The Tragedy of the Mermaid Princess – My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox, Part 4


As we reach the next to the last post in our discussion of the novel based on the Hong Sisters TV show My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox (김성연,홍정은 & 홍미란의”내 여자친구는 구미호”), a few more differences between the novel and TV show become clearer as we dig into the second volume. One thing that is obvious right away is that the characters of Daewoong’s Aunt Minsuk and Director Ban are quite diminished in the novel. So far, Aunt Minsuk has barely said more than ten sentences. We also see less of Daewoong filming the movie, though that may change as we get deeper into volume two. This time I will also do an in-depth comparison between this novel and “The Little Mermaid.”

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

We left off last time with Miho and Daewoong drinking the red and blue bottles, which starts her transformation from fox woman into a human woman in the hopes she can be with Daewoong forever, a plan that he is totally oblivious to. So we pick up with chapter 7 of volume 1, “The Love Contract for 100 Days.” After they discuss their pact a bit more and the calumny spoken against Miho 500 years earlier, Daewoong brings out the chicken leg pillow he bought her, and she is delighted. Next time, he’ll look for a beef rib pillow, he says.

Once Daewoong gets back to filming, Director Ban makes it clear that the action style he wants from Daewoong is dangerous and must be perfect. If Daewoong makes a mistake, he can seriously injure his legs. Daewoong thinks of the jewel. Byeongsu notices Daewoong’s ring and asks about it, observing that it is a couple ring, but Daewoong is evasive. Meanwhile, Miho tells Dongju she’s now Daewoong’s girlfriend. She asks if humans give this sort of ring to the person they love. Dongju says Daewoong doesn’t love her and she isn’t a person. He also warns her against rushing to pair up with Daewoong.

Daewoong takes Miho to class with him, and she’s excited when she looks at his English textbook. Suddenly, Hyein shows up and distracts Daewoong. He tries to get her juice out of a machine, but he doesn’t want her to see his ring, so he takes it off, and it falls where he can’t reach it. He decides to go out to eat with Hyein as he tries to keep her from discovering that he’s there with Miho. He stops in the lecture hall where Miho is waiting for him to get his bag and give her a quick explanation before leaving with Hyein. Miho stays for the lecture and feels strange. She remembers Dongju telling her she will die slowly once she drinks his blood, and she goes to the animal hospital to talk with Dongju about this experience. He gives her steak while she explains how her neck and jaw hurt. He says she must tolerate these sensations in order to become human and to be careful not to get hurt now that she’s weakening.

Daewoong and Hyein end up at a Chinese restaurant where they order a full course meal. Daewoong tries to rush through the final course so he can leave, and Hyein asks him what is so urgent. He thinks of Miho waiting back at the classroom and has a bad feeling when he doesn’t see her there when they return. When he gets home, Miho asks where his ring is. He takes her back to the place he lost it, and she wonders how it got there. He admits he didn’t want Hyein to see it and removed it and dropped it. He emphasizes that he didn’t do anything to sully her jewel, though he really doesn’t want a fox woman for a girlfriend.

There is more drama between Miho, Daewoong and Hyein in chapter 8, “The Happy Ending Mermaid Princess,” but I’m going to skip over some of this. Daewoong and Miho talk about his dog Doongja and how Doongja isn’t just his dog but his best friend. Miho thinks she can also become Daewoong’s best friend like Doongja, but Daewoong says she isn’t, that Doongja would be jealous. But he would like her to be his best friend. They both seem very happy in this section. Miho then asks him about monster and ghost films that have happy endings and weddings. He tries to give her examples, but when she asks if they end happily, he says no. In one, the beautiful ghost vanishes. She is disappointed to hear that and says that’s a stupid ending. When he mentions a movie with a vampire and a countess, she asks if they get married. He says no, the vampire disappears in the sunlight. He tries to reassure her by saying that’s just the movies and real life isn’t like that. Miho intends on asking Dongju about this, too.

Daewoong is supposed to be acting as the action school maintenance man in exchange for living there, but he has been too busy studying and filming to do any of the cleaning, so he enlists Miho to take care of that for him. She excitedly goes to tell Dongju about her new job and asks him about monster movies, too. He says he has a book he can give her. She sees he has quite a lot of books, and he brings her to where he keeps his fairy tale books. She sees he has The Beauty and the Beast, The Frog Prince, and The Swan Princess, but Dongju picks up one with a mermaid on the cover and gives it to her, saying it’s a good book. He explains that the mermaid wants to be human.

