How Hotel Del Luna frames its narrative around a tree

“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You‘re not a tree. You have the ability to totally transform every area in your life—and it all begins with your very own power of choice.”

Jim Rohn

I like this quote a lot. It means that we humans are not static creatures. We can choose to change who we are and how we engage with the world. The power of this particular quote and its meaning started resonating a lot more after my second viewing of Hotel Del Luna on Netflix. This 2019 South-Korean drama series was a welcome change of tone after watching the more comedic My Love from the Star. It feels more grounded, and because of its storytelling roots in religion and folklore the narrative setting feels more relatable than the upper class romance story between a film star and an alien.

What is Hotel Del Luna?

Hotel Del Luna (HDL) is best described as a drama series with romantic and fantasy elements. The titular hotel is a place where the recently deceased can rest before they leave this world for the afterlife. They rest at the hotel to relieve themselves of grudges they held onto from their life. When done so satisfactory they leave for the mythical Samdo River1 to proceed to the afterlife. 

The owner of the hotel is the sharp-tongued Jang Man-Wol. This woman has a love for expensive things and a deep grudge that has held her in this place for the last  1300 years. Only after the arrival of the new human manager things slowly start to change. The new manager, Goo Chan-sung is needed to assist with all the chores that the ghosts cannot do themselves. Especially monetary affairs since ghosts don’t deal in real world currency anymore. The hard working and kind hearted man initially doesn’t want to work at this unknown hotel. Especially since he is wanted by a lot of high-profile hotels in Korea because of his Harvard MBA and work experience. Only after his interest is peaked by the initial events of the story he decides to stay and fulfill the task the deity Mago gave him.

This is as far as I’ll go spoiler free. If you have not watched the show, I highly recommend you do. If you’re not sure if it’s for you, I’d advise you to watch the trailer or the first and second episode. That will give you a good indication.

Spoilers start now!

There is only one Moon tree

The moon tree as depicted in the show is fictional. I cannot find any story from myth or folklore in which this iteration of a tree has the same function.  However we do often find old trees as guiding mentors in stories. But contrary to those stories, the Moon Tree in HDL is static and only communicates through visual means. In the narrative it holds all the remaining life of the hotel’s owner from the moment she was bound to this place. The Moon Tree can be seen as a representation of the character’s emotional state. So for 1300 years it has looked dead with its roots firmly placed in the grudges of the past. And we can clearly see that Jang Man-Wol is a character in limbo, unable to move on to the afterlife until she releases her grudges. But because she is unable to, her situation2 is basically a self created hellscape. This is partially the reason for her rough attitude. She takes what she wants and she drinks a lot to forget her predicament. But while she is unable to age physically, the magic of the tree has not taken the capability from her to grow psychologically.

She hates her precious

On a basic level Jang Man-Wol has a similar relationship with the Moon Tree as Gollum has with the One Ring. They are bound in a parasitic way where the living creature (Gollum and Jang Man-Wol) cannot live without the apparent lifeless object even when they both hate it. I will not delve deeper into Gollum’s relationship with the One Ring, but contrary to Jang Man-Wol he actively went to search for it after it was taken from him. For Jang Man-Wol it is different because the Moon Tree will follow her if she does not return to the hotel within the next day. 

Despite appearances I believe the Moon Tree is not just an object of hate because it also is the only thing that reminds her of her (happy) life before she was bound to it. And like I mentioned earlier it is a piece of herself, a piece that she needs to face and eventually needs to accept so she can move on. And while it looks like she doesn’t want to release her grudges, I believe that on a deeper level she doesn’t know how to do it. 

Great Wall

We all have our challenges, which sometimes look like multiple Great Walls stacked upon each other. The challenges we face are individual. You have different life challenges than I do. And while it initially may seem that the grudges of the ghosts in HDL are all aimed at old friends, family or loved ones; they are in fact unresolved personal issues. The ghosts need to learn to forgive themselves before they will be able to move on. Jang Man-Wol is one of them. She has no one to really talk to. No one takes the time to listen on a deeper level to what she has to say because of her aggressive demeanor. Which makes her a very lonely person. And while there may have been some characters who have been a pillar of support, none have the impact that Goo Chan-sung has.


