If that’s true, then let us see your hands. We could really tell then whether you are our mother or not.”
The tiger put his hairy, yellow paws to a chink in the door.
Peolsuni peeked through the crack and cried: “Why! Your hands are all yellow!”
“Yes, my child,” the tiger said., “I was helping our relatives in the next village plaster their house with yellow mud. That’s why my hands are so yellow.
In this way the clever tiger fooled all the girls completely. The three sisters, sure that it was their mother, unlocked the front door. And who should come in but a huge, yellow tiger?
“My children looked after the house well, didn’t you?” the tiger said. “As a reward, Mother will cook a nice dinner for you.” The tiger went into the kitchen, his eyes shining with greed.
The three girls stood huddled in a corner, quivering with fear. “What shall we do? What shall we do? We shall soon be eaten up by the tiger.”
The three girls quickly ran out of the house. Then tiptoeing softly away, they quickly climbed up a pine tree growing near the well. There they hid quietly in the branches.
The tiger soon noticed that the girls were no longer in the house. “Haisuni, Talsuni, Peolsuni,” he called, “where are you?”
And the bad tiger looked here and there, inside and outside the house, everywhere, but nowhere were the girls to be seen. The tiger passed the well and happened to glance in. There he saw in the water the reflection of the three girls hiding in the branches of the pine tree.
“My children!” the tiger said. “What are you doing up there? I want to come up too, but it looks difficult. Tell Mother how to climb the tree.”
At this, Haisuni called down: “There’s some sesame oil in the kitchen cupboard. Rub some of the oil on the trunk of the tree. Then you can easily climb up.”
Quickly, the tiger went into the house, got the oil, and rubbed it on the trunk of the tree. Then he tried to climb, but the oil made him slip all the more, and try as he might, he could not reach the girls.
Once again, the tiger looked up into the tree and said: “Be good children, dears, and tell me truly how to climb the tree.”
Talsuni, the second daughter, unthinkingly let her tongue slip and said: “There’s an axe in the shed. If you cut some notches in the tree trunk, then you can climb up.”
Quickly, the tiger went for the axe and began cutting footholds with it. One step at a time, he climbed up and up toward the girls.
The three sisters were desperate. They were sure they would be eaten up. They raised their eyes toward the sky and prayed to the God of Heaven. “Please help us, God. Please send down your golden well bucket,” they prayed.
Their prayers were answered, and from the top of a cloud down came a golden well bucket. The three sisters climbed into the bucket and were snatched up, out of the teeth of
danger, into the clouds.
When the tiger saw this, he too prayed: “Please send down a well bucket for me also.”
Once again, a well bucket came down from the clouds. But, this time, the rope of the bucket was old and rotten. The tiger, nevertheless, climbed trustingly into the bucket, and it started rising. But when he was half way up to the cloud, the rope suddenly broke, and the tiger came crashing to earth, right in the middle of a millet field.
That is why the tops of millet are mottled to this day. The reddish spots are from the blood of the tiger which splattered all over the millet field.
On the other hand, the three sisters who climbed to Heaven were each given a special task. Haisuni was made to shine in the sky during the day. Talsuni was made to shine at night. And Peolsuni was to twinkle on nights when Talsuni slept or was on her way from the sky to rest. That is why the sun is called Haisuni, the moon Talsuni, and the stars Peolsuni. To this very day, the three sisters keep at their tasks, taking their turns at brightening the whole world with their light.