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The Golem Redux

From Prague to Post-Holocaust Fiction

Elizabeth R. Baer

Publication Year: 2012

First mentioned in the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible, the golem is a character in an astonishing number of post-Holocaust Jewish-American novels and has served as inspiration for such varied figures as Mary Shelley’s monster in her novel Frankenstein, a frightening character in the television series The X-Files, and comic book figures such as Superman and the Hulk. In The Golem Redux: From Prague to Post-Holocaust Fiction, author Elizabeth R. Baer introduces readers to these varied representations of the golem and traces the history of the golem legend across modern pre- and post-Holocaust culture. In five chapters, The Golem Redux examines the different purposes for which the golem has been used in literature and what makes the golem the ultimate text and intertext for modern Jewish writers. Baer begins by introducing several early manifestations of the golem legend, including texts from the third and fourth centuries and from the medieval period; Prague’s golem legend, which is attributed to the Maharal, Rabbi Judah Loew; the history of the Josefov, the Jewish ghetto in Prague, the site of the golem legend; and versions of the legend by Yudl Rosenberg and Chayim Bloch, which informed and influenced modern intertexts. In the chapters that follow, Baer traces the golem first in pre-Holocaust Austrian and German literature and film and later in post-Holocaust American literature and popular culture, arguing that the golem has been deployed very differently in these two contexts. Where prewar German and Austrian contexts used the golem as a signifier of Jewish otherness to underscore growing anti-Semitic cultural feelings, post-Holocaust American texts use the golem to depict the historical tragedy of the Holocaust and to imagine alternatives to it. In this section, Baer explores traditional retellings by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Wiesel, the considerable legacy of the golem in comics, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and, finally, “Golems to the Rescue” in twentieth- and twenty-first-century works of film and literature, including those by Cynthia Ozick, Thane Rosenbaum, and Daniel Handler. By placing the Holocaust at the center of her discussion, Baer illustrates how the golem works as a self-conscious intertextual character who affirms the value of imagination and story in Jewish tradition. Students and teachers of Jewish literature and cultural history, film studies, and graphic novels will appreciate Baer’s pioneering and thought-provoking volume.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I began reading post-Holocaust fiction and memoirs that incorporated fairy-tale motifs sporadically several years ago. As my exploration of these intertexts proceeded, I noticed a similar relationship between the golem legend and post-Holocaust literature...

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pp. 1-15

The golem is back! In a May 2009 article in the New York Times titled “A New Heyday (and Many Spinoffs) for a Centuries-Old Giant, the Golem,” Dan Bilefsky chronicles the many reincarnations of the golem in Prague. He quotes a Czech theater director as claiming: “The Golem starts...

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1. The Golem Redux: Variations on the Golem Legend in Jewish Tradition

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pp. 17-36

Most accounts of the history of the golem begin by mentioning that the first appearance of the word “golem” occurs in the Book of Psalms, as quoted above. Commentaries in the Talmud suggest that the speaker here is Adam and that he praises God for forming his...

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2 German-Language Appropriations: The Golem Runs Amok

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pp. 37-68

The two primary texts we will consider in this chapter, Gustav Meyrink’s novel Der Golem (1915) and Paul Wegener’s film Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (1920), are among the earliest popularizations of the golem legend for the general public beyond the Jewish...

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3. Traditional Retellings of the Golem Legend

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pp. 69-100

In this chapter we will encounter the golem in three stories that hew closely to traditional Jewish legends of the clay man. Two of these retellings were published in 1982 and 1983 and were written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, who fled Poland for America in 1935, and by the Holocaust...

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4. The Comics Connection

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pp. 111-150

Their names tell the story. Like their comic creations, America’s early and subsequently famous cartoonists had a double identity. Max Ginsberg, credited with creating comic books as we know them today, became Maxwell...

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5. Golems to the Rescue

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pp. 151-183

As we saw in chapter 4, comic books of the 1930s and 1940s transformed the venerable Jewish tradition of the golem into Superman and other superheroes, and Marvel Comics returned to the trope of the heroic golem in the 1970s; the merging of the golem with comic images...

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pp. 185-191

Golem texts are far too numerous to be treated fully in the body of this study but several deserve brief mention here because of their historical importance, their obscurity, or their idiosyncracy...


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pp. 193-202


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pp. 203-215


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pp. 217-229

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814336274
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814336267

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 12
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1