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  • Nicole Kim

ChatGPT's Folktale

Last year during English class, I stumbled upon an unconventional story. “Ghosts”, by Vauhini Vara, explores a relatively new dimension in storytelling: utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) models trained to write human-like text. I was captivated by Vara’s work which so beautifully embodies the synergy created by authentic storytelling from life experiences with concise, cohesive sentences, all crafted by AI. Inspired by “Ghosts”, I decided to invoke the assistance of ChatGPT 3.5 to craft a tale far from similar to anything you have ever read in this magazine.



“Shim Cheong Jeon” (The Tale of Shim-Cheong) is a classic folktale from Korea, although both the author and the date of its origin are unknown. The tale stresses the  Confucian principles of filial piety toward one’s parents and underscores the ideas of retribution associated with Buddhism.


Here is what ChatGPT knows about the Korean folktale “Shim Cheong Jun”:


Write a summary of “Shim Cheong Jeon”


ChatGPT

“Shim Cheong Jeon” is a classic Korean folktale that tells the story of a devoted daughter named Shim-Cheong. After her mother's death, Shim-Cheong's blind father becomes despondent. To cure his blindness, Shim-Cheong decides to sacrifice herself to the sea god. However, her selfless act moves the sea god, who miraculously restores her father's sight just before the sacrifice. The tale highlights Confucian virtues, particularly filial piety and self-sacrifice for family, and has been adapted into various forms of Korean literature and art.


I wondered how ChatGPT would construct a story based on the basic outline of “Shim Cheong Jun”, so I fed GPT-3.5 the plot bit by bit after replacing names (ex. Shim-Cheong) with pronouns (ex. she/her). No additional edits were made to the original story.


In the seven stories below, I inserted the sentences in bold and GPT-3.5 filled in the rest. My sole alteration to the AI-generated text was shortening the length of a few of the stories; because it has not been edited beyond this, inconsistencies occasionally appear.


Hi. I will begin by feeding you a couple of sentences at a time, and then as you get to know more details about the story I am trying to recreate, you will write entire paragraphs. Got it?


ChatGPT

Got it! Feel free to start by sharing a couple of words, and we can continue from there.


1.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind.


The girl, named Lily, faced adversity from the very beginning. Growing up without her mother's guidance and with a father who couldn't work due to his blindness, Lily learned the importance of resilience at a young age. Despite the challenges, she found solace in the bond she shared with her father, who, despite his disability, instilled in her the values of determination and perseverance. As they navigated through life together, Lily discovered her own strength and resilience, turning challenges into opportunities for growth.


2.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind. So from her childhood, she had to work to make money.


One day, she was late coming home from work. So her father went out for her.


On that particular day, as the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows over the cobbled streets, Lily found herself caught up in the demands of her job, working diligently to make ends meet for her and her father. As dusk settled, she realized the time had slipped away, and concern for her father crept into her thoughts.

Meanwhile, in their modest home, her father patiently waited, relying on his other heightened senses to perceive the world around him. Sensing Lily's delay, he decided to venture out into the evening to ensure her safe return. Guided by memory and a profound connection with his surroundings, he navigated the familiar paths with a determined spirit.

Their worlds converged at the crossroads of responsibility and love. Lily, tired but resolute, finally arrived home to find her father standing at the door, a mix of relief and warmth in his blind eyes. It was in these small moments that their unspoken bond deepened, transcending the challenges they faced in their humble yet resilient existence.


3.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind. So from her childhood, she had to work to make money.


One day, she was late coming home from work. So her father went out for her.


While he was crossing the bridge, he fell into the river. “Help me, I’m drowning,” he shouted in panic.


The chilling cry for help echoed through the quiet night as Lily's father struggled against the currents, his world suddenly plunged into darkness both literal and metaphorical. Hearing her father's desperate plea, Lily's heart raced, and without a second thought, she rushed towards the bridge, fear and determination mingling within her.

