When my friend Min T'ae-jun died last spring, the only
evidence that he had ever existed was a couple of worthless notebooks.
His family owned some paddy land back home and he had never seemed particularly
destitute, so we thought there would be matters for us to take care of
after he was gone-clothes to pack up if nothing else-but there weren't.
Of course, his passing wasn't nearly as miserable as one might expect from
a man whose only legacy was a couple of notebooks. His friends generally
agreed that Min, thirty-four and still unmarried, must have understood
what was happening, put everything neatly in order, and greeted death on
his own terms. He had probably been planning his death for some time. And
so there was no doubt in our minds: those notebooks were the only part
of him he wanted to leave behind.
Still, it was the ragged notebooks that amazed us most.
You see, among his friends Min was known as the writer who had never written
a story. It wasn't as if he had been active as a writer and quit for some
reason or other, nor had he ever made an official debut in any of the literary
journals. Still, we always referred to him as a writer. And that didn't
bother him at all; in fact, he took it for granted. There was a reason,
of course. Min was always thinking about writing, always talking with us
about writing. More importantly, he was always planning to write. But he
never seemed to get around to actually doing it. Still, he was intent on
the idea of writing a story and becoming a bona fide writer, no matter
what it took; that he didn't mind us calling him a writer was evidence
of that. This was a signal facet of Min's personality. Once he committed
himself to something, he had a strange tendency to accept that commitment
as actuality and never to question its validity. I often wondered if this
eccentric element of Min's personality was what made him believe he was
In any case, Min took our expectations for granted and
thought about writing and talked about writing and was forever contemplating
when he should begin. Of course, that wasn't the only reason we called
him a writer. I mean, we knew someone like Min might have thought we were
making fun of him-after all, he wasn't producing anything. But we had reason
enough to call him a writer: several times a year he went out on field
trips to gather material for his stories. For those of us who actually
were writing, it wasn't easy finding the time to gallivant around like
that, but Min would put everything else aside and off he'd go. If he wasn't
hanging around his boardinghouse room, he was invariably out in the field,
though he never told us exactly what he learned on his trips.
"I heard an interesting story about a village in Ch'angon
County, so I went down to check it out. It was well worth the bus fare,
That and a smile were all we ever got out of him. Later,
rumor had it he'd sold off his family's land to pay for those trips. But
for all his travels, Min never actually came up with a story. Apparently
he wasn't writing at all. And then he died. He hadn't died from an illness,
though at the time he'd been spitting up blood now and then because of
We had all tried to comfort him-told him there was no
reason to lose hope. After all, modern medicine is more than capable of
curing people with symptoms like his. But he took his life anyway. He must
have decided he was in the grips of a terminal illness and his days were
numbered. After all, it was Min's nature, once he had reached a conclusion,
to realize it as soon as possible, and so he took his life. Thus, as with
all deaths, the most important elements of his were a total mystery.
The little notebooks he left behind amazed his friends,
so unique and valuable were their data. Prior to his death, we knew little
of their contents, indeed no more than what rumor had told us. As it turned
out, the notebooks were full of information on a broad range of subjects,
as well as documentary references, supposition, and questions-materials
more like a research report than notes from simple fact-finding trips.
For the most part, the notebooks concerned folk practices nearly extinct
now. They concerned legends. They concerned masters in traditional arts
and crafts tucked away in mountain villages. Not only were these materials
hard to come by, but they were recorded with the precision and accuracy
of a specialist.
You could feel the contours of a story forming when you
read Min's notes on the circus tightrope walker, the old man making inlaid
mother-of-pearl cabinets on an isolated island off the southern coast,
the archer women living in a pavilion somewhere in northern Cholla.
Unfortunately, Min never was able to work any of these
subjects into a story. He simply traveled around collecting data as if
this were an end in itself, a way to ease the deep despair he felt over
his inability to become a writer. At least, that's what we thought.
That wasn't really the case, however. Min had written
a story, and a good one at that (in my opinion at least).
I guess it's time for me to confess.
Actually, everything I've said thus far is simply a preface
to a confession, nothing more than a record of what everyone has thought
until now. What I'm saying is, I know a bit more than the others. It's
true. I realized it this very morning.
Some of you may recognize the title of this story, and
if you think back, you'll probably remember I've published a story by that
title. So why have I started another story with the same title? You see,
this is the second work entitled "The Falconer." Well, as long as I'm making
confessions, I have to admit that this is actually the third story by that
title. Two of them are mine-the one I've already published and this one.
So who wrote the third? The late Min T'ae-jun. I realized that for the
first time this morning when I found the manuscript in my desk. Of course,
it hasn't been published yet. And so it was only this morning that I realized
Min wasn't a writer who had never written a story. That's why I am writing
a third story of the same name.
Although all three stories are nearly the same.
It's time I revealed how this curious story of Min's
came to me. His death, the tale of how two identical stories were written,
and my reasons for writing a similar one will become clear in the process,
I believe. I guess I should start with how I came to write my first version
of "The Falconer."
One day last spring I received a postcard from Min saying
he would like to see me. We had met quite often in the past, and I had
always made an effort to ease his unwarranted despair about his tuberculosis,
so the arrival of the postcard was a bit odd. I was somewhat relieved,
though, by what he said as I entered his room. He looked much paler than
usual, but he spoke in a calm, matter-of-fact tone as if he wasn't particularly
concerned about his health.
"Thanks for coming. There's something I want to discuss
with you. It might help you in your work."
There wasn't a trace of darkness or anxiety in his demeanor.
"Oh? Have you figured out a way to beat the lottery?"
Min had come straight to the point, so I didn't bother
to ask how he was feeling, as I would have with others. But when I expressed
interest in what he had to say, he simply crossed his legs leisurely, as
if it were all far too important to rush into.
"I haven't told you much about my trips, have I?" His
voice was quiet.
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, your trips have always been off limits. You never
talk about them with us, and we've all learned to take that for granted."
I was simply making an excuse for my "Why?" but actually
it was true. Min laughed, then reached for the open notebook beside his
pillow and pushed it across the floor to me.
"You've been writing a lot lately. I'll bet you've run
out of material."
Attention piqued, I turned to the notebook. It was a
record of Min's trips. He had never shown it to me before. Filled with
tiny letters, like so many sesame seeds, it resembled a middle school math
notebook. In truth, I felt as if it were a work of literature, completed
to the best of Min's ability.
After a moment I put the notebook down and looked at
him. A terrible thought struck me: What was he planning? To be honest,
I had coveted Min's pile of travel notes on a number of occasions when
I was low on material. What must it be like for Min? I would think. Imagine
never writing a single story. I could be quite ruthless in my imaginings:
I'd get my themes and material from Min, and if by doing so I gave him
some kind of satisfaction, well.... But of course that fantasy didn't last
"I have an idea."
My vague foreboding was right on the mark. Min went on
as if he had read my mind.
"But it's just an idea. If I told you everything, I'd
feel I was selling you information."
He wanted to try out an idea on me. He was certain that
if I dug a bit deeper I'd have to write about it, with no further prompting
And so he pointed to one of the sections in the notebook.
As I left Min's house that day, nothing was certain except
I knew I was traveling to a village in the mountains of northern Cholla.
Min's idea concerned a man who handled falcons there. But to tell the truth,
I felt a bit leery about the whole thing, despite what Min had said. And
it was all so vague-he hadn't told me a thing about his own research on
the subject. He had given me a piece of paper with directions to the village
and the names of people to meet. I stuffed it in my pocket, but I didn't
think I'd ever really write a story about it. I couldn't understand why
he felt he had to send me there, or why he was so certain I'd go. Still,
I had to do it. I felt strangely compelled by his proposal, and when he
handed me money for the trip, I reluctantly accepted it, skeptical as I
was. It was all because of Min's obstinacy.
"I won't be needing money anymore."
He smiled confidently as he pressed the money firmly
into my palm. I knew his family in the countryside was destitute, and that
he himself was ill, but he really did look like a man who wouldn't be needing
I set off the following day. Min had wanted me to go
as soon as possible, and I figured that I might as well get it over with,
since I'd have to go sooner or later. I didn't expect much from that secluded
mountain village, but I was curious about one thing.
And that was Min T'ae-jun. What had been the point of
all his wandering? This was my chance to find out. I was curious about
what he'd studied in that village and what the people there thought of
him. That Min's field trips had always been shrouded in mystery piqued
my interest. And so, the focus of my trip was quite different from what
Min had expected; it had shifted to Min himself. I went to that mountain
village in Cholla with hardly a thought of the falconer he had wanted to
introduce to me.
From the instant I set foot in the village, I was taut
with anticipation. I felt as if Min had sent me there knowing everything
in advance. The "Falconer Incident" was waiting for me. The falconer....
And basically, that's how I came to write the first story
entitled "The Falconer."
