Monday, April 8, 2019

Author's Notes: Golems

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

If you’ve read the whole Stone Soldiers series, you know there’s a former Nazi Hunter-turned-Stone Soldier on the team: Yadid Greenberg, code-name: Golem.

Yes, it’s a little hack to call the petrified Jewish guy on the team Golem, but this is a military series, and political correctness or empathy is often not part of the equation. What might seem like  denigrating nick name to outsiders is often bestowed within units as a way to find  little humor. And let’s face it, if you were in a military unit fighting unspeakable evil forces of darkness, you’d need a lot of humor.

But really, what is a Golem?

As a youth, my full extent of knowledge of the subject revolved around a single story of a Rabbi bestowing life on a man-shaped mass of clay, to fight Nazis. I couldn’t even tell you where I first heard this story, as it’s almost a trope now in fiction—even the show Supernatural had a story with a Nazi-fighting Golem (Episode 13, Season 8).

The genesis of the Stone Soldiers idea partly came from this modern bit of folklore—along with a dose of Marvel Comics' It: The Living Colossus and Benjamin J. Grimm. But rather than imbue my stone soldiers with life, I liked better the idea of turning soldiers to stone (thank you, Mr. Grimm).

Around the time I first decided to bestow the character of Yadid with his team name, I realized I didn’t really know what a Golem was. I set out to correct that and found some interesting lore.

First off, animating the unliving isn’t just the domain of Rabbis. Ghosts/Spirits are often attributed with this ability (apparently, it’s Child’s Play) as a kind of possession of the inanimate. What’s more, the Latin term for spirit, or breath of life, was Anima, or animusas in animated.

Putting aside tales of any homunculus (small, human like objects, e.g. Pinocchio), folklore is replete with all sorts of tales of physical objects being brought to life—kind of the opposite of Medusa’s ability to turn the living into inanimate objects.

Talos is a Greek tale of a giant automaton made of metal, who protected the Island of Europa—circling the island three times a day and driving off any hostile, would-be invaders. And when speaking about man-created life, one mustn’t leave out Frankenstein’s Monster, a more modern telling of the inanimate being brought to life.

But what about Golems?

Some might say Adam was a Golem, created by God in the Garden of Eden. Fashioned from clay, he was brought to life—a story mimicked in Pinocchio and the Wonder Woman movie of 2017.

While there are older Jewish legends of Golems, one of the earliest historical accounts I could find much detail on was that of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a 16th century Rabbi of Prague credited with creating a Golem from clay from the river Vltava. In this story, the Golem was credited to defend the people of the Prague ghetto (but not from Nazis, as it pre-dates that).

Other legends abound of Rabbis and Golems, and there are countless uses of the story in fiction, but what does the word Golem really mean? What about the term ties it to Judaism? What makes a living creation a Golem, and not a Homunculus

The word appears once in the Bible (Psalm 139:16; golmi; my golem), and describes "my light form", referring to an unfinished human. Another origin has the word in the Mishnah, meaning an uncultivated person. A more modern etymological origin from Modern Hebrew, has the term meaning dumb or helpless.

Whatever it’s origins and meanings, the term golem has, thanks to fiction, come to mean an animated being of Jewish origin. It definitely sounds better than Frankenstein, as well.

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