The Tiger's Whisker or "How to Cure a Changed Man" ~ Korean Folktales for Kids
The story of The Tiger's Whisker is a Korean folktale. It is part of our Learning to Read English series.
ONCE UPON A TIME a young wife named Yun Ok was very sad. Her husband had always been a gentle and loving man. But that was before the war. Ever since he had come back from the war, he was angry, even mean. Sometimes Yun Ok felt fear when she lived with her own husband. Only from time to time did she see a sign of the loving husband she used to know.
Now in her village there was a medicine man, a doctor, who lived deep in the mountains. When anyone in the village was sick or hurting, a visit to him would do the trick. Most of the time, Yun Ok felt proud that she could fix her own problems. But not this time. She needed help!
As Yun Ok came up to the doctor’s hut, she saw the door was open. The old man said without turning around, "I hear you. What is the problem?"
She explained. “Ah, yes,” he said. “It is often that way when soldiers return from the war. They have seen terrible things. It can make them cold and unloving. But what do you expect me to do about it?"
"Make me a potion!" cried Yun Ok. "Anything! Whatever it takes to get my husband back to the way he used to be."
The old man looked her in the eye. "Young woman,” he said. “This is not the same as fixing a broken bone or curing an ear infection. This kind of thing will take three days for me to think of a solution. Come back then."
Three days later, Yun Ok returned to the hut. "Yun Ok," said the old man with a smile, "I have good news for you. There is a potion that will turn your husband back to how he used to be. But you should know that it needs a special ingredient. You must bring me a whisker from a live tiger."
"A whisker from a live tiger?!?” said Yun Ok with shock. "Such a thing is not possible!"
"I cannot make the potion without it!" he shouted. Then he turned his back. "There is nothing more to say. As you can see, I’m a very busy man."
That night Yun Ok tossed and turned. How could she get a whisker from a live tiger?
The next day, she left the house. In her hand was a bowl of rice covered with meat sauce. She stepped quietly as she did not want to wake her husband.
Yun Ok went to a cave on the mountainside where a tiger was known to live. She walked up very quietly and set the bowl down on the grass. Then as quietly and safely as she could, she backed away.
The next day, she took another bowl of rice covered with meat sauce to the cave. When she saw that the old bowl was empty, she took it and put down the new, full one. Again she left quietly, trying not to wake the wild beast.
Every day, she did this. Months went by. Yun Ok never saw the tiger. But she knew from footprints on the ground that the tiger had been eating her food.
Then one day, she noticed the tiger's head poking out of its cave. Being sure not to look the tiger in the eye, she stepped very slowly to the same spot as always. She put down the new, full bowl of food, picked up the empty bowl, and stepped away.
Each day after that, she noticed the tiger would come out of its cave a little bit more, when it heard her footsteps, coming closer and closer towards her.
"Actually,” she thought, “it is a rather friendly creature, when you get to know it."
The next time she visited, the tiger came so close that she could gently pat its head, just like a house cat. She looked into its gentle tiger eyes and saw that it now trusted her. Each day she continued to feed the tiger, gaining its trust and friendship.
After many weeks had gone by, she knew the time had come to see if she could get the whisker.
The next day, she brought with her a small knife. After she set down the bowl of food, and the tiger allowed her to pet its head, she said in a low voice, "Oh, my tiger! May I please have one of your whiskers?"
While petting the tiger with one hand, she quickly cut off the whisker with the other, careful not to hurt the tiger in any way. “Thank you, my gentle friend,” she said.
-------Quickly, she ran to the doctor's hut. Holding the whisker tight in her hand, she cried,"I have it! I have the tiger's whisker!"
"You don't say?" said the old man, turning around. "From a live tiger?"
"Yes!" she said.
"Tell me," said the doctor, interested. "How did you do it?"
Yun Ok told the doctor all about how she had earned the trust of the tiger over many months. And how it had finally allowed her to cut off one of its whiskers.
With pride she handed him the whisker. The doctor looked at it with care. Then he threw it into the fire, where it burned right up.
"What have you done?!" Yun Ok cried.
"Yun Ok," said the doctor softly, "you no longer need the whisker. Tell me, is your husband more dangerous than a tiger? If an animal such as a tiger will respond to your patient care, don’t you think a man who's come back from the war will, too?"
Yun Ok didn’t know what to say. She thought about how she had led the tiger to trust her. Then she thought about her husband. She knew what she could do. Surely, if she could earn the trust of a tiger, she could find the right way to lead her husband to be gentle again, too.