The village was surrounded by mountains. On three sides,
one had to cross ridges to reach it. The only true entrance was from the
west through a narrow valley, but I approached from a ridge to the east.
I couldn't even tell the village was there until I reached the top of the
ridge. It looked like there were several more mountains to cross, since
the peaks to the south of the village appeared to overlap those to the
north. But at the ridge top I found the village below me-really more of
a cluster of houses than a village. All together there were about forty
thatched houses, sprouting like mushrooms on the hillside. To the west
was a flat basin under cultivation. It was definitely the village Min had
spoken of. I had walked the correct distance from the bus stop, and the
layout of the village resembled what Min had described in his notes.
I flopped down on the ridge and smoked a cigarette. For
a moment, I entertained an odd notion: Min had such bad lungs, he had probably
stopped to rest at this very same spot. Then I began to search for the
house Min had told me about. From where I sat, the village didn't look
as if it could provide me with a place to sleep, even if it was only for
a few nights. Actually, it was Min who said I should stay "a few nights."
In any event, I'd be staying that night at the very least. Min had told
me of a house where I could stay, but from the ridge, it didn't appear
that any of the little mushroom dwellings would have a room to spare.
Surely I can stay somewhere. Min is sick and he found
I decided to entrust my fate to that "surely," and lay
back blowing smoke into the air. Along the ridge, the spring daylight was
only just fading, but the mountains had long since cast shadows over the
village below. As I lay there, I realized how absurd I must have looked.
I felt like Min had played a trick on me. What could that tiny village
possibly have to offer? A falconer? What kind of story would that make?
But it wasn't the falconer I was interested in. It was Min's curious expedition.
It wasn't until the evening mist lifted and the silence
of night began to settle that I headed down toward the village. Perhaps
because it was dark or because I was used to the skyscrapers in the big
city, but earlier when I looked down from that distant ridge the houses
had looked small and miserable. Once in the village, though, I found them
quite substantial, with big yards. I encountered a couple of people but
didn't speak to them. I simply wandered the village for a while. But then
the evening cold began to slice into my skin, and I approached a man and
asked for the boy whose name Min had given me.
"Excuse me. Do you know where Chung-shik lives?"
"Who's this?" he asked in a familiar tone. He stepped
forward to peer at me through the darkness, then abruptly switched to a
more respectful tone.
"I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else... Let's
see, I think they live... Come this way."
He stepped past me and down the path to where the houses
came to an end.
"See that house across the paddy?" He pointed to a house
lit by the dim glow of a kerosene lamp. "That's it."
"Thank you. Sorry to make you go out of your way."
"Think nothing of it. Actually... " But then he merely
said goodbye and returned the way we had come.
I groped my way along the low embankment that crossed
the paddy, the light from the house my only guide. Closer, I realized that
the lamplight I had seen shining through a paper door was coming from a
small outbuilding, a structure like the one that Min said they used for
guests. Next to it, the main house was already sleeping in darkness. I
stepped up to the door of the outbuilding, but there was no sign of life.
I looked around, then knocked on the door. No answer. The light's on, I
reminded myself as I pressed my ear to the door. There was no porch, so
the only thing between me and the room was the paper covering the latticed
door. Someone was breathing inside-sleeping perhaps. I knew I shouldn't,
but I pulled on the door handle. The door popped open to reveal a boy no
more than ten, sleeping on his side, his dirty belly showing. He couldn't
be the one Min had told me about. Chung-shik was supposed to be a teenager.
"Hey kid, wake up," I whispered. I felt like a criminal,
and my heart pounded. The boy didn't budge. What the hell, I thought, slipping
off my shoes and stepping inside. I shook the boy. He muttered something
and turned as if to get up, but as soon as I drew my hand away he twisted
in the opposite direction and his breathing grew regular again. I gave
up and lit a cigarette. God only knew when Chung-shik would show up; all
I could do was wait. The lamp had been left burning, so I assumed Chung-shik
would show up sooner or later. But after sitting there a while, I found
myself growing restless again. Where was this Chung-shik? It was late enough
to make me wonder if he'd ever show up. The night was still, not so much
as an insect buzzing. Finally, I shook the boy again, this time until I
awakened him. He let out a few irritated groans and opened his eyes. For
a moment, he stared at me vacantly. Then he let out an odd-sounding cry
and jerked upright.
"Who are youuu?" the boy asked. A tinge of suspicion
spread across his face. Perhaps my features had finally come into focus.
I responded quickly to reassure him.
"I'm looking for Chung-shik. Do you know where he is?"
"Chung-shik?" he asked blankly. Then he seemed to understand,
and glanced around the room.
"Oh, he isn't back yet? He must be staying up all night
again," he said with a languid yawn. His suspicion seemed to have disappeared.
Apparently Chung-shik was in the habit of sleeping elsewhere, but it was
clear I wouldn't get much help from the boy. It was hard enough learning
that Chung-shik was probably spending the night in a shed somewhere. The
boy kept forgetting what I asked, and now that his guard was down he kept
drifting off to sleep. It took a string of rapid-fire questions simply
to learn Chung-shik often stayed in the shed all night. But why? There
was no way I would find out from this boy. I had to see Chung-shik myself.
And so I asked the boy to take me to him. I asked him nicely at first,
but ended up ordering him. The boy stood up reluctantly and said he would
fetch Chung-shik. He stepped out the door grumbling about people from Seoul
always looking for Chung-shik.
Only then did my thoughts return to Min back in Seoul.
I was so preoccupied with finding Chung-shik that I'd forgotten Min had
stayed in this very room, that he was the reason I had come here, that
he was somehow linked to this isolated village. I looked about for any
sign of his presence, then stretched out on the floor. I thought back to
Min's expression the previous day. Had it harbored some trace of what I
had seen here, some hint of the thatched houses clustered like mushrooms
on the hillside, of the path at night, of the man who had pointed me in
the direction of the light shining across the paddy, of the boy who had
just left... ? A sound broke the silence, and I bolted upright. I looked
around the room. It sounded like a cough, not loud, and I was sure it had
come from inside the room. But there was nothing. I lay down again, and
as I returned to my reveries something moved in my field of vision-a shadow
in the darkness of the ceiling. I leapt up and peered at the shadow. There,
perched on a piece of wood nailed to the rafters, was a falcon, head nestled
between her shoulders. She rolled her eyes, making me wonder if I'd awakened
her, but otherwise remained still. When I moved closer her head popped
up but she made no attempt to escape. She simply looked confused by her
shadow flickering on the ceiling.
That's when I heard the boy returning. For some reason,
I scurried back to my spot on the floor.
I could hear two pairs of footsteps. They seemed to pause
for a moment just outside, and then the door opened. Two boys stood there:
the one with the sleep in his eyes and behind him a skinnier boy in his
late teens. The second boy looked at me in silence, then bowed abruptly.
"Chung-shik? I'm sorry about this!"
I stood to greet the boy, but he simply glanced about
nervously as if it were someone else's house.
"Come in. You're the one I've come to see," I explained
eagerly, beckoning him inside. The boy leaned through the door, looking
around the room, then entered cautiously. He moved slowly, but his eyes
were alert, and he seemed quite intelligent. And for some reason his gaunt
face bore a shadow of sadness. The boy simply stood there until I pointed
to a place to sit. I had become the host and he was my guest.
"You know who Min T'ae-jun is, don't you? He visited
not long ago."
I looked the boy straight in the eye and tried to introduce
myself. His eyes lit up. He made a strange sound and wrenched his shoulders
in recognition. Then he turned to the little boy.
"He's a dummy," the boy explained.
This was a complete surprise. But it accounted for the
boy's strange behavior.
Min had given me no hint of this nor had I had any reason
to anticipate such a thing. A dummy-that was what the Cholla people called
a deaf-mute. Only later did I learn that Chung-shik was the boy's name,
the one that appeared on his family register, but everyone in the village
called him the Dummy.
I looked the boy over with a sense of frustration that
bordered on despair. Apparently taken aback by my reaction, he seemed restless,
as if he wanted to tell me something.
With the help of the younger boy, I continued my frustrating
conversation with Chung-shik. He seemed able to hear a bit, and he could
understand most of what I said by studying my lips and gestures.
But when it came his turn to speak, I was lost, no matter
how he gestured. The younger boy had to explain everything. When the mute
boy realized I was a friend of Min, he urged the younger boy to ask for
news of him. He watched to make sure the little boy conveyed his inquiry
correctly, then nodded at me while he waited for my answer. I told him
that Min was fine. Min, I went on to explain, was the one who had told
me about him. Speaking in short sentences, I said I had come to find out
about the falconer Min had observed, but I would be just as happy if he
told me about Min's activities in the village. The boy listened intently,
squinting as if he didn't want to miss a single word. From time to time
he nodded deeply, his face filled with emotion. Finally a sad expression
crossed his face and he groaned.
