Monday, October 18, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 18: Golems

Real World Origin:
Folklore (Jewish)

In-Universe Description:
The word "golem" is used in the Bible (particularly Psalm 139:16) to mean an incomplete or unshaped form. Early Jewish writings stated that Adam, who was formed by God from the dust of the Earth, was initially a golem. Other legends stated that a golem could be formed by a holy person, but the golem would never quite match God's creation.

Once formed, a golem could be animated through magical techniques. This typically involved inscribing the golem's forehead with certain Hebrew words or letters; the most common word being "truth". Once the golem was no longer needed, a single letter of the inscription could be erased, yielding the word "death".

The most famous of the golem legends involved the chief rabbi of 16th century Prague. The rabbi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, created a golem in response to threats to expel or kill the Jews in the Prague ghetto. The creature was formed from clay and, over time, became increasingly large and violent. In some versions of the story, the golem eventually turned against the rabbi.

Although often created for protection or service, a golem could become dangerous to its creator. Being a shadow of humanity (since only God could create true men from the dust), a golem lacked human intelligence and judgment and was usually incapable of speech. The creature may fulfill commands literally in ways that its creator did not expect or want. Since it was a being made of earth or clay, a golem could gradually increase in mass and size over time, becoming even more uncontrollable.

Golems have appeared in many forms in popular culture. There are several similarities between golem legends and the story of Frankenstein, whereas the earliest known story involving robots (i.e., the 1921 play R.U.R.) appears to have been partly inspired by the legends. The golem has even entered the Star Wars universe in the form of the "junk golems" from the video game The Force Unleashed. These creatures consist of miscellaneous scrap and are held together and animated by the Force.

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