I like the way the concept of reincarnation is woven into HDL. It implies that there is a high chance you will encounter a soul from your past life in the next one. So it seems only fitting that the boy who saved Jang Man-Wol in a past life will aid her again. Goo Chan-Sung is not afraid to have discussions about practical matters or ask the hard questions without expecting a proper answer. In that way I respect the character for his understanding of the human psyche. How often do we twist and turn to not give an honest answer to a difficult question. Or laugh because we are speechless and we have no ability to construct an immediate answer. Goo Chan-sung has the ability to ask the question and wait patiently until he receives a satisfying answer. This skill eventually breaks through Jang Man-Wol’s (self erected) barrier and over time she accepts that what happened was not her fault. She was as much a victim of the situation as she was responsible for killing Go Chung-myung. And when she realizes this and slowly releases her pain, the tree begins to bloom.


HDL is full of emotional healing. It shows us that when you share your pain with a trusted person, it will soften. When pain is released, we humans are able to emotionally move on. We have no reason to keep our roots stuck in the past. We can grow and change in such a fundamental way that we look like a completely different person to the outside world. But all you did was bring out your inner beauty. Grow flowers on your branches for other people to appreciate. Be a complete human being who is able to enjoy life with the full spectrum of emotions. Because if Hotel Del Luna taught me anything, it is that we never want to be like a dead tree.

  1. Similar to the Sanzu river the river Styx
  2. As she mentions in episode 1: “I’m not dead. I still haven’t died. I’m just here.”

A personal secret

As February passed I didn’t feel quite like writing something for my blog. You see: I knew very early in January that my next blog piece would be about new year’s resolutions and how most people don’t have their goals set in stone and follow through after 1-2 months.

But I think enough is written about this. And I don’t want to make this blog be about general things. I want to talk about topics that I like.

So today I will write shortly about what I’ve been doing the last month and how everything I will do this year fits into my Year Theme.

My personal theme this year is Future fit. It is situated in the area of mental and physical health.

It is a year where I explore different things to improve both topics. I explore/research topics like food, physical movement and attitude. Just to see what I like and implement those into my life. But I also work on my future. I want to make writing/making stories so big in my life it can pay the bills. I am showing bits of this on the web, but it’s not something I frequently talk about with people. Which can be considered strange if you consider it is an integral part of my being.

I recently started the Masterclass of Neil Gaiman on The art of Storytelling. The second chapter has an exercise which deals with this very issue. So as part of my coming out as a writer and being Future Fit, I will share this with you.

The goal of this exercise is to practice honesty in writing. To show more then you are comfortable showing. There are 4 prompts to choose from, I chose this one: A secret that you are afraid to talk about.

Secret: Of dragons and spaceships.

When you would ask me: What is a secret that you are afraid to talk about I would have to think. The goal of this exercise is to be a little bit more honest than usual. So my choice would be: my writing. You see, it is not a secret. But it is also not something that I tell everyone when we talk about life. It’s just there, as a part of my life. And it’s just a part of me as playing volleyball and work and cook nice food. It just is a topic that is out of most people’s spectrum so it is almost never brought up. People ask each other about life in general (how are you) or work (how/where do you work), but we almost never get to the point where I naturally say: “I’m writing a story. One that will inspire people. One that shows them you need to make the big choices in your life. Even if you cannot see where it leads.”  

It’s not that I’m bad at small talk, I think I’m just to aware of time and that my conversation partner and myself will probably never get to the good stuff. That place and time where you talk about personal goals and what that little dot on the horizon is. And there is also that little voice of judgement that says: “You can’t say you think in dragons, magic and spaceships. Who says that? That’s silly! People will look at you if you’re crazy.”

And the truth is: I am crazy. About dragons, magic and spaceships. And it does not really matter what others think, because it is a part of me.

So the next time you meet me, indulge me for a bit. I know the conversation would be a little different then what you expect, but it will be most rewarding.