Daewoong gets his credit card back from his grandfather, so he goes shopping to get a cell phone. When he gets home, he sees Miho has a book, a present from Dongju. When Daewoong cooks some meat for her, he puts the frying pan over the book and damages the cover a little. Miho cries out when she sees it. Daewoong asks her if Dongju is her best friend, and she says Daewoong is. Later when he’s practicing his lines, Miho is reading her fairy tale book. When she comes across a picture of the mermaid princess, she tells Daewoong the mermaid is beautiful. He agrees that she’s a beautiful monster with a tail like Miho’s. Miho points out that the monster rescues a man that she loves, and she wants the monster to be happy when she becomes a human. Daewoong, however, questions Dongju’s motives in giving that book to her and feels she should tear it up. He says they should see the Disney version of the film where the mermaid does have a happy ending since Miho wants the mermaid to marry the prince. Daewoong thinks Dongju should have understood Miho’s interest in the mermaid princess’ outcome.

When Miho talks on the phone with Dongju the next time, he asks if she read the book all the way to the end, but she hasn’t. She says she’s going on a date with Daewoong to the movies. When Miho finally arrives at the theater, she tells Seonnyeo and Byeongsu that she’s going to be like the mermaid princess, but Sennyeo is confused and asks if she’s going to die. Byeongsu asks if she’ll disappear. Miho says she’ll be happy. While Daewoong and Byeongsu talk a bit, Miho goes to sit on a bench and read her book, wondering if the mermaid really dies and disappears and the ending isn’t a happy one. Daewoong comes to sit beside her and reassures her that his friends meant a different monster, that the mermaid doesn’t really disappear but ends up happy. Miho accuses him of lying to her. She starts to cry, bringing a sunshower. When Daewoong asks if she believes the book more than what he is telling her, she throws down the book.

When they go in to see the movie, Miho observes other couples on a date, but when she asks Daewoong if they are also on a date, he says they aren’t. This is a walk, he says firmly, just like he takes with his dog Doongja.

Daewoong has set up a countdown calendar for their 100 day contract, and they are now down to 94 days left. He talks with Miho about a new restaurant in the neighborhood and mentions she will only be able to smell the meat roasting there for 94 more days. She asks where he thinks she’ll be going after 94 days are up, and he assumes that she will be returning to the temple.

Dongju dreams of Gildal, but his dream is a bit disappointing as far as I’m concerned since it doesn’t really reveal anything more about who she is or who Dongju is other than to show Gildal sacrificing her life for the human man who betrayed her and disappearing. When Dongju meets with Miho after this, he is emphatic that she can’t stay at Daewoong’s side and that she can’t function as human, listing what humans need to live in the world, none of which she has. Her response is to ask if he isn’t feeling well and to note that he looks sad. He doesn’t say anything, just looks away from her, his placid expression crumbling a little. Miho offers him a bottle of vegetable juice, which he takes.

Miho secretly gets a job with the chicken shop lady as a model on the Home Shopping Network eating beef ribs so she can make some extra money to buy a present for Daewoong. I’m going to skip the details on this storyline, so be sure to catch the TV show because it’s hilarious.

Daewoong’s grandfather barges in one night to demand that Daewoong pack his bags and come live at the house with him. He orders Daewoong to separate from his girlfriend immediately since she seems to be the reason he’s willing to risk further injury doing action scenes in this movie. He wonders how Daewoong could hide such an injury. Daewoong objects because of his strong sense of responsibility for Miho. He feels his aunt is stirring up his grandfather. Daewoong gets in the car, but he threatens to jump out if his aunt doesn’t stop the car right then, and he goes back to Miho in his room.

Miho is laying on the floor of Daewoong’s room in agony. She feels like she could die on the spot. One of her tails falls off, disappearing into thin air. Daewoong arrives to find her there, and he asks if she is allright, but she lies and tells him she isn’t hurt. She says she’s a nine-tailed fox, not a weak human woman. He explains that he has to reassure his grandfather and asks if she will be okay by herself there for a few days. She tells him not to worry. This part is rather dramatic and ironic since her physical pain is juxtaposed against his grandfather’s objections that Daewoong, who has her jewel to heal him, is seriously injured.

Later, Miho takes a bouquet of flowers Daewoong gave her to the animal hospital to show Dongju. She tells him she lost a tail and is now an 8-tailed fox. They talk about the meaning of the gift of flowers, and Dongju suggests that Daewoong left her to escape from her. She objects and says his grandfather made him leave. They get into a heated argument about it with each of them resorting to insults. She calls him Teacher Dog instead of her usual Teacher Dongju, and I think he actually calls her a fox bitch. It’s quite an intense scene where neither of them calm down. I think that’s a good place to stop for now since this is the storyline I’m most interested in talking about, though I’m barely that far into volume 2.

