Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Golem


Everywhere I look in Prague I see cutesy golems – on mugs, tea-towels, cards. It's as if the golem has been adopted as the mascot for a Prague Olympic bid. Do you remember those horrid blobs we trolled out for London 2012, meant to be something every six year old girl wanted to cuddle? Think more cultured and you have the Prague 2013 golem.

Now don't get me wrong, the Czechs have a lovely line in taking something threatening (like devils) and producing something less threatening for children. One of the things I have always loved about them is their strength in graphic design. But somehow, for me at least, it doesn't quite work for the Golem. You will note the shift from lower case to upper there.

The Golem is something deeply rooted in Prague, born of the mud of the Vltava River in fact. What is it/he? And what does he mean? Golems (with a lower case), and there were more than one in Jewish folklore and legend, are beings which are brought life to by magical incantation from inanimate matter, often from mud , as is the case of the Prague Golem. Only the most holy of men can create a golem, the means can be found in the close study of the holy scripts.

A golem has no mind of his own; he exists to obey his creator and master. One might say he is a pre-Industrial Revolution robot (and “robot” of course is a creation of a Czech writer). Most importantly he is dumb. He does not have that most human of attributes the skill to use language. He is in some ways a puppet, another quintessentially Czech creation. You see where I'm going here?

This is turning into a long post, so I will explore the Golem further (including telling the tale of the Golem in Prague) in another post. But let me just leave you with one last thought. The first golem, the first creation from mud, was Adam. We are therefore all golems.

2 comments:

Gormie said...

It is important to note that the Golem was largely popularized the two-part film "Císařův pekař" and "Pekařův císař", a fairy tale about the Czech King Rudolph II. I believe that this film is the reason the Golem is seen more as a fairy tale character and less like a mystical creature.

Great blog, by the way!

Stephen Barker said...

I have seen a German Expressionist film version of the Golem legend which was certainly not a fairy-tale for children.

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