Note: Minsoo Kang, who translated the text, states that, although the story mentions that it is during the reign of Seonjong, it could either be a misspelling of Sejong or a fictionalized king. King Sejong created Hangul, the Korean alphabet, and the country was fairly peaceful during his reign. It is possible that the story takes place during this time, but it was most likely written later. As the real author is unknown, there is only conjecture as to the exact time of its writing.
Review: This was okay. As with many old, classic but short texts, I feel like I sometimes go in expecting greatness and come out a little disappointed. The book is very simple, which is fine. I suspect this simplicity is because it would be more accessible for the common people, especially considering that they scholars of the time had to read the Five Classics and everything. My problem, however, is that there is hardly any characterization. It’s a very simplistic story, and, although there is some element of adventure in it, there isn’t a feeling of adventure. It’s mostly, “Gildong did this, and then this happened. These people were corrupt, and Gildong punished them.” It’s unfortunate that I didn’t find the book very engaging, but it is an important classic of Korean literature.
All in all, I have to say that this is certainly an important book, given the influence it still has on the Korean Peninsula. The closest thing we have in the West to Hong Gildong is Robin Hood. I haven’t actually read any texts concerning Robin Hood, so I can’t say if they read similarly. But I do think that we have some good TV adaptations of both. There is a currently airing Korean drama (or sageuk, a historical drama) called Rebel: Thief of the People (also called Rebel Hong Gil Dong), which follows the basic premise of the text but adds to it. I definitely think the added layers of characterization and settings benefit the story greatly. You can watch it on DramaFever or Viki, if it’s available in your country.