Researcher finds Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung are credited with fiercely ideological but ‘quite enjoyable’ tales

From Madonna to Barack Obama, celebrities and politicians have long been tempted to dabble in the world of children’s books — but their output pales in comparison to the “ultra” violent tales for children apparently written by North Korea’s former leaders Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung, according to an Australian academic.

Christopher Richardson, who is researching North Korean children’s literature for his PhD at Sydney University, says the late former leaders of North Korea are both credited with writing children’s stories, with Kim Jong-il the apparent author of Boys Wipe Out Bandits, “an ode to the redemptive power of ultra-violence”, he writes in an article published in the International Review of Korean Studies, and Kim Il-sung acknowledged as the author behind the anti-American fable The Butterfly and The Cock.

Foster revolutionary consciousness

Boys Wipe Out Bandits, first published in 1989, is “adapted from a story the Dear Leader ‘one day’ dreamed up as a child himself”, writes Richardson, in which “cultural impurities, capitalist degeneracy, and rampant individualism are defeated by the pure virtue of the collective”.

The story sees a vulnerable village — a metaphor for North Korea — surrounded by enemies: “monster-like creatures” whose captain is “ogre-like”, writes Richardson, with cysts on his shoulder which “emit noxious gas when pierced”. The villagers, in contrast, are “beautifully attired and softly-drawn”, and the story concludes as the children punish the intruders with “merciless violence”.

“As the sun rises, a triumphant [hero] Ye-dong restates the moral of the story, the wisdom of a child declaring that, ‘no matter how formidable they are, we can defeat the enemy when we pool our strength and wisdom and have courage. Let’s build our village to be an earthly paradise’,” writes Richardson.

Employed ghost writers

Although the story was published in his name, Richardson is sceptical about whether Kim Jong-il really wrote it. “Even the publishers in the DPRK maintain a degree of ambiguity about the authorship of these tales, attributing the stories to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, whilst acknowledging they were written down by someone else,” he told the Guardian. “The government thus musters a team of ghost writers whose job is to capture the essence of the leader’s political and literary wisdom, known as ‘the seed’”

The Butterfly and The Cock, meanwhile, is a fable said to have first been told by Kim Il-sung and then written down. It is the story of how a cockerel, intended to symbolise America, sets out to bully other animals, but a butterfly — representing North Korea — steps in.

Animated versions

YouTube shows a recent state television animated adaptation of the story, with “some delightfully typical NK-style music at the beginning, singing at the end, ” said Richardson.

A Winged Horse is another children’s story from Kim Il-sung, in which the country is under threat from Japanese invaders, but a child saves the day on a flying horse.

Enjoyable

“I was astounded that children’s books (purportedly) written by Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung were vastly readable,” he said. But “nevertheless, despite the variety of genre and style” in the books, “there always remained that singular unity of intent, reinforcing a consistent political message, national cohesion, ideological purity.

More In: Signpost | In School