Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Obsessions and Golems

Gosh. I could write about things that aren’t stock photos OR classic epic poetry today. Huh. That being said, if you’re craving some classics, follow me on Twitter (@AnneBeanTweets) for my occasional live-tweets while reading Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Also, even though Stock Photo Hell is dead, long live Stock Photo Hell. The link there is about a video/PR campaign by the Republican party that disastrously backfired, not only because they used the hashtag #IAmARepublican but because the video seems to have been made almost entirely of stock photos. And as the Republican party trying to say how your members are diverse and interesting when in reality you searched “smiling Indian doctor” on iStockphoto.com for an image to use? Cheeeeesy.

Seriously, though: caveat scriptor. Whatever you write about will come back to haunt you in weird ways, like being sent endless Disney Princess memes, being acutely aware of stock photos, or finding Google Glass creepily similar to the dystopian novel you wrote a few years back.

But for real, in terms of my writing obsessions, can we talk about fairy tales? Specifically, can we talk about Jewish tales and legends?! Because they are the coolest. There are rampaging golems, vampires, a weaponized alphabet, demonesses stalking people from behind mirrors, magical artifacts, ghosts that possess the living (dybbuk), and more! A great starting place is to check out Howard Schwartz’s books of Jewish tales, such as Elijah’s Violin and Lilith’s Cave.

cover of The Golem by NeugroschelRecently I’ve been reading a collection of golem stories translated by Joachim Neugroschel. The book contains multiple stories by multiple folks including the classic 1921 play by H. Leivick. Right now I’ve been going through stories originally published by Yudl Rosenberg in 1909 that detail the exploits of the golem as raised by Rabbi Leyb of Prague. Rabbi Leyb, a.k.a. The Maharal, was a badass Rabbi/wizard who did subversive and heroic things to protect the Jews of Prague. The number one thing that endangered the Jews was the blood libel, i.e. Christians planting copious quantities of blood and/or the bodies of dead children in Jewish houses/the Jewish ghetto in order to convince everyone that Jews killed children. Never mind where the Christians were getting all these child-corpses from. (In one of the tales, a particularly nutty priest who’s been in a long feud with Rabbi Leyb actually kills a child to use in the blood libel. He is defeated by the golem and exposed for his fraud.)

So, for those of you who are not as obsessive about this stuff as me, a golem is a creature made of clay and brought to life by inscribing the word “emet” or “truth” in Hebrew on its forehead. In order to “kill” a golem, one rubs out the first letter of the word so that it reads “met” or “dead.” The golem cannot speak, and is inhumanly strong. I knew all this, coming into the Rosenberg stories. What I didn’t know was that the Golem of Prague had a name and occasionally got up to wacky hijinks. Joseph the Golem, a.k.a. the Golem of Prague, was one part protector and one part domestic servant. In fact, this one time there was an awkward situation where the Rabbi’s wife forgot to turn off the golem after she’d asked him to carry water and over flowed the…wait, doesn’t that sound a little bit familiar?

Mickey Mouse in Disney's Sorcerer's ApprenticeApparently, as Neugroschel mentions in the introduction to the book, Goerthe based his symphonic poem on the golem story, and the rest, as they say, is history. I find it interesting to track where golem mythos shows up in modern culture, from The Thing (Ben Grimm is Jewish) to incarnations in The X Files and Sleepy Hollow.

cover to Saga of the Swamp Thing #11, featuring the golem

An actual golem showed up in Saga of the Swamp Thing #11.

 

That’s all I’ve got. Join me next week for one or more of my usual obsessions: fairy tales, feminism, writing craft, and/or comics. Oh my.

2 Comments

  1. When you talk about golems, don’t forget to mention the ones on the Discworld. You’ve made me curious, I need to check out some of these books.

    • Anne Bean

      October 6, 2014 at 8:33 am

      I like Pratchett’s interpretations of golems in Discworld, particularly the worker’s ethics surrounding them. The Golem of Prague protected the Jewish people against the blood libel; in a fantasy world that doesn’t have the same monotheistic religious structure, Pratchett’s golems protect the workers (and sometimes the corrupt postmasters for a given value of “protect”).

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