The falconer was dying, he said.
This renewed my sense of urgency and I pushed for more
information. In my frustration I ended up interrogating the smaller boy
The falconer. According to the boy, the falconer was
a fifty-year-old bachelor who now lay dying in a shed at one of the other
houses. At one time he had worked for that family, but no one knew why
he had returned there to die. He had been in bed more than a week, taking
no food, wasting away. Why he had chosen to die that way was a mystery
(though everyone in the village agreed he meant to kill himself), because
he hadn't said a word since taking to bed. At first, the villagers took
him rice gruel and urged him to eat, but he kept his silence. Now everyone
seemed resigned to awaiting his death. At night it was scary up there;
no one dared approach the shed. Chung-shik was the only one who watched
over the man, and sometimes he sat up with him through the night.
That was as far as the younger boy's story went. The
sleep gathering in his eyes finally stilled his lips. Chung-shik looked
tired as he waited for the story to finish, and I was famished. I suppressed
my curiosity and beckoned Chung-shik to sleep. He seemed to want to continue
talking but he leaned forward to blow out the lantern. Then he stopped,
stood and took the falcon down from the rafters. A tiny bell tinkled. Someone
must have belled the falcon.
Chung-shik wrapped the string fastened to the falcon's
leg around his hand and extinguished the lantern. He lay down, hand on
his belly, the falcon perched on the hand. He appeared to close his eyes.
I took off my jacket and lay down, but I was hungry and tired and couldn't
sleep. Only part of the falconer's story had come out, and now my questions
came gushing to the fore. Who was this fellow they called the falconer?
Why was he doing what he was? And the boy with the falcon perched on his
belly-he sat up all night with a half-dead man no one else would get near.
He must know the reason. No, he probably knew even more than I thought
he did. How had the boy come to be so close to that man? Stranger still
was Min T'ae-jun. He had sent me here at just the right time, as if he
knew everything in advance. But did he really?
Chung-shik couldn't sleep either. He breathed unevenly
and kept tossing and turning. Each time I saw him move, the falcon woke
and rolled her eyes in the darkness. The falcon would have slept fitfully
even if the boy had drifted off. The boy's belly rose and fell with each
breath, forcing the falcon to constantly readjust her perch. And each time
she moved, the bell tinkled. Still, the falcon didn't jump from the boy's
stomach. The boy seemed determined to keep her awake, and later I learned
that was exactly what he was doing.
Sleep came with difficulty that night. I felt mired in
a chaotic dream, a dream that might detain me much longer than I'd planned.
The next morning, I was the first to rise. I waited for
Chung-shik to wake. Family members from the main house were busy in the
yard with the daily chores. The falcon still sat precariously on the boy's
wrist, readjusting her perch from time to time. The silk string was still
wrapped around the boy's finger. The falcon couldn't have slept much during
It wasn't long before the boy opened his eyes. Startled,
he jumped to his feet, threw me a sheepish grin, and burst out the door
into the yard. I watched him through the crack in the door. He gestured
excitedly to a middle-aged man in the courtyard, then the two of them walked
back to the outbuilding where I was waiting. The man was the boy's father.
He thanked me profusely for gracing their wretched place with my presence
and asked for news of Min. Min had stayed at their house too, he said,
and they were grateful for all he had done for them. Recalling that Min
had exhausted most of the family fortune on his trips, I immediately understood.
The boy waited to the side as we exchanged pleasantries, then tugged at
"He wants you to go see the falconer with him. It's all
such a mystery. You'll see what I mean. Maybe you can get him to talk."
Only then did I understand what the boy wanted and set
out after him.
The falconer lay in a shed outside the main room of a
house in the upper part of the village. Covered in straw, hollow eyes gaping,
he looked half-dead already. A bowl was on the floor beside him-perhaps
the boy had tried to feed him water. It looked as if they had abandoned
all hope of getting him to eat. The man's face was impassive as I followed
the boy into the shed. The boy grunted and gestured busily to the glassy
eyes. By then I understood the boy's gestures better and realized he was
introducing me. He explained I was from Seoul, a friend of Mr. Min's, that
I'd come to convey his greetings. The man's eyes seemed to move slightly,
very, very slightly. But that was all. And then his pupils went blank.
I couldn't bear to watch, so I asked Chung-shik to feed him. The boy shook
his head feebly and instead brought a bowl of water. He tried to spoon
a few drops into the man's mouth, but he ignored him. He looked too weak
to spit out the water, which bubbled on his lips; most of it dribbled down
After returning to Chung-shik's house for breakfast,
I went to the boy's room and stretched out on the floor. The younger boy,
the sleepy-head, was nowhere to be seen; he must have gone home. Chung-shik
took the falcon down from her perch and examined her talons and beak.
"What do you feed her?" I asked.
The boy looked at me and shook his head. He didn't feed
"She'll die if you don't feed her."
The boy gave me an odd smile that I hadn't seen from
him before. To be sure, it was hardly a smile of delight. Rather, it was
how people smile when they have something difficult to tell. He may have
been mute, but the smile was the same. Still, he didn't reveal its meaning
immediately. He simply stroked the falcon and pretended not to understand.
Two tiny bells dangling beneath the falcon's tail feathers tinkled each
time the bird moved, and a long feather inscribed with the words "Kwak
Tol-Lightning Bolt" in Indian ink was attached to the bird's tail.
Kwak Tol was the falcon's keeper, the boy explained,
and Lightning Bolt was the bird.
"So this falcon isn't yours?"
An uncertain expression flashed across the boy's face.
Reluctantly, he explained that the falcon belonged to the man in the shed-Kwak
Tol. And then the boy began to tell the story of the falcon.
He hadn't fed Lightning Bolt for three days, or let her
sleep. One never fed a falcon before taking her out hunting, he explained
with a knowing smile. Later I learned that the falconer prevented the bird
from sleeping in order to make her fiercer. The fiercer a falcon was, the
better she hunted. And the falcon wasn't fed before a hunt because she
wouldn't pursue the prey, pheasant or rabbit, unless she was hungry. The
boy said a falcon would simply fly off into the blue if she were released
with a full belly. Besides, she had to be ravenous if you wanted her to
stay with the prey after catching it. Otherwise, she'd just peck out the
eyes and fly off. A runaway bird always returned to a village when she
grew hungry, but she wouldn't necessarily return to her owner. And when
she was found, the owner had to pay a high price for her return. Still,
I felt three days without food was a bit extreme.
"Do you still go out hunting?"
The boy shook his head. He was always ready, he explained,
but never actually went. It took more than one person, and he didn't have
anyone to go with, and besides there weren't many pheasants nowadays. He
smiled again. I finally realized what that smile meant. He wanted me to
go hunting with him. It had probably been the same with Min. Min had gone
hunting, and now the boy expected me to do the same.
That's how I ended up hunting with the boy and his falcon,
though it was hardly the season. The boy carried the falcon on his wrist,
the string wrapped around his finger. The boy was the falconer and I was
the beater. He would climb to the top of a ridge, and survey the valleys.
My job was to tramp the ravines, beating the bushes for pheasants. If a
pheasant took flight, the boy was to release the falcon. The falcon would
circle in the sky, and when she saw the pheasant, she'd swoop down to catch
it. I was to run to where the falcon landed and take the pheasant before
she had eaten her fill.
Our efforts that particular day were fruitless. We crossed
ridge after ridge, but there wasn't a pheasant to be found. The boy never
had a chance to release the falcon, and the falcon didn't get to do anything.
When a falcon catches a pheasant, the beater always takes it away-but not
before giving the falcon the entrails or a few pieces of breast meat. That's
how falcons keep up their strength. But that day, as the shadows of the
mountains settled over the ravines, Lightning Bolt rode home on the boy's
wrist without a taste of meat. From my point of view, however, the day
hadn't been completely in vain. I had learned something of the practices
Min had told me to look into. More important, as we rested on some rocks
on the way back, the boy, disappointed perhaps at returning empty-handed,
began to talk about his falcon. I couldn't have hoped for more. I had been
confused, not knowing whether to focus on Min's activities in the village
or on the falconer who lay awaiting a curious death right before my eyes.
The boy's story fixed my sights firmly on the falconer. As a result, my
first story entitled "The Falconer" was born, and I came to a much clearer
understanding of Min's trips and the falconer, as well as why Min had sent
me there, than I would have had I focused solely on Min.
Upon returning to the village that evening, I stopped
by the shed to check on the falconer. Seeing his condition hadn't changed
since morning, I asked the boy to go on with his story. I had grown quite
adept at understanding him. Not only did the boy tell me everything he
himself had seen and experienced, he related what he had heard from others.
This is a good spot to bring in my first version of "The
Falconer." No doubt it will bore those of you who have read the story and
remember what happens. But it might not be such a bad idea to come right
out and quote from it here, since it is a more or less concise rendering
of the falconer's story, and there's no point in telling the same story
in different words.
