In A Nutshell
We all know North Korea’s dictators are nuts, but did you know they’re beloved children’s authors? With a team of dedicated and terrified ghostwriters, both Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung have penned stories like “Boys Wipe Out Bandits” and “The Cock and the Butterfly,” respectively. Naturally, everybody in North Korea loves these timeless classics . . . or else.
The Whole Bushel
In 1995, Jimmy Carter published a bizarre little children’s book called “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer.” Illustrated by his daughter, “Snoogle-Fleejer” tells the story of a kid named Jeremy who encounters a horrible sea monster, and as you might expect, the two end up as best buds. Well, all due respect to the 39th President, but his book pales in comparison to the awesomeness of “Boys Wipe Out Bandits” by Kim Jong-il.
Evidently, Kim came up with the plot when he was just a kid and finally had it published in 1989. In the Dear Leader’s action-packed tale, a peaceful village full of beautiful people is surrounded by hideous monsters led by an evil ogre. As the creatures attack, a young hero named Ye-dong does battle with the invaders. During the climactic showdown, Ye-dong stabs an oversized cyst on the ogre’s shoulder, causing the creature to burst into flames and die. Inspired by the boy’s bravery, the rest of the villagers quickly finish off the remaining beasts. At the book’s end, Ye-dong triumphantly declares, “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.”
Sure, it’s blatant propaganda. The village symbolizes the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the monsters are Koreans who oppose the revolutionary way of life, and the big speech is meant to hit kids over the head with the North’s version of communism. Still, it’s a lot more exciting than “Dick and Jane.” The book is full of violence and bloodshed, stuff kids can’t get enough of . . . and that’s the whole point. The Kim dynasty is well aware that children are the future, and while Kim Jong-un believes in entertaining the masses with movies and water parks, his dad and granddad wrote really crazy picture books.
Long before Kim Jong-il penned “Boys Wipe Out Bandits,” Kim Il-sung was working on the suggestively titled “The Butterfly and the Cock.” The Great Leader’s masterpiece tells the story of a mean rooster who’s picking on all the other animals and tearing up their lovely garden. Fortunately, a brave butterfly swoops down and teaches that capitalistic, red-white-and-blue bird a thing or two about picking on smaller countries, er, animals. Another Kim Il-sung classic is “A Winged Horse” in which a boy climbs aboard a mythical chollima (basically a Pegasus) and saves Korea from a group of scraggly-bearded, big-nosed, majorly deformed samurai. The Kims aren’t big on subtlety.
Of course, it’s debatable if either dictator actually wrote any of these books. Chances are pretty good the stories were actually created by ghostwriters tasked with taking the Kims’ teachings and putting them into book form. But regardless of who actually typed out the words, it’s the dictators who get all the credit. Their stories are constantly reprinted and “The Cock and the Butterfly” was even adapted into a bizarre TV movie for the enjoyment of the few North Koreans with working electricity. Still, as weird as it all sounds, the Korean government knows kids love these exciting stories, and whenever they read these state-sponsored books, they’re learning to sit down, shut up, and obey the state. In fact, the DPRK puts so much stock into children’s literature that Kim Jong-il wrote an entire essay on the subject. Or at least his ghostwriter did.
Show Me The Proof
BBC News: North Korea’s storytelling autocrats
The Guardian: North Korean dictators revealed as children’s authors
“The Butterfly and the Cock” (YouTube video of the television special)