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설문대 할망이 누구꽈? Seolmundae Halmang Character Design
설문대 할망이 누구꽈? Who is Seolmundae Halmang?
Seolmundae Halmang is the ancient creator godess of Jeju Island, and her presence on Jeju is nearly ubiquitous. Amid the island’s awe-inspiring geography, it seems that there is not a single mountain or river that doesn’t boast a Seolmundae Halmang origin story:
Sunrise Peak, the ancient volcanic column that rises majestically out of the sea on the east coast? That was Seolmundae’s laundry basket.
Halla Mountain, the tallest peak in all of South Korea? It used to be even taller, until Seolmundae ripped its pointy summit off so that she could sit comfortably.
In many ways, Seolmundae Halmang is comparable to the American folk-tale of Paul Bunyan. Everywhere on Jeju bears the mark of Seolmundae Halmang’s passing — some places more than others:

Seolmundae Halmang, by the awesome 김경수

But despite the sheer volume of material concerning Seolmundae Halmang, I’ve had a very difficult time trying to craft a character and story for the animation which are faithful and engaging.

The biggest problem has been the fundamentally fragmented nature of the Seolmundae mythos. The legends surrounding the giant goddess consist largely of short anecdotes describing her involvement in crafting the physical features of the island. There is no common theme or arc to the stories that could be neatly boiled down into a 5-minute animation. She has an origin story, and a couple different versions of an ending, but everything in between is a mess of unconnected folktales.

Secondly, like all tall tales, the stories of Seolmundae span centuries of authorship, evolving over many generations of retelling, with each generation re-appropriating the character to a new cultural agenda. So both her personality and her physical appearance vary greatly from story to story. In some she is quick to anger and vindictive. In others she is kindly and maternal. In earlier folktales she reflects the matriarchal indigenous culture of Tamna (the ancient name for Jeju), a regal, proud and powerful female archetype — but over time as Confucian influence seeps in from mainland Korea, the stories begin to paint her as a bumbling, cantankerous old lady.

But to create this animation, I need a character who is self-contained and consistent, who makes sense even to an audience unfamiliar with the legends.

At the 금능석물원 near Hallim.

So I had the task of trying to figure out and express who Seolmundae Halmang is. How big is she? What does she look like? What is her personality? How does she work as a personification of the island and the hardships of traditional life on Jeju? And perhaps most importantly, how does her character reflect her significance to the culture and people of Jeju Island?

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