Kwak the falconer ended up taking the Dummy. He had no
choice. The villagers wouldn't take the job of beater nowadays, even if
they had nothing better to do. They'd rather spend their time chopping
birch branches to sell for a pittance at market or playing flower cards
in a nice, warm room. In the old days, people didn't think of beating as
a job; they did it for fun, even if they went all day without catching
so much as a rabbit. It was exhausting work, tramping the mountains from
morning till night with nothing to eat, but they always returned home ruddy-faced
and smiling, determined to try again another day. Of course, it was even
better if they caught a pheasant. Then there was a feast. A pheasant was
a good excuse for a drinking party, however meager. And if there was a
wedding or some other celebration in the village, they sent the pheasant
to the host, who would reciprocate with a platter of rice cakes or a jug
of rice wine. But nowadays they sold the pheasants at market. No more excuses
for a drinking party, no more sending pheasants to village celebrations
and trusting the host family to decide its worth. In short, none of the
old-time courtesies. Granted, the old-timers may have been naive. But back
then people enjoyed such things and still managed to get by with fewer
worries. Nowadays nobody had the time for such silliness, yet were their
lives any better for that?
Such were Kwak's thoughts as they crossed the fields
and began climbing into the hills. He turned abruptly to look at the Dummy.
A wave of gratitude coursed through him. The boy may not have been able
to talk, but he certainly was good-hearted. The falconer was fifty, but
everyone in the village, even the little kids, addressed him rudely, simply
calling him Kwak, the way you'd refer to a bachelor. The adults didn't
treat him like a normal person, and it was only natural that the children
should follow their lead. From the way they acted, you might have thought
that Kwak was a whipper snapper of twenty or so. Worse, he wasn't like
other people, who could depend on family or know-how for a living. His
job, if you could call it that, was walking around with this bird that
he forever starved and kept awake. He slept in other people's spare rooms,
and with luck he found enough to eat. He spent his days tramping the mountains,
a sorry exercise in pheasant hunting. In the old days, falconers were gallivants
who could expect a free drink wherever they went. But no one now would
dream of a free drink or meal on account of a falcon, and all the village
kids, who knew nothing of those high-living days, thought Kwak a most peculiar
beggar. He was the village outcast.
The Dummy was different. He never teased Kwak. Strangely
enough, he enjoyed hunting with Kwak, and often shared the family guest
room with him. He studied the way Kwak trained the falcons and imitated
everything, to the last detail. For example, he knew how to use a dove
as bait to catch a falcon, how to get falcons accustomed to people, how
to keep them awake, and how to make them fierce by starving them. He was
Kwak's only friend, and he accompanied him on all his hunting trips.
As soon as they crossed a ridge and the village was no
longer visible, Kwak handed Lightning Bolt to the boy and he took her up
the ridge toward the nearest peak. From this point on, the boy was the
falconer and Kwak was the beater. The boy scanned the slopes as he climbed
from crest to crest, and it was Kwak's job to tramp the ravines, beating
the sunny spots for pheasants. There was no question Kwak's was the more
tiring job. All the boy had to do was release Lightning Bolt. Kwak, on
the other hand, after beating the foliage, had to run to where Lightning
Bolt downed her prey and take it away before she'd had her fill. They should
have switched jobs. The soles of Kwak's feet may have grown leathery from
his years in the mountains, but lately he panted for breath when he ran.
He should have been the falconer, and the lively young Dummy the beater.
But that was impossible. The boy was mute; he couldn't shout to rouse the
pheasants from the bushes, nor could he signal the falconer when a pheasant
took flight. He had tried the beater's job, but it was pointless. Kwak
had no other choice, and yet he was lucky. If not for the boy, he would
have had to beat the bushes and handle the falcon all by himself. I just
hope we catch a pheasant today, Kwak thought. Lately he seemed to be getting
faster from all the running. He pulled out his tobacco and rolled a cigarette
as he watched the Dummy move off into the distance along the ridge. The
boy disappeared into the woods and reappeared near the top. He waved his
arms, then climbed to the summit. Kwak crushed out his cigarette and stood.
He looked for a sunny spot and began beating his way into the empty woods.
"Yahoo!" he shouted as he darted through the bushes. It was hard to believe,
such speed for a man his age. He thrashed his way through a sunlit ravine,
throwing stones and shouting, then began to search the slope. "Yahoo!"
When Kwak had finished, the boy disappeared, crossed another ravine, and
reappeared on the crest of another ridge, waving his arms back and forth.
Kwak headed for the next ravine. Thorns had ripped the cuffs of his pants,
and now and then he slipped on gravel patches. His mangled hands were covered
with dry blood. But he hadn't seen a single bird, not even a baby dove.
"Yahoo!" His shouts dissolved into echoes, and the memory of a cock pheasant
taking flight with a whoosh seemed as faint as a sound heard in a distant
dream. Kwak began to falter, and his shouts seemed to creep back down his
throat. The boy was waiting on the crest of the fourth ridge. Clouds had
been gathering all day; they now blocked much of the sunlight, and it seemed
quite late. Kwak was exhausted. He scrambled breathlessly to the crest,
and there they shared the lunch the boy had carried in a wrapping cloth
tied around his waist. After lunch, they found a sheltered spot to rest.
Lightning Bolt seemed to have a touch of a cold. There wasn't much sun
in the afternoon. Kwak briefly considered heading home, but decided to
search a bit more. As always, the boy handled the falcon and Kwak tramped
the ravines. But the outcome was the same. By the time the sun had dipped
behind the mountains to the west and shadows had begun to fill the ravines,
Kwak was ready to drop in his tracks. His choked shouts were soon reduced
to whispers. Then all of a sudden a cock pheasant burst into the air. Whoosh,
whoosh! It had been so long since Kwak had heard that sound fill the ravines.
Energy shot through him. "Pheasant! It's a pheasant!" he bellowed, turning
toward the crest. Lightning Bolt took flight as if she had been anticipating
this moment. She soared through the air like a kite, circled above the
ravine, and shot earthward like an arrow. Kwak set out toward the falcon's
target, running at a furious pace, feet barely touching the ground. Where
was the strength coming from? But then he stumbled face first into a gravel
patch. There he lay, as helpless now as he had been energized before.
The boy scanned the ravine, but there was no sign of
Kwak. Should I go down to where she landed? He calculated the distance
with his eyes. Suddenly, Lightning Bolt soared skyward once more. Up, up
into the sky, and then she set her course and flew off across the mountains.
That means... The boy dashed down the mountain. A falcon flies off when
she's had her fill of the pheasant's entrails and soft, fatty meat. Where
was Kwak? Something must have happened.
The boy discovered Kwak lying in the gravel. The man
was on his back now, gazing at the sky, his eyes fixed on the falcon's
path. When he saw the boy, he stood and brushed himself off. He seemed
to have enjoyed stretching out comfortably in the gravel.
On the way home, Kwak thought about Old So. He'd be pleased.
He was the one who was always telling Kwak to give up falconry and find
another livelihood. He had promised Kwak a place to sleep and three meals
a day if he did. For some reason, Old So couldn't stand the idea of Kwak
being a falconer.
"You know, you remind me of a gentleman-scholar from
the Kingdom of the Sages," Old So sniped. "Times have changed. You've got
to find a way to make a living."
Old So had been a regular customer of the falconers in
the old days. He was the one who engaged their services, and when a falcon
flew off to another village, he was the one who put up the reward for the
falcon's return. He willingly set the falconers up year round, and when
winter came he sent them out hunting.
Kwak had managed to eke out a living by making a nuisance
of himself to Old So, thanks perhaps to the older man's lingering affection
for the trade. But now even So had changed. He found Kwak even more annoying
than the other villagers did, and he complained about him the most. Kwak
had to rely on the good graces of the Dummy. He had trained Lightning Bolt
in that room at the Dummy's house. Still, Old So flew into a rage every
time he ran into the falconer, always harping on that familiar theme.
I'll bet the old man dances a jig when he hears Lightning
Bolt flew off. He'll tell me to forget she ever existed.
A new worry began to plague Kwak from that night on.
Market day was four days away. There was sure to be word of the falcon
at market. When a runaway falcon grew hungry, she always landed where people
were. As long as the falcon didn't fly too far afield, the tag on her tail
was certain to bring word of her whereabouts.
But there was a problem. Kwak couldn't afford to go and
collect the bird, nor could he simply stay home. First of all, if he wanted
Lightning Bolt back, he had to come up with the equivalent of an 18-liter
sack of rice for the reward. That was the custom. But Kwak didn't have
a copper to his name. There was one ray of hope, though, and Kwak prayed
it would turn out that way. A falcon owner who couldn't pay the reward
would go to the village where the bird had landed and work the falcon for
two or three days. The visiting falconer had only to climb the mountains
and release his falcon if a pheasant took flight. The village provided
the beater. Even so, the falconer was treated as a guest and provided food,
drink and lodging. At least that was the custom in the old days, when a
man with a falcon never had to worry about a meal or a place to sleep.
