Ear­li­er this week, Helene Weck­er wrote about writ­ing a nov­el in two cul­tures and Dork­dom. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Ales golem

Here’s a con­fes­sion: I haven’t read that many golem sto­ries. Or at least, as many as some­one who’s writ­ten a book called The Golem and the Jin­ni prob­a­bly should’ve. I haven’t read Cyn­thia Ozick­’s The Put­ter­mess­er Papers, or Marge Pier­cy’s He, She and It. I haven’t cracked Thane Rosen­baum’s The Golems of Gotham, or the more golem-cen­tered vol­umes of Ter­ry Pratch­et­t’s Dis­c­world series.

When I start­ed writ­ing The Golem and the Jin­ni, I was real­ly, real­ly unsure of myself. I was embark­ing on what I knew was my first real book, and it was like all new­born things, del­i­cate and eas­i­ly dis­turbed. Some­thing warned me that if I filled my head with the golem sto­ries of oth­er, far more tal­ent­ed writ­ers, I would crowd my own bare­ly-formed golem right out of my brain, or unin­ten­tion­al­ly mash it into a dif­fer­ent image.

Over the years, that intim­i­da­tion became an almost super­sti­tious avoid­ance. Maybe now that the book is fin­ished, I can final­ly crack The Put­ter­mess­er Papers with­out wor­ry­ing that Ozicks golem will feel more real to me than my own. But in any case, here are a few golem sto­ries that I do know, and that added their own par­tic­u­lar fla­vors to my book, whether I meant them to or not.

1) The old, clas­sic sto­ries of Rab­bi Loew and his golem. Hon­est­ly, I’m not sure when I first heard these sto­ries. At Sun­day school? That sort of Old World folk cul­ture did­n’t fit with our mod­ern Reform cur­ricu­lum. My grand­par­ents? My mom’s par­ents were cos­mopoli­tan Ger­man Jews; this was­n’t real­ly their thing. My dad’s folks were the Yid­dish speak­ers, but I don’t remem­ber them telling me folk tales. Usu­al­ly they were too busy try­ing to get me to eat things. So where did I learn them? It feels like the sto­ries were always there, float­ing through the ether: Rab­bi Loew and his golem, the pro­tec­tor of Prague’s medieval Jews dur­ing the pogroms. Years lat­er, after I’d start­ed writ­ing The Golem and the Jin­ni, first my par­ents and then my in-laws vis­it­ed Prague and brought me back lit­tle trans­lat­ed vol­umes of golem sto­ries. A few were vari­a­tions I had­n’t read before, but most­ly they were already familiar.

2) Michael Chabon, The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier and Clay. If you haven’t read this yet, seri­ous­ly, treat your­self. The golem in Kava­lier and Clay is the golem, Rab­bi Loew’s leg­endary cre­ation. It’s a real-world pres­ence in the first part of the book — one of the char­ac­ters attempts to smug­gle it out of Pragu — and a recur­ring motif through the rest of the book, one of its many threads of long­ing and sad­ness. (Real­ly, you’ve read this, right? Because I can lend you my copy if you haven’t.)

3) James Sturm, The Golem’s Mighty Swing. Stur­m’s graph­ic nov­el fol­lows a 1920s all-Jew­ish base­ball team fac­ing anti-Semi­tism as they trav­el the Mid­west. Going broke and look­ing for a gim­mick to fill the seats, they dress the team’s one African-Amer­i­can play­er as a golem, and adver­tise his prowess. Then, of course, things start to go awry. It’s a sad but sat­is­fy­ing tale, and a good base­ball yarn as well.

4) Nao­mi Kritzer, The Golem.” The golem woke on Decem­ber 1st, 1941, and saw the future before her like an unrolled scroll.” With a first line like that, how can you not read more? This par­tic­u­lar golem — the first female golem I ever encoun­tered — is built by two women in Prague who hope to sur­vive the unsur­viv­able. Kritzer (whom I’ve known since col­lege) uses her pre­scient golem to exam­ine ideas of free will, des­tiny, and choice. (You can find The Golem” in 2001’s Year’s Best Fan­ta­sy, and in Kritzer’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tion Com­rade Grand­moth­er and Oth­er Sto­ries.)

5) The X‑Files, Kad­dish.” Maybe I’m cheat­ing a lit­tle here, but shows like The X‑Files have been as for­ma­tive to my imag­i­na­tion as the books I’ve read. In this fourth-sea­son episode, Mul­der and Scul­ly go to Brook­lyn to inves­ti­gate the stran­gu­la­tion of a neo-Nazi who mur­dered a Hasidic Jew. I remem­ber feel­ing proud that the show was tack­ling a golem sto­ry, but also think­ing that the sup­port­ing play­ers suf­fered from the unfor­tu­nate exoti­ciza­tion that hap­pened when­ev­er The X‑Files dealt with an eth­nic beast­ie. That golem, though: pret­ty creepy.

Read more about Helene Weck­er here.

Relat­ed: Pros­en­Peo­ple Read­ing Lists

The Golem and the Jin­ni was award­ed the Mythopoe­ic Award, the VCU Cabell Award, and the Har­ald U. Rib­alow Prize, and was nom­i­nat­ed for a Neb­u­la and World Fan­ta­sy Awards. Her work has appeared in Joy­land, Cata­ma­ran, and in the anthol­o­gy The Djinn Falls in Love and Oth­er Sto­ries. She lives in the San Fran­cis­co Bay area with her family.