For thirteen years, “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly” has been a classic Korean story. After two million copies sold and countless format adaptations made, the story has become a hit the world over, even taking form in an animated movie that became the highest-grossing film of its kind in Korean history.
These days, “The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly” has been translated into over a dozen languages, including English. In late-2013, Penguin Books released the English translation, making the Korean classic available for another audience that is sure to admire the tale of Sprout, the hen who raised a duckling.
Residing in a cramped chicken coop on an isolated farm, Sprout spends the first part of her life laying egg, after egg, after egg. Her biggest dream (as contrary to the story’s title as it may seem) is to hatch one of her eggs and raise the chick herself. Through a series of misadventures involving being plucked, meeting a mallard and banished from the barnyard, Sprout strikes out on her own and soon comes across an egg, alone and abandoned by a pond.
Her mallard friend Straggler keeps her fed and protected until he is dispatched to death by the ever-prowling weasel that haunts the farm’s poultry. With death, however, comes life, as Sprout’s egg hatches, and – lo and behold – it’s a duckling. After one last shot at living on the farm, only to be rejected again, Sprout and Baby set out to live a life of their own in the hinterlands.
It’s an intriguing adventure, one that seems familiar but is too singular to be something done before. Sprout and her baby – later named Greentop – live and learn about life on the run, hopping around every night to avoid the nasty weasel. Hell-bent on revenge after being blinded, the weasel stalks Sprout and Greentop year-round, and when flocks of mallard come for winter’s migration, the situation is exacerbated.
Here we have two misfits – the amazing but emaciated hen and her bullied mallard son. Both are outcasts, abandoned by their fellow species, left to sink or swim, live or die on their own. And they do just that. Sprout pours everything she has into raising her mallard son, to the point where she has nearly wasted away from hunger and fatigue.
Greentop is caught between the worlds of the wild and domesticity, as his duck counterparts on the farm and in the flock both reject him when he tries to join. To make matters worse, a cord tied to his foot raises a red flag to all who meet him, and though he eventually wins over his contemporaries, his struggle was a hard one won.
Readers of all ages can appreciate that. In a little over 130 pages, author Hwang has crafted a story that can be as simple or as strategic as anyone may want. Everyone from the tiniest neonate to the surliest centenarian can fall in love with Sprout’s story, simply because it’s fun to root for the plucky little hen with a big personality and her son, the misfit mallard.
One other win for the story is the ending, which may leave some readers sad, but others still in awe of this hen. It is rare for a story to come as full circle as this one does, and that completion on all accounts is satisfying for both Sprout and the reader.