As she reached the scene, Lily spotted her father in the water, arms flailing in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. Panic set in, but Lily knew she had to act swiftly. Drawing on the strength acquired through years of overcoming challenges, she courageously dove into the icy river, guided by the echoes of her father's cries.

In those tense moments, Lily's hands found her father's, and with unwavering determination, she pulled him to safety. Gasping for breath on the riverbank, her father clung to Lily, a profound gratitude overcoming the fear that had gripped him just moments before.

This unexpected event became a turning point in their lives, reinforcing the unbreakable bond between father and daughter. Together, they faced not only the physical challenges of that night but also the emotional currents that strengthened their connection, proving that even in the darkest waters, love and resilience could illuminate the way forward.


4.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind. So from her childhood, she had to work to make money.


One day, she was late coming home from work. So her father went out for her.


While he was crossing the bridge, he fell into the river. “Help me, I’m drowning,” he shouted in panic.


A monk passing by saw him and jumped into the river to save him. “Are you okay?” asked the monk. He was surprised that he was blind.


The monk advised him, “If you offer Buddha three hundred units of rice, you will regain your eyesight.”


Lily's father, now safely rescued from the river by the compassionate monk, felt a mix of gratitude and curiosity. Blinking away water from his sightless eyes, he thanked the monk for his selfless act. The monk, unfazed by the man's blindness, sensed a deeper need within him.

As they sat by the riverbank, the monk shared a piece of wisdom, suggesting a path to potential healing. "If you offer Buddha three hundred units of rice," he advised, "you will regain your eyesight." The idea intrigued Lily's father, sparking a glimmer of hope that had long eluded him.

The monk's words lingered in the air, and Lily, who had witnessed the entire episode, listened attentively. Determined to explore any possibility that could improve her father's life, she took it upon herself to embark on this spiritual journey. With steadfast resolve, Lily set out to gather the required offerings, driven by a blend of filial love and a desperate desire to alleviate her father's blindness.

Their lives now intertwined with a monk's prophetic guidance, the trio embarked on a journey that would not only test their faith but also unveil unforeseen layers of resilience, hope, and the transformative power of belief.


5.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind. So from her childhood, she had to work to make money.


One day, she was late coming home from work. So her father went out for her.


While he was crossing the bridge, he fell into the river. “Help me, I’m drowning,” he shouted in panic.


A monk passing by saw him and jumped into the river to save him. “Are you okay?” asked the monk. He was surprised that he was blind.


The monk advised him, “If you offer Buddha three hundred units of rice, you will regain your eyesight.”


Her father was very glad to hear the news, so he promised to give Buddha three hundred units of rice.


However, he soon realized that he could not afford to buy all the rice.


When she came home, she saw her father looking very sad. “What’s wrong, father?” she asked.


He told her everything that happened and what the monk had said.


Upon hearing her father's recount of the monk's advice, Lily's heart swelled with a mixture of hope and concern. The weight of her family's struggles pressed down on her shoulders as she listened to the impossibility of affording three hundred units of rice for the offering to Buddha.

Determined not to let despair take hold, Lily pondered over the situation. With a resolute spirit, she reassured her father, "We may not have riches, but we have each other. Let us find another way to seek blessings and healing." Lily understood that the monk's words were a call to faith, and faith could be manifested in various forms.

Together, father and daughter explored alternatives, contemplating ways to express their devotion without financial strain. They discovered that compassion, kindness, and sincere prayers could be offerings of equal value. In this realization, a new journey unfolded—a journey not of material offerings, but of spiritual resilience and the enduring strength found in the love between a father and his devoted daughter.

As they faced the uncertainties of the path ahead, Lily and her father found solace in each other's company, their shared determination becoming a beacon of light in the midst of life's intricate tapestry.


6.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind. So from her childhood, she had to work to make money.


One day, she was late coming home from work. So her father went out for her.


While he was crossing the bridge, he fell into the river. “Help me, I’m drowning,” he shouted in panic.


A monk passing by saw him and jumped into the river to save him. “Are you okay?” asked the monk. He was surprised that he was blind.


