Lovecraft Country: What is a Kumiho?

Lovecraft Country expands its base of monsters outside the confines of North America to introduce the kumiho of Korea.

Lovecraft Country Episode 6 Kumiho
Photo: HBO

The following contains spoilers for Lovecraft Country episode 6.

Through five episodes, Lovecraft Country has introduced audiences to some of the Lovecraft canon’s most terrifying monsters and some of North America’s most notable mythological creatures. In its sixth episode “Meet Me in Daegu,” however, HBO’s horror anthology-esque series takes a trip East to delve into one of the Korean Peninsula’s most famous beasts. 

“Meet Me in Daegu” centers around a “kumiho” and the “mudang” who summoned it. While Lovecraft Country does an admirable job in holding the viewers’ hands through kumiho lore, it still might not be entirely clear what the Korean mythological creature played by Jamie Chung is or does. So allow us to explain.

For starters, like the actress who plays it in Lovecraft, a kumiho is a total fox…literally. More specifically a kumiho is a fox with nine tails, not entirely unlike a certain fire Pokémon. Some Korean legends claim that a kumiho is an otherwise normal fox that lives for a thousand years and evolves into this nine-tailed monster. Viewers can actually see all of the kumiho’s nine tails in the episode as they are the appendages that the kumiho-possessed Ji-ah (Chung) uses to kill her prey (and absorbing their memories in the process). 

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One could be forgiven for thinking that these were spider legs or tentacles as they certainly resemble the former and Lovecraft Country has a deep abiding love of the latter. But in reality the hairy cylinders are just Ji-ah putting those tails to good use. 

The modus operandi of a kumiho spirit is to transform into a beautiful young woman so that it can seduce men and then feed on their hearts or liver (depending on which version of the legend we’re going with). It’s in this aspect of the kumiho that Korean tradition taps into a sort of worldwide collective unconscious where mostly patriarchal cultures fear the influence of attractive women. Just get a load of all the examples of beautiful female mythological beasts here

In fact, the kumiho itself dates back to Chinese myths and folklore rather than Korean. And its appearance and aims are strongly similar to the Japanese kitsune. The Korean interpretation of the creature is far more violent and sinister than any of its other Asian counterparts. In Korean culture, foxes are even frequently viewed as an omen of death. Notably Ji-ah sees a fox when she visits the mudang (a female Korean shaman) at episode’s end.

In “Meet Me in Daegu,” Ji-ah’s kumiho is far more than just an omen of death, she’s a deliverer of it. Ji-ah’s mother has enlisted a mudong to use the evil shade as more of a tool to avenge the sexual violence visited upon her daughter. The only catch here is that the kumiho will have to kill 99 more evil men before returning Ji-ah to her mother. Granted, if any malevolent spirit can’t find 99 evil men during the height of the Korean War, then they’re not trying hard enough. 

This use of the kumiho as a tool is very much in keeping with the themes of Lovecraft Country. This is a show where affluent and ancient white families like the Braithwhites have been using arcane magic for centuries to their great advantage. Tic, Leti, and their friends in Chicago now see those same magical tools as a way to even the playing field. It turns out that over in Korea, folks like Ji-ah’s mother already have.