This folktale has been with me since I was very young. My parents tried to encourage me to become interested in my South Korean heritage even though (because? In spite of the fact?) I was adopted, and when I was lonely or sad, I would always turn to these stories to cheer me up. The one that I enjoyed the most was this story of the clever rabbit and the Dragon King, as it sometimes encouraged me to stand up to those who tried to trick me (as there were, unfortunately, quite a few).
It's not haunting or tragic, but it made me appreciate wittiness and cleverness. I liked that.
I'm not the best storyteller. I can't find the book I used to read as a child, so some things may be different, but I think it would be great if someone could illustrate this or a scene from it. Lots of wonderful colors to work with, I believe :)
There once was a powerful Dragon King who lived deep under the sea, and he was deathly ill. After consulting with many wise doctors, the only solution that every one agreed on was that he must eat the liver of a rabbit in order to save his life.
The Dragon King called all of his trusted counsel to him and asked who would travel to the world of land to secure him the liver of a rabbit. Every one of the Dragon King's supporters and followers - the fish, the squid, and the mighty whales - were all too afraid to go to the world of land, and so they made no move to volunteer. Finally, a very humble turtle volunteered, and it was he who was chosen to seek out the rabbit for the king.
The brave and humble turtle swam from the bottom of the sea to the world of land, and he came ashore on a pleasant, sandy beach. On this beach, he encountered a furry, white animal with two long ears and four legs. He hopped on his two hind legs.
The turtle inquired, "Hello, sir. Might you be the animal called a rabbit?"
And the rabbit answered, "I am, but why do you ask?"
The turtle replied, "I am a messenger of his Majesty, the Dragon King from the bottom of the Southern Sea. I have come to seek a rabbit to come dine with him and be his honored guest in his palace at the bottom of the sea."
The rabbit was willing to go, but he said, "I would love to visit the Dragon King in his palace, but I cannot swim. Also, I cannot breathe underwater. How would I get there? And how would I breathe if I do get there?"
The turtle assured him, "I will carry you on my back, and you will become used to the nature of the water. Soon, breathing it will be just like you breathing in the air up here."
The rabbit climbed aboard the turtle's back and together they traveled down, down, down to the bottom of the sea. On the way, the rabbit marveled at the bright and lovely sights: colorful schools of fish that shone as bright as a rainbow, waving sea plants that seemed to whisper greetings to him, and stone sculptures that looked like the mountains and valleys he had known in his own world. He was amazed at the beauty of this world unknown to him and the ease at which he breathed underwater. The turtle arrived at the Dragon King's underwater palace, but the rabbit was clever and realized quickly that he had been tricked.
As he stood before the king, the Dragon King explained to the rabbit that the rabbit's liver was needed in order to restore the king's failing health. At first, the rabbit was very scared at the prospect of losing his life, but the rabbit was also very clever and quick thinking.
"Your Majesty, I would love to be so honored to cure you, but I am afraid that I do not travel with my liver. It is so valuable that it just wouldn't do to carry it with me wherever I go! If only I had known that I would need it, I would have brought it with me for this fine occasion. Right now, however, it is hidden deep within the forest and only I know where it is. If you will allow the turtle to take me home, I will find it and bring it back to you. It will be my honor to serve you."
The King was quite impressed with the rabbit's willingness and devotion to save his life. The Dragon King gave his permission and the rabbit and the turtle set off for the world of land. The rabbit rode on the turtle's back right back to the beach where he'd found him.
The rabbit quickly hopped right off the turtle's back and when he was a safe distance away, he said, "Thank you for the ride, turtle! Do you really think that I keep my liver hidden in the forest?"
The turtle was taken aback and exclaimed, "What?! You lied to us?"
"You didn't think I'd let that silly Dragon King cut me open and eat my liver, did you? Haha!" the clever rabbit said. And he hopped off and escaped safely into the forest.