Under the Oak Tree
상수리나무 아래 (Sangsulinamu Alae)
P (art); namu (adaptation); Kim Suji (story)
Webtoon – Drama, fantasy, romance, mature
18 Chapters (ongoing)
After not seeing him since their wedding night three years ago, Maximilian’s husband, Riftan, is set to return. Rumor is he wants a divorce, and her father orders Maximilian to stop that from happening. Maximilian, with her low self-esteem, feels there’s little she can do. But instead of leaving her, Riftan takes her with him…?
Under the Oak Tree will have many readers falling under its spell.
I know webtoons are rapidly rising in popularity right now, and with plenty of freemium and low-priced subscription options, like the recently launched Manta Comics ($3.99 a month), webtoons seem to be making a significant impact on the comic market. As for me, I haven’t kept up with any for one reason or another. There are some good ones out there, but I’m just not big on the scroll format. I don’t even tend to use the arrow keys on the computer; I like page up/down.
But I understand why webtoons are rising in popularity, especially for more female-oriented works. Compared to manga in particular, young adults and adults seem to be the protagonists more often in webtoons, although women seem to get pregnant very easily!
Fortunately, while Under the Oak Tree is one of those stories aimed at women about two adults, the heroine hasn’t gotten pregnant yet. And quite frankly, she needs to work on herself before being a mother. Not that it’s her fault, as her father has never given his daughter affection — but her husband certainly is!
Under the Oak Tree opens with a wedding, and then it jumps to three years later. There, the bride, Maximilian hears her husband is coming home after not seeing Riftan since the night of their wedding. He’s rumored to be coming to request a divorce to marry the princess, as now Riftan is a hero who would have enough prestige to do so. Maximilian’s father, whom she still lives with but hardly cares for her, is furious she is about to sully their family by being a divorced woman, and he orders her to prevent the marriage from falling apart. Maximilian thinks it’s unlikely he’ll stay since she speaks with a stutter and is called ugly by her own father. Plus, she knows Riftan was forced to marry her because of his low rank.
Maximilian is torn between fear for her father and her own lack of self-worth, but shortly after Riftan returns, he ushers her into his carriage to take her to his land. She’s bewildered buy his actions, but she’s even more bewildered by how gentle and affectionate he is with her. As Maximilian begins to accept the warmth Riftan and his people offer her, she worries her miserable upbringing will cause everyone — especially her husband — to be disillusioned with her and, at worse, force her out of her new home.
Under the Oak Tree is set in a land with monsters and magic, as is typical of a medieval-style fantasy story. However, magic doesn’t seem to a big part of this world. It’s a physical wall that keeps out most of the creatures;Maximilian and Riftan travel by carriage and horseback; merchants and tailors bring new merchandise; etc. Really the only significant use of magic is Maximilian holding a stone with a fire spell to keep warm, but Riftan’s sword also has magical properties. Although we’ve seen him unsheathe his sword a few times to fight off the monsters, they posed little threat to Riftan, and so we haven’t seen any of his sword’s tricks yet.
I’m sure we will. I’m not sure exactly how though, as right now, the conflict is all inside Maximilian. I can certainly bet her father will return, and we’ll also meet her much-ballyhooed younger sister, as they are central to the heroine’s inferiority complex. Riftan also has gripes with the king, as he wanted Riftan to marry his daughter. But so far my biggest gripe is that there don’t seem to be a lot of hints about what the story is going to build towards. You know, things like shifting back to Maximilian’s father, Duke Croyso, to see if he’s raging or angrily agonizing about the situation between Maximilian and Riftan. Or maybe the king plotting to have a legendary knight by his side. Something that foreshadows the wrenches that will be thrown into Riftan and Maximilian’s relationship.
As for their marriage, Under the Oak Tree hasn’t quite explained why Riftan is so fond of his wife. He does seem to be against divorce, although with churches being a central part of their society, that’s not exactly a radical position. By all indications, he spent those three years longing to return to his wife’s side, but he didn’t seem to have time to write a letter or something? I guess it’s possible they were intercepted, but I’d think by now he’d ask why Maximilian didn’t respond. So while it wasn’t too much of a surprise Riftan didn’t hate her since he’s a good guy, it was a shock to me he does care deeply — if not love — her already. Maximilian, it’s easier to understand why she’s quickly so fond of him since no one has cared about her before. So I am curious if we’ll get confirmation it was love at first sight or something (although one line could be construed as something like that).
Going back to their wedding, they did consummate their marriage that night. I went into Under the Oak Tree expecting the male lead to demand Maximilian’s “wifely duties” before he high-tailed it out of there for those three years. A lot of those webtoons, whether based on a novel like this one is or not, have that same sort of setup. But Riftan did ask if they could proceed to the bed, and he even did so again after his return. Maximilian’s pressure from her father made her say yes, so it unfortunately wasn’t wholly of her free will. But considering a lot of romances featuring males in the 21st century have less manners and restraint, it’s easy to swoon over Riftan.
Especially since he has big muscles. Like straight out of a bara manga. Like he could be friends with Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. We get so see him topless several times, as he’s always up for a round with his wife. As part of Maximilian’s journey to self-discovery, she is slowly learning to enjoy and indulge in physical affection with him. As with most webtoons I’ve read, intimate scenes are not very graphic, but it’s enough to see her enjoying the act more and just miss his company at night.
But while her relationship with her husband is going well overall, Maximilian’s confidence is low. Riftan wants her to live the life he presumes she had, but even his beat-up castle is better in most ways than what she had at her father’s. The fact he tells her money is no object combined with Riftan trying to act more worldly than she is is rife for potential problems for the characters (get greedy or be generally incompetent with money) and for readers (message that money can buy happiness), so that would be one aspect I’d like to see tackled more slowly or subtly.
Maximilian’s depression also stems from comments about her looks. She has freckles, which is often used in media for that plain/geek aura, but otherwise, there haven’t been that many other females in the story to get a better idea of where her inferiority complex comes from. Actually, I’m surprised there weren’t more insults in her past about her skin, as she’s very pale, especially next to Riftan. Maximilian does seem to have an actual stutter, and it’s nice to see a heroine with an actual speech impediment that isn’t cured overnight. She needs to work on relying on others more still, but at least she isn’t obtuse to the fact Riftan is treating her kindly and not out of some dark, hidden motivation.
Otherwise, Under the Oak Tree‘s art is quite attractive, with its bright colors and simple but effective segue panels. Occasionally, the art is meant to be enjoyed in landscape view instead of the normal portrait orientation, which I wasn’t a fan of. It’s stuff like seeing all the knights eating at the table, so nothing too dramatic or important so far, but I hope some key scenes won’t have everyone straining their neck to enjoy them in full. But again, colors are used effectively to show off various materials from flowing fabric to hard metal to crumbling infrastructure, and while blushing is Maximilian’s thing, we even get some out of Riftan. And while the story may prioritize the romance, the few battles we seen does make the monsters, including large ogres, actually look scary and dangerous, and it’s only because of the skill of Riftan and his subordinates that there isn’t more bloodshed. At the beginning of the comic, we see a quick flashback of Riftan taking down a dragon, and that’s something I’d love to see in detail — or, more likely, again.
Again, I’m not much of a webtoon reader, but even without a clear destination right now, Under the Oak Tree is making one heck of a case to be the one I stick with.