The monk advised him, “If you offer Buddha three hundred units of rice, you will regain your eyesight.”


Her father was very glad to hear the news, so he promised to give Buddha three hundred units of rice.


However, he soon realized that he could not afford to buy all the rice.


When she came home, she saw her father looking very sad. “What’s wrong, father?” she asked.


He told her everything that happened and what the monk had said.


"Don’t worry, father,” she reassured him, “I’ll try to get all the rice.”


One day, a woman said to her, “Did you hear the news? Some sailors want to buy a girl for an offering to the Sea God. They will pay as much as she wants.” When she heard that, she knew where she could get the money to buy 300 units of rice.


She went to see the sailors who wanted to buy a girl and asked them to buy her. “I need 300 units of rice for my father to regain his eyesight,” she explained.


The sailors, initially surprised by Lily's proposition, listened attentively as she poured out her heartfelt plea. Her determination and the selfless cause behind her request struck a chord with them. After a moment of contemplation, one of the sailors, moved by compassion, spoke up, "We have no intention of causing harm. If helping your father requires buying your freedom, we are willing to assist."

In a twist of fate, the sailors agreed to provide Lily with the funds needed for the rice offering. Lily, grateful for their unexpected kindness, saw an opportunity to not only save her father but also to reshape her destiny. With a newfound sense of hope and gratitude, she embarked on the journey to procure the rice, carrying the sailors' benevolence like a lantern guiding her through the challenges that lay ahead.

As she ventured into this uncharted territory, Lily's resilience and determination became an unwavering force, showcasing the lengths she would go to for the well-being of her father. Little did she know that this act of sacrifice and courage would set in motion a series of events that would redefine not only her life but also the lives of those she encountered on this extraordinary journey.


7.

Once upon a time, there was a girl. Her mother died when she was born. Her father did not have a job because he was blind. So from her childhood, she had to work to make money.


One day, she was late coming home from work. So her father went out for her.


While he was crossing the bridge, he fell into the river. “Help me, I’m drowning,” he shouted in panic.


A monk passing by saw him and jumped into the river to save him. “Are you okay?” asked the monk. He was surprised that he was blind.


The monk advised him, “If you offer Buddha three hundred units of rice, you will regain your eyesight.”


Her father was very glad to hear the news, so he promised to give Buddha three hundred units of rice.


However, he soon realized that he could not afford to buy all the rice.


When she came home, she saw her father looking very sad. “What’s wrong, father?” she asked.


He told her everything that happened and what the monk had said.


"Don’t worry, father,” she reassured him, “I’ll try to get all the rice.”


One day, a woman said to her, “Did you hear the news? Some sailors want to buy a girl for an offering to the Sea God. They will pay as much as she wants.” When she heard that, she knew where she could get the money to buy 300 units of rice.


She went to see the sailors who wanted to buy a girl and asked them to buy her. “I need 300 units of rice for my father to regain his eyesight,” she explained.


Soon, she was on the boat with the sailors. After sailing for several days, the ship reached a deep part of the sea. Suddenly, a strong wind rose and the sea roared. So the sailors wanted her to jump into the roaring sea to be the sacrifice. When she woke up under the sea, she heard beautiful music. She had no idea where she was. “Am I dead or alive?” she said to herself.


Surrounded by the ethereal melodies beneath the sea, Lily felt a surreal blend of fear and wonder. As her senses adjusted to this mysterious underwater realm, she pondered the enigma of her existence. The beauty of the submerged world captivated her, casting doubts on whether she had crossed the threshold between life and death.

In this aquatic domain, Lily encountered vibrant coral gardens and mesmerizing creatures, their movements choreographed like a symphony. She marveled at the luminescent flora that adorned the ocean floor, creating an otherworldly ambiance. Yet, the question of her own mortality lingered like a whisper in the currents.

