Hong Gil Dong
Ask any Korean about Hong Gil Dong and you’ll be told that he was a famous Korean folk hero. He lived during the Joseon Dynasty. His life and exploits have been told many times over, and Koreans and international audiences have seen various movies and TV adaptations of his story, all with a particular author’s creative licence.
Hong Gil Dong was Korea’s version of Robin Hood, a rebellious man who gathered together a ragtag crew to rob the rich and corrupt officials during the Joseon era to give to the poor. In the novel, it is portrayed that he had the intention to give to the poor, but there were no stated instances where he actually did help out the poor or the needy
He was the second son born into a noble household, which in Korean translates to “yangban.” His father was a palace minister but his mother was a concubine from the household, thus he was not considered a full noble. Hong Gil Dong did not get to enjoy the rights afforded to the rich during those times. He also suffered indignities and hardships, until he was forced to leave the household and ended up becoming a thief. Eventually he was recognised by the King and given a court position. But so as not to smear the King’s name and position for giving an ex-criminal a government post, he opted to leave the country. His exploits led to him becoming the King of a territory he conquered.
His name also became a placeholder, similar to how John Doe or John Smith is used in English-speaking countries. Previously, international readers were unable to enjoy the novel as it is written in Korean. Penguin is now releasing one of the few English translations of the life of the Korean iconic hero. Writer and historian, Minsoo Kang, wrote the English translation of “The Story of Hong Gil Dong”, a 77-page story of vanquished demons (yes, there’s a bit of otherworldly talents in the story), banditry and father-son intrigue.