Literature as Encounter and Discovery, as exemplified by Hahn Moo-Sook’s novel Encounter

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Literature as Encounter and Discovery, as exemplified by Hahn Moo-Sook’s novel Encounter

The Italian explorer Columbus (1451-1506) discovered the American Continent in 1492. Of course, the unknown continent had existed even before he discovered it. But through Columbus’ discovery the unknown entity has emerged above the surface of the historical waters as a "New World." Literature is like a voyage in search of a new continent, and the author is like Columbus. In the course of our lives, undiscovered subject matters abound like countless islands in the gigantic ocean of awareness. If perchance such a continent is not discovered through the eyes of a writer, it would sink to eternal oblivion. An author, therefore, is like an explorer
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Eventually, following his "homecoming in golden robes" as the secret royal inspector, Yi Mong-nyong rescues Ch’unhyang, and the evil magistrate is dismissed and punished. The story has a happy ending, as their love is fulfilled.

In contrast, the theme of the story of Simch’ong, based on a Buddhist legend, is about an opening of the eyes, i.e., a prototype of "discovery." Simch’ong, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a blind man, sells herself to the boat people, who throw her into the ocean as a sacrificial lamb to the god of the sea for their protection. The filially pious daughter Simch’ong is resurrected and is betrothed to a king, who invites all the blind people of the country to his palace in hopes of finding among them his wife's father. The blind Sim’s eyes open at the dramatic moment of his re-encounter with his daughter. In the Asian thinking based on the Buddhist belief, "seeing with open eyes" corresponds to "being awake and seeing through the Truth."

Modern Korean literature has inherited the spiritual legacy of the tales of Ch'unhang and Simch'ong. One notable example is Hahn Moo-Sook’s novel, Encounter1. The novel’s very title and plot correspond with the eternal themes of encounter and discovery represented by The Tale of Ch’unhyang and The Tale of Simch'ong. Encounter is a rare novel in Korea, because it explores and probes…