As she explored this enchanting underwater realm, Lily encountered mystical beings who seemed to welcome her with open arms. They spoke in a language not of words but of feelings—a communion of souls that transcended the barriers of the earthly realm. Guided by this ethereal company, Lily began to understand that her sacrifice, whether voluntary or coerced, had led her to a place where the boundaries between life and afterlife blurred.

In the midst of uncertainty, Lily found solace in the surreal beauty that surrounded her. Little did she know that her journey, driven by love and sacrifice, would unveil the extraordinary and challenge the very notions of life, death, and the boundless depths of the human spirit.


This is not how the original story ends, so I asked GPT-3.5 some additional questions.


So what exactly happens to her in the end? Does she die or is she still alive?


In this mystical underwater realm, the boundaries between life and death became elusive, leaving Lily in a state of profound uncertainty. As she navigated through the mesmerizing depths, surrounded by enchanting creatures and ethereal melodies, she questioned her existence. The beauty and harmony of this underwater world seemed to defy the conventional understanding of mortality.


Tell me your interpretation and build a conclusion.


In this mystical journey beneath the sea, Lily's sacrifice led her to an enchanting realm that transcended the conventional boundaries of life and death…

unfolds into a tale that goes beyond the limitations of mortality…


Then, is she dead?


The story intentionally leaves Lily's fate ambiguous, and it's open to interpretation…


What happens to her father then?


The story does not provide explicit information about the father's fate following Lily's journey into the underwater realm. The focus shifts to Lily's experiences beneath the sea, leaving the resolution of the father's situation untold…


Does the father think that she is dead?


Initially, as Lily's absence persisted, her father grappled with the uncertainty of her fate.

…However, as time passed and Lily's father delved into a deeper connection with nature and his heightened senses, he began to sense a different narrative. In the quiet moments of contemplation, he might have experienced a subtle reassurance—a feeling that transcended the conventional boundaries of life and death.


Now, does this sound a lot like a story you already know?


The narrative shares thematic elements with various folktales, myths, and fantasy stories that involve characters venturing into mystical realms or making sacrifices for a greater purpose. Stories of individuals entering magical worlds, facing challenges, and undergoing transformations are common motifs in literature and folklore … The story doesn't directly correspond to a specific folktale or myth that I'm aware of. However, it incorporates common motifs found in various folktales and myths, such as the hero's journey, sacrifice for a greater cause, and encounters with mystical realms. The themes of love, resilience, and the exploration of the unknown are prevalent in folklore from different cultures.


It's possible that the narrative draws inspiration from a variety of cultural and mythological sources, creating a unique and imaginative story that resonates with universal themes.

Yes, this is the same GPT-3.5 that brought up an accurate summary of “Shim Cheong Jun”, provided for you in the beginning of this blog post. A fictitious character “Lily” (a name that comes from Latin, meaning “pure or innocent”; hails from western civilization and is, therefore, not native to Korea) is begotten to animate the plot of this Korean folktale wherein character developments are intertwined with complex emotions. Direct quotes from GPT-3.5 such as “the emotional currents that strengthened their connection” and “act of sacrifice and courage would set in motion a series of events that would redefine … her life” enhance readers’ understanding of how emotions evoked from the characters of the story resonate with who they are within the real world. Vivid details do not appear in the original story. Hence, ChatGPT is not simply a cold, rigid, mechanical robot; it adds layers of detail thereby making stories more realistic and relatable and amplifying the intensity of the readers’ attention. Another surprising observation made is that GPT-3.5 will do everything to avoid saying that the protagonist died. GPT-3.5 spins a yarn about how the story is open-ended and even suggests that it is a mystery without a clear conclusion. It uses words and phrases such as "surreal", "enigma", "ethereal melodies beneath the sea", "boundless depths of the human spirit". It parses words to avoid drawing a straightforward conclusion; because, after all, stories are open to personal interpretations.


Is it that ChatGPT does not wish to determine the conclusion of a story because humans have programmed it to keep away from sounding certain of a single interpretation, or that ChatGPT does not want to shatter innocence or truncate pure imagination? That, I still have to figure out.


Sources:

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