Nowadays, however, no one trained falcons, and you were lucky if people
didn't treat you like an oddity. Kwak couldn't expect much. He couldn't
win either way. If he offered to work the falcon for a few days, the people
in the village would probably think him daft. On the other hand, he had
no way to produce the reward money. Be that as it may, it would hardly
be proper just to retrieve the falcon and come home. According to custom,
an owner couldn't simply take his falcon back, even if it meant selling
himself to the village. It wasn't the law, but it had become the custom.
And pretending you hadn't heard your falcon had landed was even more objectionable.
Retrieving the falcon without paying a reward would be unforgivable in
Kwak's eyes; feigning ignorance of the bird's whereabouts would be unforgivable
in the eyes of those in the village where the bird had landed.
Kwak finally made a decision. News of Lightning Bolt's
whereabouts was almost sure to come on market day; Kwak had to come up
with the money somehow. He decided to approach Old So-the only person he
could discuss his predicament with. After all, the old man had hired Kwak
to hunt in the past, and he was the one who had given falconers from other
villages a place to sleep. But the main reason was that Old So had meddled
most in his affairs. The other villagers treated Kwak as if he were half
crazy, but So still took the time to scold him. Kwak, then, felt he could
discuss his situation with the old man. He visited So that evening. The
old man was elated as Kwak had expected. The falcon was giving Kwak a chance
at life as a real human being, Old So explained happily. It was the best
thing that could have happened.
"It's time you pulled yourself together and tried your
hand at something else. There's things for you to do right here, at my
house. You've been crazy over that falcon for too long. But look! She's
the one who left you."
"There's sure to be word of Lightning Bolt on market
day," Kwak countered stubbornly.
"Well, if you ask me, nobody in this day and age is crazy
enough to drag some bird all the way to market just so he can return it
to you. But what if they do? Just pretend you don't know anything, or else
tell them to keep the bird-that way you rid yourself of the sickness."
"But how could I..."
"Well, I'm not giving you the money. Understand? Besides,
no one's going to send word of that bird to market. If they do, they're
Kwak gave up.
"If you're going to keep on about that falcon, you'd
better not set foot in this house again. Don't you realize I'm telling
you this because I feel sorry for you? Why are you so stubborn?"
Kwak left without a word and returned to his room at
the Dummy's house. He sat lost in thought and didn't eat a thing until
late that evening when the boy rummaged through the kitchen and brought
him a bowl of cold rice. Kwak ate a few lumps and lay awake most of the
Damn it, Lightning Bolt, you're only a stupid bird....
Late the next afternoon Kwak went back to see Old So.
It was the day before market day, but there had already been word of Lightning
Bolt. A man had brought news that a falcon had landed in Ch'on'gwan Village,
seven or eight miles away. He said they wanted the owner to pick up the
bird at market the following day.
"It's a sickness, you know. Tell me: When was the last
time you caught a pheasant with that falcon? When was the last time someone
from the village went out beating for you? What the hell are you going
to do with that bird when you get it back? You're driving me crazy!"
The old man looked at Kwak. His expression transcended
anger, bespoke a frustration that had outworn patience.
"But I can't pretend I didn't get the message, even if
I don't go hunting anymore..."
"What? Do you think you're in a position to worry about
Kwak said nothing. That didn't mean he had surrendered,
though. The way he sat, immovable as a stone, he seemed determined to get
the reward money, no matter what Old So had to say.
"It's not the money that bothers me," Old So explained.
"It's just that I can't stand the idea of you wasting your time on that
"I'm not doing it because I want to hunt. Besides, the
hunting's no good anymore."
"So it really is a matter of principle?" Old So's voice
"I have to get Lightning Bolt back."
"Then can you promise me something?" The old man's voice
grew even quieter.
Kwak couldn't understand what the old man was driving
at. For the first time, he looked him squarely in the eye.
"Promise me you won't ever go hunting again..."
Kwak clamped his mouth shut again.
"Go get the bird, but don't you dare bring that falcon
sickness back with you. Don't get me wrong. Remember how I used to hire
you boys? Well, it's different now. Do you think I'd criticize you for
nothing? I'm not that unreasonable. I'm doing it because things have changed,
and because I know you're a good man at heart, and I want you to be treated
like everyone else. I don't know all the answers, but one thing's for sure:
you're suffering because of that falcon."
The old man had his say, then he gave Kwak the money.
But on one condition-he must never go hunting again. Kwak, though, left
the old man's house, money clutched in his fist, without ever making that
promise. And as he walked away Kwak entertained a vague thought-people
who flow with the times not only live better for it, they also love to
brag about how perceptive and clever they are for doing so. But Kwak may
have sensed that long before. Perhaps that was why he had never felt the
least bit thankful for all the concern and advice the old man had offered
Kwak carefully folded the money Old So had given him and
put it in his waistband. Early the next morning he went to the marketplace.
Not knowing when or where the people from the other village would be waiting,
he wandered aimlessly through the crowd. Who had the falcon? He poked his
head inside the silk shop, then warded off the spring chill in front of
the glowing coals at the blacksmith's shop. Whenever he saw a familiar
face he asked if by chance the person had seen Lightning Bolt. He combed
the crowd for anyone with a falcon, and amid the din of the market, he
listened for the tinkling bells. At his favorite tavern, he stopped, but
after fingering the money in his waistband he moved on.
It was afternoon when Kwak finally met up with Lightning
Bolt. Passing by another tavern, he caught a glimpse of a familiar face,
flushed with drink, the face of a man who had worked with falcons in another
village. He had long since lost contact with the man. Filled with delight,
he stepped inside, and there on the man's knee was the falcon.
"What took you so long?"
"How was I supposed to know you were in here? I must
have circled the market ten times. How did you get hold of my bird?"
The two men were quite close. One had given up falconry
for good; the other had not, and was tormented because of it. But for a
moment they returned to the old days when people still hunted with falcons:
one man proud he had found the falcon, the other struggling to conceal
his joy at retrieving his prized possession.
"This falcon's no fool. She knew where to land. You're
going to have to pay dearly for this. And I just happen to be a bit strapped
Kwak thought of the money in his waistband and grinned.
"Hey, sit down and thaw out for a while! Don't tell me
you're going to take your little baby and run," the other man said.
Kwak pulled up a bench and took the falcon.
"You little rascal. How do you think I feel?"
Lightning Bolt's eyes were bleary, and her tail drooped.
"She's got a cold. She was cold and hungry when she landed.
Her eyes are all gummy too."
The falcon had a touch of something the day she flew
off. Kwak set Lightning Bolt on his knee and poured some soju into an earthenware
"I couldn't believe it when I heard you were still hunting
with a falcon. Do you catch anything? I mean, are there pheasants to catch
anymore? Who does the beating?"
Kwak drank his soju in silence.
"You know what I mean. If there were still pheasants,
do you think I'd have left my village? To work as a lousy day laborer?
Imagine-a falconer who hasn't starved to death! Mighty impressive!"
"So you think I'm lucky just to be alive?"
They exchanged several rounds of drinks.
"Did you bring me a nice fat reward?"
"Ah, come on! Can't we enjoy the drinks first?" But Kwak
dug into his waistband anyway.
"So you really brought it?" The man's eyes lit up.
"You bet! I didn't figure any one would ask me to go
hunting in their village."
His friend's face fell and his features twisted. He tossed
down his soju as if no longer savoring it, then rose determinedly from
his seat. "Let's go," he said.
"Already?" Kwak stood up in bewilderment.
"I found the falcon's owner and warmed up with a drink,
so it's time, isn't it?"
"But, but... What about the reward?"
"The reward? Give it back to whoever lent it to you.
Obviously it's not yours. Where would a falconer get that kind of money?
Still, I'm impressed you came up with it."
The man even paid for the drinks.
"What the hell are you doing? How can you do this? Think
of the principle of the thing."
"Principle? What principle? Shut up and take your falcon.
I can cover the drinks."
And with that, they left the tavern. The former falconer
said he was off to Ch'on'gwan Village, but Kwak clung to his sleeve.
"I'm supposed to go to your village and hunt for a few
"Ha, that's why I envy you. You're living in a comfortable
little dream world."
Kwak still didn't get it.
"I can't just take back the falcon."
"Now listen. When your falcon landed in my village, no
one wanted to come all this way to return her. They all told me to send
her back into the mountains. You may think I don't have any principles,
but I'm the miserable bastard who brought that bird all the way to market
to find you. I could have just sent her back. Do you understand? Are you
still glad to have her back?"
