I just read the Korean folk tale "The Magpie and the Bell" (I don't know whose translation this is), in which a huge snake claims to be able to transform into a dragon and rise to heaven:

"Fine. Listen carefully. Deep in this mountain, there is an old abandoned temple. No one lives there now. In that temple, there is a huge bell still hanging. If you toll that bell three times, I will let you go." "Yes, that can't be too difficult." "But wait, my boy! You are jumping the gun! Don't be so sure! You must ring the bell from here, from right where you are now!" And the snake continued to tell him that if he tolled the bell three times she would be transformed into a dragon and rise to Heaven, and that that was the only way he could save his life.

How is it possible for a snake to transform into a dragon? Is it a standard trope/belief in Korean folklore that snakes have this ability or are related to dragons? Reading about dragons in Korean mythology, I found a few references to Imugis, "lesser dragons", which are said to resemble giant snakes and to be able to transform into dragons under certain conditions. But they are also said to be benevolent or to bring good luck, so I find it unlikely that the evil snakes in this story are Imugis. The only linked page I saw for further info on Imugis was in Korean, so I'm not sure if it's possible that these snakes are Imugis or not.

  • Apparently it seems like there are multiple variations. Here says that the snake disappeared or turned into a dragon. Jul 30, 2020 at 23:27
  • Not gonna put an answer because I can't, but some clarification. The snake is definitely not an imugi for multiple reasons. There's the whole good luck aspect you already mentioned, but an imugi becomes a dragon by staying under a lake or cavern lake for a 1000 years. The snakes are in a forest, making no effort to stay submerged. Plus, I doubt that this scholar would've killed the male snake if he thought it was an imugi. Also, I'm not sure imugis had the ability to transform. Jul 30, 2020 at 23:50
  • The version I heard was slightly different than the one you linked. It's pretty similar up until he wakes up to the snake strangling him (I forgot how he killed the snake). In the variation I was told, the man pleads with the snake, saying he'll do anything to survive. The snake then feels some pity and tells him that if he strikes the bell three times before daybreak, then the spell will break and she'll free him or something. Of course, it was supposed to be an impossible task, so he prays to "Haneulnim" and the birds come and rescue him. The house and the snake just disappear. Jul 30, 2020 at 23:56
  • I always just assumed that this was just a spirit in disguise, which was the reason why it was able to transform into a maiden. The bell-ringing was supposed to banish the spirits or something like that. How the spirit had a husband, I never really questioned. Jul 30, 2020 at 23:59


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