Aa a child I was fascinated by the old European Jewish tales of the Golem. When I visited Prague just after the Velvet Revolution, I had the opportunity to walk the streets of the ancient Ghetto and see the places where the creature in human form and made from clay stalked the enemies of city’s Jews.
I recently ran across Gustav Meyrink’s bestselling 1915 novel Der Golem with fantastic Expressionist illustrations by Hugo Steiner-Prag. The golem character, typically an unformed animated creature made from mud or clay, stems from Jewish folklore: legend says Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague created a golem (גולם) to protect Jews in medieval Prague from danger. Meyrink’s story detailed a golem that is the personification of the inhabitants of Jews in a Prague ghetto, and Steiner-Prag brought the golem to life on paper with twenty-five lithographs, considered perhaps his career masterpieces.
Meyrink’s novel originally was published as a serial during 1914 in German periodical Die Weißen Blätter. When Der Golem was then published in book form it was a huge success, selling over 200,000 copies in its first year alone. Before writing Der Golem, Meyerink was a banker, but he was also an occultist, student of Asia philosophies, yoga practioner, and a dabbler in the Kabbala and Jewish mysticism.