Swoon by Nina Malkin: A Lesson on the Golem

We’re featuring Swoon by Nina Malkin all week at Novel Novice — and while this book features a LOT of elements, the most central, perhaps, is the legend of the Golem. Besides being a very cool story from Jewish mysticism, the Golem is also one of my favorite legends — and one I’ve obsessed over since high school. (So you can imagine how excited I was to read a YA book about this legend!)

So today, I’m offering you a lesson on the Golem: 101 …

What is the Golem?

In Hebrew, “Golem” means “shapeless mass.”

Simply put, a Golem is a being made out of mud (or clay) and animated using magic. Most of the legends come from writings in the Sefer Yezirah, or the Jewish Book of Creation (often considered a book of Jewish mysticism.) However, many believe that Adam (of Adam & Eve) was the first Golem, created by God.

In most forms of the legend, the Golem’s creator shapes the creature out of mud or clay, and inscribes it with the Hebrew word “emet,” meaning “truth.” The Golem’s creator can later de-activate the creature by erasing a letter from the word to make it say “met,” or “death” in Hebrew. There are, of course, variations on these theme — but this is the most common version (that I’ve found, at least).

The Legend of the Golem:

There are various tellings of the legend of the Golem, but perhaps the most famous involves a Rabbi in Prague in the late 16th century. According to the legend, Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel created a golem to protect the Jewish ghetto in Prague from anti-Semitic attacks. At first, the Golem was hugely successful — stopping the attacks on the Jewish people and protecting their ghetto.

But soon, the Rabbi loses control of the Golem and the creature must be stopped.

The Golem in Popular Culture:

My personal favorite telling of the Golem legend is a children’s picture book, that tells the classic story of Rabbi Loew. The book is Golem and it is written & beautifully illustrated by David Wisniewski:

But the Golem legend has also appeared in other forms in pop culture. Here are a few worth noting:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The X-Files: Season 4 episode “Kaddish”

The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud

And of course … Swoon by Nina Malkin

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