Fact stranger, and scarier, than fiction

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Fact stranger, and scarier, than fiction


The year’s first heat wave arrived too early and is already outstaying its welcome. When the mercury shoots up, it’s better to give yourself chills by heading to the pictures to watch a horror movie or even read a scary story than turn the air conditioner up as the government frets about future blackouts.

But it’s getting harder to be frightened by what you see on TV these days. Local networks rarely screen summer horror specials or ghost stories, and those they do are often more amusing than spine-chilling. One cable channel is doing a rerun of “The Hometown of Legends,” a horror series that used to be wildly popular. But despite my liking of the genre, these ghost stories just don’t seem very scary anymore.

Often, that which scares you can depend on your age and cultural background as much as anything else, and people have different ways of relieving their fears.

A few days ago, the podcast “Time to Read a Book with Kim Young-ha” introduced “Ghost Stories at Schools in Korea” as a summer special. One of these, the legend of Arang, tells the story of a young woman seeking vengeance after she was murdered and sheds light on certain cultural differences. For example, in China, ghosts tend to appear before family members - usually male - who then plot their revenge on the killer. When apprehended, the killer is usually interrogated by a wise official, like the famous Bao Zheng, and brought to justice. However, in Korean tales like Arang, the ghost presents herself before powerful officials, such as the village chief, a government minister or secret royal inspector, and entreats them to help her take her revenge.

According to Kim Young-ha, the popular author behind the podcast, people have a basic, cathartic need to create scary stories and share them with others. He sees it as foolish for the government to try and crackdown on those who promulgate urban legends or myths as part of efforts to promote social harmony. The problem is not the stories themselves; rather, it is the ease with which we become immune to their powers.

“Hometown of Legends” highlights this desperate striving to find new ways to play on people’s fears. In one of the tales, a schoolgirl returns home late at night to be greeted by her mother, who suddenly asks her, “Do you really think I am your mother?”

However, it is often that which lies beyond our understanding that causes us to break out in cold sweats. For example, how can you explain the act of killing a woman and slicing the corpse into hundreds of pieces? Ghosts and demons may be frightening, but hardly as much as what man is capable of.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun
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