He gazed at the befuddled Kwak and asked one last question,
this time in an earnest tone:
"Tell me, are you going to keep on hunting when you get
Kwak remained silent, face expressionless, just like
the day Old So had lectured him.
The man studied Kwak's face, then turned to leave. "I'll
be going then."
Kwak stared vacantly after him.
Returning home that afternoon, Kwak felt an intense loneliness.
He stumbled along like a person on the verge of collapse. If only his friend
had complained the reward money was too small. That would have brought
relief. But now his conscience smarted, he seethed with rage. Clever Old
So couldn't have imagined things turning out this way. Kwak hadn't expected
to be asked to the other village to hunt in lieu of the reward, but who
would have thought the other falconer would simply hand over Lightning
Bolt and run off without taking a single copper by way of thanks? From
his words, and his paying for the drinks, it was clear the other falconer
pitied Kwak. So what if I have a tough life? Kwak thought. Handing over
the falcon just like that doesn't save me any face, does it? Kwak stopped
at another tavern. He couldn't bring himself to take the money back to
As Kwak entered the tavern, the falcon perched on his
arm, some old men drinking there chuckled knowingly. "A falconer, eh?"
They seemed to think Kwak was quite an oddity. Kwak ignored them, sat down,
and ordered a drink. The men returned to their conversation.
Kwak remained at the tavern until he had exhausted the
money in his waistband. And yet he hardly seemed affected by the liquor.
He had always been able to hold his liquor, and he had warmed up with the
drinks he had shared with the other falconer. What's more, he had eaten
everything the barmaid had brought, never bothering to check the bill.
But more than anything else, the reward money-the price of one sack of
rice-didn't amount to much. Still, he felt less miserable now. He began
humming the song he sang sometimes when hunting with his falcon. As he
started up the mountain path, his legs trembled. It was still early spring,
but the evening sun beat down and perspiration trickled down his back.
He quickly decided he needed to rest his legs. No reason to rush back to
the village. After all, whose village was it anyway? It was for people
who had a house there, for people who had a family there. His village,
his house were wherever someone was willing to hire a falconer. But no
one was willing to hire him now. And of course he had no family either.
The village had become "his" village only because he was recognized as
a masterless falconer there. There was no reason to push his tired legs.
He found a patch of sun-lit ground sheltered from the wind and stretched
out. And as he usually did, he perched Lightning Bolt on his wrist, lay
his arm across his belly, and fell sound asleep.
That was the last the villagers saw of Kwak as he used
to be. Those who had encountered him before he stopped to rest greeted
him as always-with a tinge of sarcasm and amusement-and Kwak had responded
in good humor, thanks to the drink. But that was the last time Kwak spoke
to anyone from the village.
The Dummy's father discovered him sleeping by the side
of the road as he returned from market at dusk. That was when Kwak changed-from
the moment the boy's father awakened him. It's hard to say how he changed.
Maybe nothing had changed. Nobody could say if he had changed, or how.
It was as if Kwak had suddenly gone mute. He didn't answer anyone, he didn't
talk to himself. Was it a dream? Had he dreamt something that frightened
him? Had he received some sort of signal in a dream? The Dummy's father
said that when he woke Kwak, the falconer acted like a man who had been
dreaming. He stared at him with a strange look, as if he had never seen
Dream or not, Kwak was different. His curious behavior
after docilely returning to the village with the falcon on his arm proved
that. Kwak went straight to the Dummy's room and set about starving Lightning
Bolt. He himself stretched out on the floor without a word to the boy,
his closest friend. At first, Chung-shik thought Kwak was preparing to
go hunting. Oddly, though, Kwak didn't touch the food the boy brought him.
Kwak was starving the falcon and himself at the same time. And he didn't
sleep either, just as he didn't permit Lightning Bolt to sleep. He may
have slept when the boy was gone, but when Chung-shik was at his side he
simply stared at the ceiling. Lightning Bolt quickly weakened-she hadn't
eaten since landing in the other village-and her cold seemed to have worsened
as a result. Only when she was completely spent did the boy realize Kwak
wasn't preparing to go hunting at all. True, they never fed the falcon
before going out, but this was too much. Lightning Bolt gasped for breath.
She couldn't hold herself up, and Kwak's eyes grew hollower each day. The
boy couldn't understand it. Kwak didn't speak. A shiver ran down the boy's
spine when the falconer, once so friendly, stared at the ceiling or gazed
at him with those hollow eyes. Still, the boy could hardly throw Kwak out.
The villagers, especially Old So, said the falcon demon had finally possessed
Kwak, but the boy waited. He was sure he would come to understand Kwak
in the end.
On the evening of the fourth day, Kwak opened the door
and went outside. He shuffled across the yard and pulled a rooster, just
settling down for the night, from the chicken coop under the porch of the
main house. Then he returned to the boy's room and brought out Lightning
Bolt. The Dummy and his father watched in breathless anticipation. Oblivious
to their stares, Kwak gazed placidly at Lightning Bolt as he slowly untied
the string on her leg. The bird's tiny nostrils were clogged with mucus,
and she sneezed several times. After untying the falcon's string, Kwak
dropped the rooster to the ground. The sound of Lightning Bolt's bell sent
the rooster scurrying across the yard. Kwak threw the falcon in its direction.
Lightning Bolt darted after it. When the rooster realized the falcon was
on the attack, it flattened itself to the ground. Lightning Bolt swooped
down on the rooster. Her cold didn't seem to have dampened her fighting
spirit. But as soon as she latched onto the rooster's throat she started
gasping. Kwak flung open the door of the outbuilding and sat on the threshold,
staring vacantly at the scene unfolding before him. The rooster flapped
about as it struggled frantically for its life, taxing the ailing Lightning
Bolt. The falcon shook the rooster, ripping and tearing at its throat,
but spent as much time on the ground as the rooster. Finally, crimson began
squirting from the rooster's throat-or was it from somewhere on Lightning
Bolt? The Dummy and his father remained motionless, watching the horrifying
spectacle. Finally the falcon penetrated the rooster's breast. A demon
bird, her head covered with blood, Lightning Bolt ripped the entrails free
and began pecking at them. The falcon paused from time to time to shake
the blood from her beak. Soon her feathers and the surrounding earth were
flecked with crimson. Before long she abandoned the rooster and wiped off
her beak in a gesture of satisfaction. But then her tottering grew even
more pronounced than before, as if the sudden satiation had robbed her
of all strength. Normally she would have tried to take flight, but all
she did now was ramble about the yard. Once or twice she seemed poised
to take off, but she could manage no more than a feeble stretch of the
neck. Finally Kwak rose from the threshold. He slowly crossed the yard,
scooped the falcon up, then walked out the side gate without a word. Dusk
was falling. Kwak disappeared into the pine grove on the hill behind the
house. The Dummy and his father were left to ponder their rooster's bizarre
death. They decided they had better keep an eye on Kwak for the time being.
The boy found him in the woods, struggling desperately to send the falcon
into the sky. Though Lightning Bolt hadn't the slightest intention of flying,
Kwak picked her up and threw her into the air again and again.
Kwak didn't return to the Dummy's room. The boy thought
it strange, but there was no finding the falconer in the dark of night.
The boy waited and waited, and finally fell asleep. He was still alone
when he opened his eyes the next morning. There was no sign Kwak had visited
during the night.
The boy's father told him something odd as they ate breakfast.
He said Kwak had been found lying in Old So's shed in the upper village.
He hadn't broken his silence or taken any food. Kwak didn't have the falcon
with him, his father said. Perhaps he had finally sent her flying.
The boy dashed to the shed as soon as he finished his
meal. There Kwak lay, staring blankly at the ceiling, to all appearances
a dying man. He scarcely seemed to breath. Several villagers were there
trying to reason with him. Some of the women had brought him scorched-rice
porridge, but Kwak didn't respond. It was as if he were already half-dead.
Now that you know how the falconer's peculiar fast began,
it might be a good idea to return to the main story. The villagers had
grown weary of Kwak's plight by the time I arrived. Old So sat in his living
room, fuming that Kwak was possessed by the falcon demon. He hadn't once
gone to check on him, though.
Another curious thing was how the boy had come into possession
of the falcon.
"How did you get Kwak's falcon back?" I asked him.
The boy thought Kwak had sent the falcon flying for good,
but the next day-that is, the day after Kwak began his fast in Old So's
shed-Lightning Bolt returned. In fact, she went straight to the Dummy's
house. The boy's first thought was to take Lightning Bolt to Kwak, but
somehow it didn't feel like the right thing to do. And now he was actually
hiding the fact from Kwak, for he sensed the falconer would be cross if
he knew. The boy's father had scolded him for taking the falcon in again,
but the boy refused to send her away. He wanted his own falcon and he wanted
to hunt. Knowing there was no way around his son's obstinacy, his father
did not push the issue.
