Are you watching Tale of the Nine Tailed (2020) right now?
The drama focuses on 100-year-old gumiho (nine-tailed fox) named Lee Yeon (Lee Dong-wook) who abdicated his position as the mountain spirit of Baekdudaegan for the reincarnation of his first love Ah-eum (Jo Bo-ah).
She was killed by Imoogi, a serpent beast in human form and Lee Yeon’s arch-nemesis.
This romance fantasy series is interesting to watch, especially if you love folklore and urban legends. It stars Lee Dong-wook, Jo Bo-ah and Kim Bum.
But first, what is an Imoogi? Is it as evil as it is depicted in Tale of Nine Tailed?
Imoogi, a Korean lesser dragon
While other dragons are related to fire and destruction, the Korean dragon is associated with water and agriculture and can bring on rain and clouds.
It is said that imoogis resemble gigantic serpents. In some depictions, imoogi is depicted carrying a yeouijui in one of its claws.
Remember the Philosopher’s Stone in the Harry Potter series? A yeouiju is sort of like that.
Essentially, Korean mythology describes these imoogis as dragons in training. It will take them over a thousand years to become a true dragon. If (or when) they do catch a yeouijui falling from the sky, then they will become a full-fledged dragon.
Some legends say that the Korean Sun Goddess created imoogi from human girls. When they are born, the girl is marked on her shoulder with a dragon symbol. When the girl turns 17, she turns into an imoogi.
Legend of Kim Si-min and imoogi
While the battle is between a nine-tailed fox and imoogi in the drama, the fight is in fact between a soldier and the creature according to legend.
Kim Si-min was a soldier who fought during Imjin War or the Japanese Invasions of Korea (1592-1598).
When he was nine, his village was terrorised by a large imoogi that lived in a nearby cave. It often came out to frighten people and harm their livestock.
One day, Si-min decided to kill the imoogi. After reading a book about how a snake was caught using a mulberry bow and a sprouting arrow, Si-min had an idea.
At once, he gathered the local children and ran to the stream near the cave where the imoogi hid. They also placed a large stone to cover the entrance to the village.
Then, one of the children climbed a tree right next to the stream and the shadow of the child was reflected in the stream.
When the imoogi saw the reflection of the child in the stream, it came out from the cave. The moment its head popped out, Si-min shot it using the mulberry bow and a sprouting arrow that he brought.
The imoogi was killed and its blood turned the colour of the stream to red for days.
It was believed that if a lake, pond or river had more than 2,500 fish, an imoogi would appear to become the king of all living creatures in that fresh water.
While a dragon was believed to have power to bring rain, typhoon and thunders, an imoogi, being the lesser dragon, could only bring clouds.
The good thing is that the spring water would not dry out if there was an imoogi living nearby.
Additionally, this mythical creature tended to be territorial. There were many cases of imoogis fighting each other over the rights of a lake.
Naturally, the stronger imoogis dominated the larger lakes with more fish while the weaker imoogis had to live in small ponds and rivers.
According to Lisa Graves in her book Mythical Beasts and Beings, there are theories that the imoogi could have actually been a titanoboa, a giant and thankfully, extinct snake that lived 58 million years ago.
Titanoboa was the longest and heaviest snake to ever exist.
However, the titanoboa was native to areas around South America and not Korea.