Under the Influence of Golems

Here’s a confession: I haven’t read that many golem stories. Or at least, as many as someone who’s written a book called 
The Golem and the Jinni
 probably should’ve. I haven’t read Cynthia Ozick’s 
The Puttermesser Papers
, or Marge Piercy’s 
He, She and It
. I haven’t cracked Thane Rosenbaum’s 
The Golems of Gotham
, or the more golem-centered volumes of Terry Pratchett’s 
Discworld
 series.

When I started writing The Golem and the Jinni, I was really, really unsure of myself. I was embarking on what I knew was my first real book, and it was like all newborn things, delicate and easily disturbed. Something warned me that if I filled my head with the golem stories of other, far more talented writers, I would crowd my own barely-formed golem right out of my brain, or unintentionally mash it into a different image.

Over the years, that intimidation became an almost superstitious avoidance. Maybe now that the book is finished, I can finally crack The Puttermesser Papers without worrying that Ozick‘s golem will feel more real to me than my own. But in any case, here are a few golem stories that I do know, and that added their own particular flavors to my book, whether I meant them to or not.

1) 
The old, classic stories of Rabbi Loew and his golem
Honestly, I’m not sure when I first heard these stories. At Sunday school? That sort of Old World folk culture didn’t fit with our modern Reform curriculum. My grandparents? My mom’s parents were cosmopolitan German Jews; this wasn’t really their thing. My dad’s folks were the Yiddish speakers, but I don’t remember them telling me folk tales. Usually they were too busy trying to get me to eat things. So where did I learn them? It feels like the stories were always there, floating through the ether: Rabbi Loew and his golem, the protector of Prague’s medieval Jews during the pogroms. Years later, after I’d started writing The Golem and the Jinni, first my parents and then my in-laws visited Prague and brought me back little translated volumes of golem stories. A few were variations I hadn’t read before, but mostly they were already familiar.

Posted on April 25, 2013

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