Anyway, I had to spend two more days tramping the mountains
in order to get this story-without catching anything, of course. But the
boy no longer seemed to feel sorry about dragging me on his wild goose
chase. As we roamed the mountains, he gave an enthusiastic rendition of
this story of Kwak, almost as if in payment for my services. After three
days of hunting, however, I'd had enough. I told the boy that I felt sorry
for Lightning Bolt and asked him to feed her. The boy nodded, and we didn't
go hunting that day. Instead, he fed the falcon a couple of sparrows.
"Is that all you feed her?" I asked.
No, he said. During frog season he fed her frogs, and
sometimes chicken. That was why a well-trained falcon was worth a couple
sacks of rice come autumn.
I spent the day in the boy's room, chatting about this
and that. And that night it happened. Early in the evening the boy went
up to Old So's to see the falconer. I stayed up for awhile, then put out
the light to go to sleep. The boy sometimes left me there when he went
up to Old So's shed, but I always found him asleep beside me the following
I had gone to see Kwak several times myself, but there
was never any improvement. He just lay there, oblivious to everything,
his eyes growing hollower with each passing day. I just didn't want to
see him that night. I was completely exhausted, what with the food not
suiting my taste, all that tramping through the mountains, and the mysterious
tension I had felt ever since arriving in the village.
The tinkle of the falcon's bell as she shifted on her
perch finally grew faint. That's when the Dummy burst in, puffing and panting.
He shook me, but his noisy arrival had already awakened me,and I sat up
immediately and lit the lamp. The boy blinked in the brightness for a moment.
Then he began pulling my arm.
"What is it?" I asked.
Finally he explained. Kwak was asking for me.
"You mean he spoke?"
A strange foreboding flashed through me. Vague though
it was, I had an idea why the boy was in such a hurry, but my reason for
hurrying was the opposite of his. As we rushed along the low embankment
between the fields, the boy told me that Kwak really had said something.
He had insisted that the boy fetch me. It was strange. I didn't understand
why Kwak had broken his silence, or why he had asked for me. Stranger still,
I didn't find this the slightest bit odd at the time. It seemed perfectly
natural that he had begun talking again, that I was the one he was asking
for, and that I should run off to see him as if I had been waiting for
that moment all along.
Sure enough, Kwak was waiting for me. He was lying rigidly
on the straw, just as before, but for the first time he turned his hollow
eyes upon me. I even thought I detected a slight change in expression.
And I could tell he recognized me.
"You... you're going to see Mr. Min?" he faltered. He
had to work his lips several times for each syllable. It seemed a tremendous
effort to force the sounds through the narrow space between his lips. Perhaps
the words had left him during his long silence. But what he said was lucid,
unlike his cloudy eyes.
I answered in a loud voice, for I sensed he was listening
from deep within the nether world of souls.
"Yes. He's a friend of mine. I'll be seeing him when
I get back."
He nodded slightly. It wasn't an expression of gladness
so much as a sign that he already understood.
"Will you give him a message?" he asked, lifting his
eyes toward me.
"Of course. But what should I tell him? Why are you lying
here like this?"
Kwak looked at me anxiously before answering.
"He's a good man. I've never talked so much with anyone
before. He's probably figured out what's going on. He's so understanding..."
"If he's already figured it out, then there's no harm
in your telling me."
Kwak fell silent at that. I had just made a mistake I
would come to regret. I should have asked what he and Min had talked about.
And I should have learned what Min had told Kwak. I might then have figured
out what was going on. So caught up was I in the situation, I didn't handle
Kwak had nothing more to say. But I couldn't go back
to the boy's house. Something was bothering me. I had to stay and see what
developed that night, so I could tell Min. Frankly, though, it wasn't my
sense of obligation to Min that kept me there so much as a powerful force
within myself. Of course, the Dummy stayed with me.
My hunch was right. We must have dropped off to sleep
crouched at Kwak's side, and when we woke to a hazy dawn, Kwak was dead.
The body was wrapped in a bamboo mat and buried at the
foot of a mountain that same morning. As soon as the funeral ended, I prepared
to return to Seoul. That's when the Dummy stopped talking to me. Of course,
he never really talked, but there were times when his gestures were more
unsettling than the words of any hearing person. Now, however, he refused
to respond to anything I said. All he did was stroke the falcon absentmindedly.
"Hunting season's over-how about sending her into the
mountains?" I asked.
The boy was silent, as if he hadn't even heard what I
"After all, she was Kwak's, and now that he's gone..."
The boy kept his silence.
Finally I found a way to arouse a response from him.
"You know, I'll bet you want to be the falconer now,
The boy's head jerked up. His face wore the strangest
expression. There was a terrible hatred in the eyes looking up at me, a
hostility so frightening it made me flinch. It was as if all the ferocity
and obstinacy of the deaf and mute had coalesced in the boy. For a moment
I forgot everything, even what I said. It was those eyes: why was he looking
at me that way? Even when I did recall what I had said, I couldn't understand
why the boy should feel so hateful, so hostile. What was more puzzling,
his eyes soon filled with a certain sadness, a plea of some sort-at least
that's how I interpreted it since the boy's eyes never left my face. Gradually,
sadness replaced the hatred, and his eyes took on the blank look that Kwak's
had held the night before.
I returned to Seoul that afternoon, thinking the boy
might carry on the falconer's work.
As I rode northward, my thoughts turned once more to
Min. I was faced with another riddle now, quite different from the one
I had brought from Seoul. I would need Min's help with this one, I told
myself. What did Kwak's death mean? Why had Kwak chosen such a bizarre
way to die? It would be interesting to see how Min solved these riddles.
Still another puzzle awaited me in Seoul, though. Min
had committed suicide-the day after I left for the country, I was told.
By the time I returned to the city, he was a handful of ashes scattered
over the Han River. All that awaited me was a one-page suicide note and
the mysterious items mentioned in it. As I said before, he left nothing
else. My trip had been financed with the last of his money.
"I hope the trip makes for a good story. I'm leaving
you my field notes, for what they're worth. As for the sealed envelope,
open it in two or three months-you'll know when the time is right."
It sounded like a man asking a simple favor before setting
out on a journey for a year or two. The note contained three requests:
first, that I publish a story based on my trip; second, that I write a
story based on his field notes, if possible; and third, that I open the
other envelope after a certain period of time. The tone wasn't particularly
strident, but considering the note was written by a man on the brink of
death, it was more powerful that the impassioned repetitions of any living
I executed his first request immediately. To tell the
truth, I had been thinking about writing a story based on the falconer
since leaving the village. Min's prophecy turned out to be right. At times,
the falconer's death filled me with a sense of urgency. I knew I had to
write a story about him-it was simply a matter of how. I had thought Min
would be able to tell me more about the falconer, and finding him gone
when I returned to Seoul reinforced my sense of crisis. Could Min have
known what had happened to the falconer? The two deaths kept tangling in
my mind. I thought of writing a story linking the falconer's death to Min's,
but this was blind ambition, pure and simple. Where was the evidence to
link their deaths? It was simply a hunch. The story was difficult to write-everything
was so vague. Eventually I had to eliminate the part about Min and base
my story on the falconer alone. That was my first version of "The Falconer."
I had fulfilled Min's first request. Still, I continued
to entertain the notion of a connection between the two men. I was certain
there was a relationship, but I couldn't prove it. Min had made my task
especially difficult by leaving so little behind. The sealed envelope-the
one I was to open when the time was right-I stuffed in the back of a drawer
and nearly forgot about. The field notes were the only thing Min had left
me to think about. But they weren't much help in unraveling the relationship
between Min's death and the falconer. As I mentioned earlier, the notes
were remarkable. It was unfortunate that he hadn't been able to use them.
Of course, I still plan on using most of them in my own stories soon, and
I can assure you it won't be long before they see the light of day. I wonder,
though. Will I be able to use the notes as Min had intended when he was
so carefully preparing them? I feel guilty toward the deceased, but I have
to follow my own instincts when it comes to analyzing the material. And
so, all of Min's efforts boil down to elementary background information,
and that's all. They really should have gone into the story that Min had
been planning. Apart from that, the notes were distressing from a humanitarian
point of view. Min, it seemed to me, had given up on ever becoming a writer,
had too easily resigned himself to the idea that the collection of background
material was his way of playing a role, however minor, in the literary
process and thus satisfying one of his basic human needs. Had Min really
thought of that research as his life work? In a way, that possibility alone
was enough to humble me. Nevertheless, as someone close to Min, I came
to feel his whole life was a great disappointment. And hence my frustration
and dissatisfaction. More frustrating, however, was the fact that the notes
Min had shown me before I left on my trip had been removed. Three pages
had been ripped from the notebook, and all that remained was a bit of background
information on falconry. It was clear from these remaining pages that the
missing portion had been about the falconer himself.
