☆ Shinsu Expedition: Chase the sacred animals in Gyeongbokgung!
Dragons, unicorns, red horses, elves...
These mysterious words seem to invite us into the world of fantasy. What kind of images come across your mind this very moment? Some of you might be thinking of game characters, others might call into mind Chinese classics such as Journey to the West or History of Three States. State-of-the-art games and such classics, although existing respectively at the extremes of a time span of thousands of years, are not such an awkward combination to the modern people. Why is that so?
There could be many reasons that explain the modern day reception of them, and one of them could be that 'story' holds a powerful charm that is very close to human nature. The nature of enjoying stories and imparting meaning to various events, even to mere trifles, has not particularly changed for human beings, from the primitive men who drew murals in caves millions of years ago to the 21st century elementary school children. That is why we are fascinated by the universe of 'Star Wars', infatuated with the battles in History of Three States, and fall for 'The Lord of the Rings' despite the fact that our countries, languages, and times differ from one another.
Stories are bound to have numerous characters, including winners and losers, main and marginal characters, leaders and followers, who engage in or break off from diverse relationships that are accidental, inevitable, tied by human relation, vengeful or marked by gratitude. These diverse relationships expand and reproduce multiple plots that lead to happy or sad endings. Among numerous stories in this world, there was a particular kind of stories that fascinated me. They were stories about animals, and especially those that involved 'imaginary animals.'
Gwanunjang rode on his Red Horse, named thus for its red flaming furs and the ability to run (or rather flew) thousands of miles overnight. The turtle (in The Tale of the Snapping Turtle) went after the rabbit to get its liver although he had no personal use for it. And the magpies (in The Tale of Magpies who Returned a Kindness) sacrificed themselves to ring the bell! I am sure I am not the only person who is rather moved and delighted by these stories instead of being merely interested by them.
However, I found that there are subtle differences in the form these imaginary animals are presented depending on times and cultural spheres. Let's take the example of the dragon. which appears in both the Eastern and Western cultures. Except for the commonality of dragons from both cultural spheres taking a snake as a motif, there is a fundamental difference between the Western dragon and the Eastern dragon: the former has wings to fly, which the latter is presented as a perfect creature that can fly even without wings. Another significant difference is that the Western dragon is an evil creature and one that needs to be conquered, while the Eastern dragon summons rain and is depicted as an almighty creature that grants people's wishes. Likewise, the unicorn from the Western culture, which is admired by many girls, and the Eastern 'Cheollima' that runs a thousand miles overnight are both imaginary horses but are essentially different characters.
As I am sure you will readily agree, these animals, while being ‘imaginary’, have stronger presence than may historic figures or heroes you may name. These ‘imaginary animals’ outlasted even some religions, still living among us in the form of legends or lores at this very moment. I don’t have to mention that they are used as symbols of various sport teams and heroes of various TV shows and films, do I?(...)