Golem

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1997

Golem

by David Wisniewski

Clarion Books, 1996

30 pp.

Age: 7+

Interests: history, religion, Jewish folklore, giants, magic, horror

Next: there is a famous silent movie about this legend, The Golem (1920) by Paul Wegener

An ancient Jewish folktale retold, about a Rabbi in Prague in the 1500s who creates a Golem, a giant made out of clay, to protect the Jewish ghetto from antisemitic hatred and violence. Golem repels a bloodthirsty mob with great force, killing many. The emperor promises to guarantee the safety of the Jews if the rabbi will reduce the Golem to clay once more. Despite the Golem’s pleas for life, the rabbi does so.

This is a very dark and violent tale, no punches pulled. Right in the first page the stage is set with the background of war and hatred, as well as the Blood Lie – the slander that the blood of Christian children is mixed with the flour and water of matzoh. This alone may be too much for young ones, and we haven’t even gotten to the giant yet!

In another page the Golem watches a sunset, marvelling over its beauty, but in a chilling detail he is rather absentmindedly holding a dead body in his hand. The page in which the mob attacks and the giant rages against them is pretty frightening too.

That said, this will hold no terror for kids who love horror movies, or monster/action hero comic books. Even so, the love Golem feels for life and his begging to be allowed to go on living is heart-rending. This is a story with deep philosophical overtones regarding the use of violence and the ethics of creating (and taking away) life.

The illustrations in this book are quite amazing, made from cut paper photographed in layers to give shadows and depth. Still… pretty horrorshow.

One last interesting thing: The ancient figure of the Golem provided inspiration for both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and also for R.U.R., a 1921 play by Karel Čapek which first coined the term ‘robot’.

(This title at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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