I’m back baby! After my hurried post last week, I jetted off to Czech out Prague (cor blimey, that’s a terrible pun and I sincerely apologise)- which was absolutely incredible!! The best way I can describe it is as a child’s fantasy land full of sweets, comfort food, castles, puppets, scary stories, clocks that run backwards, music, chocolate box houses, and all the good things!
In honour of my trip, I thought I might discuss Isaac Bashevis Singer’s version of The Golem, which is, of course, set in that wonderful city.
For those of you that don’t know the story, The Golem is based on the legend of Rabbi Loew who created the golem to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.
You may be aware that it was the story of the golem that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein, but the central issue here is not the same. For where hubris drives Frankenstein to create his monster, it is not the same impulse that drives Loew to create the golem. The golem, above all, is created out of love. And it is for this reason that the two stories diverge so greatly.
Singer’s heartfelt version highlights this in particular. Against the backdrop of the blood libel- where Jews were falsely accused of murdering Christian children to incite anti-Semitism- The Golem is crucially about a man’s love for his people. Here, Singer brings history into play with legend, expanding the traditional narrative to include other elements of love: a woman’s love for someone who is different, a creator’s love for his creation, even the lowliest of creatures love for life- and the list goes on.
Of course, a striking similarity to Frankenstein is where Loew loses control of his creation by asking it to do something for which it was not intended. But this, instead of highlighting the Rabbi’s hubris, brings into focus a debate about good intentions and accountability- which is a central feature of Judaism. The story of Moses hitting the rock and consequently being barred entry to Israel is a prime example of how even the greatest among us can make mistakes.
It is Loew’s mistake here that humanises him and sets the precedent for other characters, such as Frankenstein, that will follow in his footsteps. But it is not only his more fallible nature that marks Loew as the basis for other author’s inspiration. Because it is Loew’s messianic nature that strikes me as the forerunner for heroes such as Superman- who become synonymous with messages of hope, justice and incorruptible idealism.
Loew, a beacon of hope in his own right, represents a long held belief that “love conquers all”. As cliché as that sounds, Singer does not pull his punches when proving Shakespeare’s adage. Much like Hans Christian Anderson’s tales, which I discussed after my trip to Copenhagen, Singer does not shy away from darkness, bringing the reader face to face with the brutal realities of the persecution of Jews in Europe, before offering the redemptive powers of love as a solution. Thus he signs off with a potent final message: “Love once engraved in the heart can never be erased. It lives forever”.