The original tale of “The Little Mermaid” figures strongly into this novel’s trajectory with Miho’s plan to become human. In a way, that’s not unexpected since the Hans Christian Andersen tale is referenced explicitly in the show and novel, but I think there’s some deeper connection between the two stories that is worth a look. Since this show is available to watch in English even if the book isn’t, I would like to do more than just rehash the plot, so we’ll spend some time on a comparison with “The Little Mermaid.” Here is the original text:

http://www.hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html

The first thing of note about the Little Mermaid is that she admires a white marble statue of a handsome human boy that has ended up in the sea after a shipwreck when her sisters were more interested in things under the sea. This is an interesting parallel with Miho being trapped in the painting at the beginning of this story with Daewoong standing more in the role of the Little Mermaid. In the novel, however, Daewoong spends a lot less time admiring Miho in the painting than the Little Mermaid admires the statue. Like Miho, the Little Mermaid rescues the prince from death, and neither Daewoong nor the prince remember this rescue.

The Little Mermaid, like Miho, makes a bid to become human, and her grandmother tells her how this can be done:

“So I shall die,” said the little mermaid, “and as the foam of the sea I shall be driven about never again to hear the music of the waves, or to see the pretty flowers nor the red sun. Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”

“No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you, and the priest placed his right hand in yours, and he promised to be true to you here and hereafter, then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give a soul to you and retain his own as well; but this can never happen. Your fish’s tail, which amongst us is considered so beautiful, is thought on earth to be quite ugly; they do not know any better, and they think it necessary to have two stout props, which they call legs, in order to be handsome.”

This passage gives another thought-provoking insight into Miho’s pact with Daewoong and what she hopes to accomplish by becoming human. Daewoong must give Miho some of his human energy through her fox jewel in order for Miho to become human. He is more focused on become a movie star than on her, though she does manage to make him more responsible and concerned about her since she is so dependent and sweet. His attitude is nothing like this passage, however.

Like the Little Mermaid, Miho must give up her tails in order to become human. I think Dongju ends up in the role of the Sea Witch:

Through the midst of these crushing whirlpools the little mermaid was obliged to pass, to reach the dominions of the sea witch; and also for a long distance the only road lay right across a quantity of warm, bubbling mire, called by the witch her turfmoor. Beyond this stood her house, in the centre of a strange forest, in which all the trees and flowers were polypi, half animals and half plants; they looked like serpents with a hundred heads growing out of the ground. The branches were long slimy arms, with fingers like flexible worms, moving limb after limb from the root to the top….She saw that each held in its grasp something it had seized with its numerous little arms, as if they were iron bands. The white skeletons of human beings who had perished at sea, and had sunk down into the deep waters, skeletons of land animals, oars, rudders, and chests of ships were lying tightly grasped by their clinging arms; even a little mermaid, whom they had caught and strangled; and this seemed the most shocking of all to the little princess.

She now came to a space of marshy ground in the wood, where large, fat water-snakes were rolling in the mire, and showing their ugly, drab-colored bodies. In the midst of this spot stood a house, built with the bones of shipwrecked human beings….

“I know what you want,” said the sea witch; “it is very stupid of you, but you shall have your way, and it will bring you to sorrow, my pretty princess. You want to get rid of your fish’s tail, and to have two supports instead of it, like human beings on earth, so that the young prince may fall in love with you, and that you may have an immortal soul.” And then the witch laughed so loud and disgustingly, that the toad and the snakes fell to the ground, and lay there wriggling about. “You are but just in time,” said the witch; “for after sunrise to-morrow I should not be able to help you till the end of another year. I will prepare a draught for you, with which you must swim to land tomorrow before sunrise, and sit down on the shore and drink it. Your tail will then disappear, and shrink up into what mankind calls legs, and you will feel great pain, as if a sword were passing through you. But all who see you will say that you are the prettiest little human being they ever saw. You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow. If you will bear all this, I will help you.”…

“But I must be paid also,” said the witch, “and it is not a trifle that I ask. You have the sweetest voice of any who dwell here in the depths of the sea, and you believe that you will be able to charm the prince with it also, but this voice you must give to me; the best thing you possess will I have for the price of my draught. My own blood must be mixed with it, that it may be as sharp as a two-edged sword.”

Like Dongju, the Sea Witch is blunt about how the Little Mermaid’s plans will only bring her unhappiness and failure. Her promised draught to make the Little Mermaid’s tail shrivel up and become human legs, even the pain she will suffer, is a dead ringer for Dongju’s warning. The Sea Witch even uses her own blood for the one she gives to the Little Mermaid. We really need an explanation of who Dongju is in the novel now. They can’t just skip that part. Hyein seems to be in the role of the princess that the prince must marry, the Little Mermaid’s rival. In this version, the Little Mermaid does disappear, but I am struck by the comparison with Gildal in this novel rather than Miho.

Next time, I’ll wrap up the series and finish volume 2.

Part four of a five part series.

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About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization since 2007 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.
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