The Golem (Gustav Meyrink novel)
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|Original title||Der Golem|
The Golem is a novel written by Gustav Meyrink in 1914.
First published in serial form as Der Golem in 1913-14 in the periodical Die weissen Blätter, The Golem was published in book form in 1915 by Kurt Wolff, Leipzig. The Golem was Meyrink's first novel. It became his most popular and successful literary work, and is generally described as the most "accessible" of his full-length novels.
The novel centers on the life of Athanasius Pernath, a jeweler and art restorer who lives in the ghetto of Prague. But his story is experienced by an anonymous narrator, who, during a visionary dream, assumes Pernath's identity thirty years before. This dream was perhaps induced because he inadvertently swapped his hat with the real (old) Pernath's. While the novel is generally focused on Pernath's own musings and adventures, it also chronicles the lives, the characters, and the interactions of his friends and neighbors. The Golem, though rarely seen, is central to the novel as a representative of the ghetto's own spirit and consciousness, brought to life by the suffering and misery that its inhabitants have endured over the centuries.
The story itself has a disjointed and often elliptical feel, as it was originally published in serial form and is intended to convey the mystical associations and interests that the author himself was exploring at the time. The reality of the narrator's experiences is often called into question, as some of them may simply be dreams or hallucinations, and others may be metaphysical or transcendent events that are taking place outside the "real" world. Similarly, it is revealed over the course of the book that Pernath apparently suffered from a mental breakdown on at least one occasion, but has no memory of any such event; he is also unable to remember his childhood and most of his youth, a fact that may or may not be attributable to his previous breakdown. His mental stability is constantly called into question by his friends and neighbors, and the reader is left to wonder what if anything that has taken place in the narrative actually happened.
- Athanasius Pernath: the ostensible protagonist, a jeweler who resides in the ghetto of Prague.
- The Golem: while connected with the legend of rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Golem is cast as a sort of gestalt entity, a physical manifestation of the ghetto's inhabitants' collective psyche, as well as of the ghetto's own "self."
- Schemajah Hillel: a wise and gentle Jewish neighbor of Pernath, learned in the Torah and Talmud; serves as a protector and instructor for Pernath as the jeweler begins to walk the path of mysticism.
- Miriam: Hillel's compassionate and noble daughter.
- Aaron Wassertrum: another of Pernath's neighbors, this one a junk dealer and possibly a murderer. He is the antithesis of Hillel, embodying all of the then-popular negative stereotypes surrounding Jews.
- Rosina: a 14-year-old red-haired girl and neighbor of Pernath, apparently a relation of Wasserturm though no one is ever able to determine what kind; described by Pernath as repulsive, but figures prominently as the object of men's desires and is promiscuous.
- Innocence Charousek: a consumptive, poverty-stricken student consumed with hatred for Wasserturm and his son, Dr. Wassory.
- Zwakh: a puppeteer; Pernath's friend and landlord.
- Amadeus Laponder: Pernath's cellmate in prison. He is a somnambulist who in his sleep assumes the role of various people of the ghetto, allowing Pernath to communicate with the outside world.
- Dr. Savioli: a wealthy neighbor of Pernath's who rents a room in the ghetto from Zwakh; there he carries on illicit affairs with married women.
- The Regiment
- Dr. Wassory
(Non-)Adaptations for film and theatre
The novel was not the basis for four films of the title, which, rather, adapt the original Golem legend.
- The first, The Golem, directed by Paul Wegener, filmed in 1914, has been lost;
- The second, The Golem and the Dancing Girl, directed by Paul Wegener, filmed in 1917, has been lost;
- The third, The Golem: How He Came into the World, directed by Paul Wegener, made in 1920, survives;
- The fourth, The Golem, directed by Piotr Szulkin, made in 1979, survives.
- Noah William Isenberg, Weimar cinema: an essential guide to classic films of the era, p.332
- Douglas Kellner, Passion and rebellion: the expressionist heritage, p.384
- Dietrich Scheunemann, Expressionist film: new perspectives, p.273
- Matei Chihaia: Der Golem-Effekt. Orientierung und phantastische Immersion im Zeitalter des Kinos transcript, Bielefeld 2011 ISBN 978-3-8376-1714-6