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Golem

From Academic Kids

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A golem (sometimes pronounced goilem), in medieval folklore and from Jewish mythology is an animated being crafted from inanimate material. In modern Hebrew the word golem denotes "fool", "silly", or even "stupid", "clue-less", and "dumb". The name appears to derive from the word gelem, which means 'raw material'.

Contents

History

The word golem is also used in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and in Talmudic literature to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance. Similarly, Golems are used today primarily in metaphor either as brainless lunks or as entities serving man under controlled conditions but enemies in others. Similarly, it is a Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.

The earliest stories of golems date to early Judaism. They were a creation of those who were very holy and close to God. A very holy person was one who strove to approach God, and in that pursuit would gain some of God's wisdom and power. One of these powers was the creation of life. No matter how holy a person got, however, the being they created would be but a shadow of one created by God. Like Adam, the golem is created from mud. Early on the notion developed that the main disability of the golem was its inability to speak. Having a golem servant was seen as the ultimate symbol of wisdom and holiness, and there are many tales of golems connected to prominent rabbis throughout the Middle Ages.

Other attributes of the golem were gradually added over time. In many tales the Golem is inscribed with magic or religious words that keep it animated. Writing the name of God on its forehead, (or on a clay tablet under its tongue) or writing the word Emet ('truth' in the Hebrew language) on its forehead are examples of such words. By erasing the first letter in 'Emet' to form 'Met' ('death' in Hebrew) the golem can be destroyed.

The most famous golem narrative involves the Maharal of Prague, a 16th century rabbi. He is reported to have created a golem to defend the Prague ghetto from Anti-Semitic attacks.

The existence of a golem is in most stories portrayed as a mixed blessing. Although not overly intelligent, a golem can be made to perform simple tasks over and over. The problem is one of control or getting it to stop, bearing a resemblance to the story of the broomstick in the Sorcerer's Apprentice.

In the late nineteenth century the golem was adopted by mainstream European society. Most notably Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel Der Golem based on the tales of the golem created by Judah Low ben Bezalel. This book inspired a classic set of expressionistic silent movies, Paul Wegener's Golem series, of which especially Golem: How He Came Into the World (also released as The Golem, 1920, USA 1921) is famous. Another famous treatment from the same era is H. Leivick's 1921 Yiddish-language "dramatic poem in eight sections" The Golem.

These tales saw a dramatic change, and some would argue a Christianization, of the golem. Christianity, far more than Judaism, has long had a deep concern with humanity getting too close to God. The golem thus became a creation of overambitious and overreaching mystics, who would inevitably be punished for their blasphemy, very similar to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the alchemical homunculus. The Golem has also been considered by some to be an early android, further divorcing it from its roots.

In 2005, the story of the Golem was returned to its Jewish roots, as a new comic strip in Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth depicted the Golem as a government-funded superhero protecting Israel from its domestic and existential difficulties.

Popular culture

Probably as a result of the popularity of Meyrink's work, the golem concept has found its way into various elements of popular culture. Examples include:

  • The science-fiction novel Kiln People by David Brin features short-lived duplicates of people created from mud.
  • The Discworld novel Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett also features golems in a prominent role, handling in a satirical way many of the cliches of the golem genre.
  • Pete Hamill's novel Snow in August revolves around the Maharal's Golem, which might or might not have come to life in the last chapter of the book.
  • Pokemon features a monster which has been given the name Golem in the English language version, an evolved form of the Pokemon Geodude. Golem was portrayed as having a rounded rock body, arms, legs, and a head.
  • On February 16, 1997, the television program The X-Files aired an episode in which the "Monster-of-the-Week" was a Golem. The episode was called "Kaddish," and the plot concerned a young Hasidic woman who created a Golem to avenge her husband's murder by neo-nazis.
  • The Golem of Prague plays a role in the plot of the novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and also in the computer game Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption.
  • The anime series RahXephon features giants called "Dolems". This name sounds like a blend of the solmizated notes "Do-Re-Mi" and the word "golem".

Golems in role-playing games

The concept of golems and similar automata and simulacra is a popular one, and throughout the history of the hobby of roleplaying games, it has given birth to a vast array of variations upon the theme.

The concept of golems was one of the mythological sources adopted into the game of Dungeons & Dragons during its creation, and it has been a popular one throughout the game's history. To differentiate them from the golems of legend, golems in D&D (and other games following the pattern, such as Nethack) come in different flavors depending on the material of their construction. These include

  • Clay golems (most like the original, and prone to berserk rages)
  • Flesh golems (stiched-together abominations reminiscent of Frankenstein's creature)
  • Iron golems (great metal statues that can expel toxic fumes)
  • Stone golems (animate statues impervious to non-magical attack)

The whimsical computer game Nethack also includes such creatures as paper golems (large piles of paper that inflict papercuts on adversaries) and gold golems (large animate conglomerations of gold coins).

Many other role-playing games that include golems fall into the "mon" genre of video games, many of which include monsters named "golem". These golems are usually animated rock or earth in a vaguely anthropomorphic shape.

A common mis-association

Gollum is additionally the name of a wretched creature in J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth; the name however is derived not from Golem, but rather from the throaty sound the character makes. He is a "natural" (although deformed) being of Middle-earth.

External links

fr:Golem it:Golem he:גולם (מיסטיקה) nl:Golem (legende) ja:ゴーレム pt:Golem sv:Golem

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