-- Falcon: member of the Falconinae, a family of the Falconidae;
smaller than an eagle; short, curved, notched beak; talons thin; wings
and tail relatively narrow and pointed; skin on front and back of legs
scaled; feathers at top of head and around eyes and beak black; back white,
breast and tail light brown with black stripes; beak bluish gray; waxy
membrane and legs yellowish brown; flies more rapidly than eagle, with
quick wing strokes.
-Wings measure 30 cm, beak 2.7 cm.
-Fledgling less than one year of age; sparrow-hawk; Siberian
peregrine hawk; Korean peregrine falcon (said to have originated in China).
-Habitat: Korea, China, Asia, North Africa, Eastern Europe,
-Northern part of Korean peninsula (migrated from Chinese
mainland; some Mongolian falconry customs found in Europe).
-Related terms: gear for catching falcons to use in hunting;
silk net; falconry; falcon droppings; game caught by falcon-pheasant, wild
animals; "a falcon's life" = "a dog's life".
-Dictionary definition: Falconer-a man who captures,
breeds, and trains falcons; in Cholla region, however, a handler of falcons.
-Traditionally, game caught by falcon is not sold for
money-presented as gift at village celebrations. Host repays favor with
steamed rice cakes or liquor. In recent times, some game is sent to market
and is said to bring a higher price than game caught with poison or guns.
This was what remained of Min's notes on falcons and
falconers-nothing more than background information. The only hint of Min's
own opinion was his rejection of the dictionary definition of falconer
in favor of the local Cholla usage.
I felt he was right in that. The Cholla definition referred
not so much to someone who caught falcons as to a man who handled falcons
for use in hunting. The falconer always handled the falcon directly, carrying
the bird on his wrist. That was probably why Cholla people defined a falconer
the way they did. And that, of course, was why I had used the term in that
manner. In any case, the notes were of no use to me. Min had ripped out
the other pages, of course-why, I couldn't tell, but he had obviously left
those few remaining notes because he felt they were useless, as I did.
And as a result, the notes offered me no help in probing the secret linking
the deaths of Min and Kwak.
Why had Min ripped out those pages? One could reasonably
assume that he didn't want his notes to interfere with the way I approached
the subject-after all he was the one who had sent me out on that trip in
the first place. However, considering the entire chain of events, including
his death, it hardly seemed that simple. Why on earth had he suggested
I go to that village, of all places? And why had he hidden all the information
he had collected before he died? Most important, why had he insisted that
I write a story about that falconer? I felt as if my life was spinning
out of control on the slippery surface of that mystery. For a brief time
I tried to convince myself that the whole thing was nothing more than a
series of coincidences. But soon my mind was simmering in doubt once more.
In due course, however, my interest began to fade. I
had no way to uncover the answer, no information to work from, and as my
own writing took up more and more of my attention, the problem buried itself
deep within me. Then, after another trip to the village, I decided to force
my curiosity to the very back of my consciousness. I had returned to the
village out of frustration. Of course, I hadn't really expected any extraordinary
answers, or I would have returned long before. I simply couldn't stay away.
Perhaps I felt I could cleanse myself of all doubts. After all, the village
was where those doubts had originated. And I was right. Nearly all my expectations
proved correct. There wasn't a hint of Min to be found in that village.
Kwak was gone, and the villagers had not only forgotten about him and his
falcon, but the very fact he had ever lived there at all. No one wanted
to talk about him, and they treated me as they used to treat him. The Dummy
had left. They said he had been angry, that he hadn't eaten much after
I returned to Seoul, that he finally took Lightning Bolt and was gone.
I left with no new information about Kwak or Min. What
I did bring back was perhaps more precious: I finally felt at ease with
myself, as if I had been promised a conclusion to it all, as if I had rid
myself of the misgivings I had accumulated in the village. And in Seoul,
I pulled myself together more or less. Thus did the mystery of the two
men's deaths settle into temporary oblivion at the back of my mind.
And then this very morning, I found a key to the greater
part of that secret, together with some shocking news. Digging through
my desk drawer, I came upon the envelope Min had told me to open. The time
was right; in fact the envelope had lain forgotten in my drawer far too
I had been curious about that envelope from the beginning.
But it had been so tightly sealed I couldn't tell what was inside. Peeking
would have been an insult to the deceased, so I simply stuck the envelope
in my desk drawer. Needless to say, my curiosity was reignited the instant
I saw it. To my amazement, it contained a bundle of manuscript paper, about
200 pages filled with words. On the title page was written "The Falconer."
I began to read, not even thinking to close the drawer, and my amazement
continued: the story was so like what I had written. The only difference
was its first person narrative with Kwak seen through the narrator's eyes,
whereas my story was written in the third person. The contents were the
same, except for the motive behind Kwak's hunger strike. The amazing thing
was not so much that Min had written such a story or that the story was
so good, but that his story, like mine, included Kwak's death. It was very
odd. Of course, at the time Min was writing, Kwak's death was still part
of the future. That is to say, Min's story was a kind of prophecy-and an
accurate one at that. Min's conclusion was almost identical to mine. It
was as if he had started writing at the same time I had, after witnessing
Kwak's final moments. In that sense, Min had clearly outdone me.
But how could Min have predicted Kwak's fate so accurately?
In a work of literature, a prophecy is a reflection of the author's own
sense of inevitability. Why had Min felt the need to portray Kwak's fate
in that manner? Had Kwak been conscious of Min's feelings somehow and responded
in kind? A conversation between Min (disguised as the narrator) and Kwak
suggests an answer to just one of my many doubts.
"Do you love your falcon?"
"Then, have you ever thought about her fate?"
"It's strange. Abuse and starvation are the only ways
you relate to your falcon."
"What are you getting at? I simply work the falcon. It's
the same with the people who work the falconer."
"When the falcon soars in the sky or swoops down to the
ground, you probably think it's beautiful and uplifting. It is beautiful.
You've probably felt that way too. But I know..."
I prompted him with my eyes.
"I mean, I know what that beauty is. But do you really..."
The falconer glared at me. His eyes held a fiery gleam.
For some peculiar reason, they reminded me of the eyes of an angry falcon.
Still he kept silent, as if aware of the fire in his eyes. And then, "Get
out of here. I can't stand being around you. I've thought of killing you
at times. If you don't get out of here right now, I just might do it."
And a few pages later, Kwak began starving himself, just
as I had seen him do in real life.
You might say the conversation alluded to the general
concept of beauty, but it also suggested that Min was trying to prove that
Kwak saw his fate and the falcon's as one. Or maybe by shifting the focus
from the falcon to his own humanity, the falconer was struggling one last
time for the truth in which he believed, albeit by different means than
in the past. Which interpretation was correct? There was no way to tell.
The events were laid out simply, unadorned, without a postscript or explanation.
Nevertheless, that conversation was clearly portentous. Before long Kwak
was lost in thought for hours at a time, frustration written on his face,
and finally he sent the falcon away and began his mortal fast.
Min had written a story. Unlike "The Falconer" that I
had struggled so hard to write on the basis of direct observation, the
conclusion of Min's story was the product of his own imagination. Otherwise,
everything was exactly the same. I had to be impressed. It was a fine work,
and Min was a fine writer.
I only regret that Min wasn't able to combine all the
information he had gathered into a work based on his own creative imagination.
Still, it was fortunate that Min had finally rid himself of the dubious
reputation of the writer who never wrote a story. Indeed, for Min, that
seems the most fortunate thing of all.
There you have the origins of the three stories entitled
"The Falconer," and now I can conclude my testimony to Min. The question
of why Min had me write a story instead of giving me his in the first place
isn't so important. There would probably be no harm in assuming that he
acted on the most human of motives: he wanted to prove his own abilities
in an impartial test, as he did when he took his life.
One thing that springs to mind as I bring this story
to a close: a fine writer, one who has the vision to perceive the very
essence of things (and I think Min was a fine writer in this respect),
has to a certain extent the ability to predict the future. Whether or not
Kwak would have accepted the inevitability of Min's prediction is another
question. In any case, I find myself as interested in that writer's vision
(we could call it conscience) as I am in a testament to Min or in any explanation
of the three stories.
I plan to publish Min's story in the near future, repetitive
as it may be, so I will spare you any further explanations and simply confess
that this concept of literary vision is one of the issues that has concerned
me in this work. My one regret is that I cannot be sure if the Dummy will
continue to work as a falconer.
To be honest, I feel no compulsion to know more about
what happened to the boy. Perhaps fate will someday bring news of him-who
knows? And if he's become a falconer, what possible significance would
it have for me now? For Min, of course, it would be an important discovery,
but my interest as I write this second story lies with Min and his writing,
not with the ways of the falconer, or with Kwak and the boy. As urgent
and immediate as those things were for Min, they couldn't become my ways.
They could never become my ways now.
Translated by Julie Pickering