Sunday, July 06, 2003

Golem and Gollums

6 July Golem and Gollums

If you walk through Josefov in Prague, undoubtedly, you shall bump into a golem. Ask about golem, and a guide will tell you that the Maharal put his remains in the attic of the Staronova synagogue. If you go around on Pariszka, you can see the ladder. To go there is forbidden.

In the 16th century, Jews and Judaism were under Christian persecution, expulsed from countries and frequently suferring from the effectiveness of the Inquisition. Rabbi Loew, known as the Maharal, made a visit to Leopold II. Bishop Thadeusz made life difficult for Prague Jews. To protect his people, the Maharal made a golem.
golem and r Loew

The concept of golem is traced back to the beginnings of time in Bereshit or Genesis 1:27 where God announces to make man in his image. First the Garden was created with plants and animals, and then man placed into it; but man was made from the dust of the earth and a bit of water and then God breathed life into its nostrils.

If man is made in the image of God, then man also has the power and ingenuity to create, as God began creation, but didn't finish it. He left man with the creative faculty to continue the process. But man has his own will and ideas about the world around him, which caused a minor rebellion to choose his own path. He has the power to create and destroy, which includes making a golem of his own.

Making a Golem
how to make a golem

The origin of the golem story is very old, starting somewhere around the 3d century. The Sefer Yetzirah contains the secret knowledge of the creation of the universe and how to make a golem, but the will must be pure or the golem will become destructive.

Rava's Golem
an essay discussing the creation of golems and Sefer Yetzirah

This eliminates any success for Shelley's golem, Frankenstein, as it was made with an impure intent. There are different stories regarding the Maharal's golem. Some say that it ended up flooding the home of the rabbi, adapted in Walt Disney's Fantasia in the clip of the Socerer's Apprentice; while others say that the Maharal's wife did not like to see anyone sitting around doing nothing, and so put it to work cleaning the house—a purely selfish motive, thus destroying it.

The Golem: background and summary
golem and the water (socerer's apprentice)

Rabbi Loew and the Golem of Prague
a story of the Maharal and the Golem

In 20th c Literature, two writers used golems in their works.: Karel Capek and JRR Tolkein. Capek uses the theme of the golem in RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots), coining the word "robot" in English, and War of the Newts. In both, the robots and newts begin as having no conscience or will of their own, but metamorphose into a humanlike state of consciousness and rebel against the wills of their masters. In RUR, Capek brings about a happy ending, allowing the robots to become human through experiencing love. He was optimistic in a bitter time, but Newts ends with the destruction of the world through the rebellion of the newts, foreshadowing the Nazi regime. Capek was third on the Gestapo hit list when they rolled into town He had died shortly before, so they were disappointed when they showed up at his door. They sent his brother, Josef, to Auschwitz.

The theme was picked up in more famous works such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Space Odessey 2001, Logan's Run and Blade Runner.

Gollum in the Lord of the Rings is dehobbitized to being subjugated to the evil within the pervasive power of the ring. He has no real will of his own, and in the end destroys himself, by falling over the edge into the Crack of Doom. Although, Lord of the Rings is hotly debated for Christian interpretation or supremist literature, it seems that the theme of the golem is often overlooked. According to kabalist literature, the motive of creating the golem must be pure, or the end result will be destructive.

Ralph C Wood: Tolkein's Orthodoxy
another controversial viewpoint chewing about religion

Hans Isaksson , Fantasy or Reality
more political rantings, but a trogodyte is a nonpasserine bird whereas Gollum was a hobbit

At the time of both these writers, man was creating mechanical workhorses to replace manual labor, but was also deeply immersed in creating weapons of mass human destruction that had never been known before. Capek definitely was concerned with the destructive politics of Nazi Germany which would dominate all of Europe after his death, resulting in millions of deaths of subjugated, dehumanized people—not just those who died in concentration camps, such as his brother Josef, but also those who died in battle. Certainly, Tolkein, was not untouched by the destructive forces of his age, and perhaps, the gollum he presents is only a marionette, having no will of its own, thus perishes as evil overwhelms itself.

JRR Tolkein: literary criticism links

JRR Tolkein: Online Literary Criticism

NYT: JRR Tolkein Archives

a collection of articles regarding Hobbits

Cathy Cupitt, Reverent Comic Subversion in The Hobbit
a comparison of hobbits and beowulfs and grendels

A warning? Perhaps, it is as man always takes on the role of playing god, becoming destructive not only to his environment, but ultimately himself.

Robots in Literature

Richard S Ehrlich, The Golem
an essay comparing computers and the Maharal's golem

Tolkien Internationalism
George W. Bush is Gollum.
Gollum goes political

Patrick Grant, Tolkein: Archtype and Word
counterpoint, Tolkein goes Jungian

Bruce Rockwood, Law, Literature, and Science Fiction
social law that is reflectd in Science Fiction and Satire


The Tolkein's Gollum
actually not Tolkein's Gollum, but someone's interpretation of it

Middle-Earth Encyclopedia: Gollum

One Ring Net: Middle Earth Tours
more about commercialized Gollum

IMBD: Andy Serkis / Gollum-Smeagol,+Andy
Hollywood Gollum

Serkis: Lord of Rings Gallery


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