In Sunday night’s episode of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, we meet a new scary friend: Meeh Ji-Ah (played by Jamie Chung). Who isn’t really Ji-Ah. It’s a kumiho (AKA a multi-tailed fox spirit, no big deal) possessing the body of Ji-Ah. It’s a whole thing—the kumiho has to feed on the souls of 99 men in order to bring OG Ji-Ah back, and when we meet this particular kumiho, we’re almost at 99. We meet Ji-Ah/kumiho in Daegu, South Korea, which is where Atticus serves in the military circa 1950. You guessed it: Tic becomes a good-looking target for no. 99. And he nearly does, until Ji-Ah starts a relationship with him, sees that he’s going to die anyway (!), and he runs away.
In Lovecraft Country’s portrayal of Ji-Ah/the kimiho, we only get a small glimpse of what’s a centuries-old Chinese myth, which later became a part of Korean mythology. And the full story is—if you can believe it, considering we saw the kimiho explode a guy—even more terrifying than what we see in Lovecraft Country.
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First up, for the record, here’s what the episode tells us about the creature: it’s a fox, with nine tails, “summoned into the form of a beautiful woman to avenge the wrong done by men.” Also, apparently, gifted with clairvoyance too. And it’s not too far off from what we see in East Asian folklore, where nine-tailed spirit foxes are kind of a thing. But in Japanese myths, where these creatures are called kitsune, the spirit is more of a guiding, religious being. The Chinese fox, Huli Jing, are more similar to the Lovecraft Country spirit—shapeshifting into women, feeding on men for survival—but are more often portrayed as good-natured companions.
The kumiho? Straight-up evil. Shapeshifters, yes, but instead of feeding on peoples’ essences like the Huli Jing, they need to eat a heart, sometimes a liver. Also known to enjoy (like El Cuco, actually!) snacking on livestock. Hangs out in graveyards. The kumiho need a human skull in order to transform into one, suck their victims’ blood like vampires, and can conjure up illusions. (Stay away from reading the actual translations of some of these stories if the action in Lovecraft made you queasy.) Not too much out there about clairvoyance, though—that could’ve been a handy little device to spell some late-season doom for Atticus.
So, yeah—a long ways off from the American sly as a fox cliches, where our most terrifying television fox might just be Dora the Explorer’s Swiper the Fox.
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