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Friday, April 9, 2021

Hulbert - The Sea-King's Daughter - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

Today's story may sound familiar to folklore fans.  I'll give its better known versions at the end.  See if you recognize it.  Stories travel.  Did this originate in Korea or travel there?  

Homer B. Hulbert's book, Omjee the Wizard is not well known nor even included in the earliest English standard folklore index nor its supplements, Index to Fairy Tales, Myths, and Legends by Mary Huse Eastman started in 1915 (with later editions eventually continued by Norma Olin Ireland and Joseph W. Sprug).  I bought the book because, as its subtitle notes, it's "Korean Folk Stories."  Having Korean daughters, I had to have it!  

Being published in 1925, I renewed my interest in it because books from that year have just entered the Public Domain.  Because its binding was a bit loose I went looking to find an online copy, but there is none as of this writing.  Since the name of Hulbert isn't Korean, I also went looking to see more about the book and its author.  Its Preface states the author's background as being "the result of twenty years of residence in Korea and some considerable examination of that literature, but especially of personal contact with the people in their ordinary life and avocations where folk-lore persists at its best."  I checked further, starting with Wikipedia, which certainly showed his own comment was a major understatement.  A more thorough explanation is found in the article, "Loving Korea More Than Koreans."  Hulbert is shown as important to both its literature in the late 19th century and worked hard in the 20th century for Korean independence at personal cost.  He was invited back to Korea by its first President.  Hulbert died there a week after his return saying, "I would rather be buried in Korea than at Westminster Abbey."  His achievements might have earned him a burial that unusual.  It is repeated on his tombstone in the Yanghwajin Foreigners' Cemetery.

There is more to be said about today's story and its book, but for now let the story speak for itself.

Mr. Rabbit got on his back and they went down into the water. 

Intentionally I omitted this picture which faces the title page.  It's not shown again during the story, but comes from page 33 in the midst of the tale.  For those familiar with many folktales, the picture gives away its more commonly known version, "The Heart of a Monkey", which Wikipedia places as either a Swahili tale(which would place it in either East or Southern Africa) or part of the Panchatantra (which would place it in India "roughly 200 BCE – 300 CE, based on older oral tradition.")  So did it start in Korea or travel there?  It's impossible to say, but the story certainly traveled a lot! -- more than Mr. Rabbit on Dr. Tortoise.

Hildegard Lupprian was the book's illustrator.  Her name is attached to many children's books.  She was not even remotely Korean, but was assigned the book by the publisher, Milton Bradley Company, better known for its games and puzzles.

Next week I want to bring another story from the same book which does something very creative and not found in those other versions of the story.  It resolves the tale of "The Sea-King's Daughter" and what happens to her!  Admit it, don't you wonder?


This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  

At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it.
Other Public Domain story resources I recommend-
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key.
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.

    Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
The email list for storytellers, Storytell, discussed Online Story Sources and came up with these additional suggestions:            
         - David K. Brown -
         - Richard Martin -
         - Spirit of Trees -
         - Story-Lovers - is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine, described below, but the late Jackie Baldwin's wonderful site lives on there, fully searchable manually (the Google search doesn't work), at .  It's not easy, but go to snapshot for October 22 2016  and you can click on SOS: Searching Out Stories to scroll down through the many story topics and click on the story topic that interests you.
       - World of Tales - 
           - Zalka Csenge Virag - doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links.  Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job.  In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it.  Possibly searches maintained it.  Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine.  It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!
    Somebody as of this writing whose stories can still be found by his website is the late Chuck Larkin -  I prefer to list these sites by their complete address so they can be found by the Wayback Machine, a.k.a., when that becomes the only way to find them.
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!

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