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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query golem. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query golem. Sort by date Show all posts


The Golem (1976)

Golem by Beverly Brodsky McDermott Retold and Illustrated by Beverly Brodsky McDermott
Gouache, watercolor, dye and ink on watercolor paper

J.B. Lippincott Company

The Golem rises again in this splendid, beautifully chilling picture book. I say 'rises again' because of this enigmatic passage as the Golem slowly awakens:

The Rabbi stretched himself over the Golem and gave him the breath of life. The Golem's eyes opened wide. His memory awakened. There had been another time and another Rabbi long ago.

There is never mention of this again, but I like that it casts the tale in a continuum of tales. This has happened before, this will happen again.

McDermott's interpretation of the tale is very simple, yet filled with symbology. The Hebrew alphabet appears on nearly every page in different forms... on an ancient book clutched by an aging rabbi, on the forehead of the great beast itself, above the synagogues and in the angry mobs. Letters are not just letters in this cabalistic tale, of course. Each character of the Hebrew alphabet is imbued with deep, resonant mysticism.

She begins with a quote from Martin Buber:

The origin of the world is dust, and man has been placed in it that he may raise the dust to spirit. But his end is dust and time and again it is the end where he fails, and everything crumbles into dust.

That, of course, is the basic story of the Golem, but gives it such a large context its almost staggering.

The Golem itself is large and nearly shapeless. She gives it only the very minutest of form. Once it is given life, it spends it days in relative peace.

As the days passed, the Golem became a familiar presence everywhere. He often went to the synagogue and heard the songs of the people.

Every Sabbath he visited each house in the ghetto and lit the hearth fires.

He watched over the preparations for the Seder, the Passover feast that celebrates the time long ago when God helped Moses free the Jews who were slaves in Egypt.

Whence wakes the golem?
This peace does not last, and soon the Golem is called upon to pursue his true purpose. In a sudden rage, the Gentiles turn on their Jewish neighbors, accusing them of killing their children and using the blood to make their matzos. (This is a concept which I've seen come up time and time again, most recently in Will Eisner's The Plot). "The Jews are a plague on our lives!" shout the angry mob. "Kill the Jews! Kill the Jews!"

McDermott now completely alters the look of the Golem. He grows larger, resembles a towering pillar of sand, his face distorts in rage. He is surrounded by burning buildings and tiny humans... whom he crushes with powerful blows. Then he levels their houses, he rips trees from the earth. He is seen as a fierce maelstrom moving through the city, larger than any Godzilla, leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake. It is only when he begins lifting powerful boulders and throwing them at the fleeing survivors that the Rabbi Lev runs after him and commands him to return to dust. "His mouth opened wide and the Name of God tumbled forth."

That is all it takes for the Golem to be destroyed, to return to the dirt of the earth.

"As I explored the mysteries of the Golem an evolution took place," McDermott writes in the introduction. "At first, he resembled something human. Then he was transformed. His textured body became a powerful presence lurking in dark corners, spilling out of my paintings. In the end he shatters into pieces of clay-color and returns to the earth. All that remains is the symbol of silence."

From the 1915 film, Der Golem:


Golem (1996)

Golem by David WisniewskiRetold and Illustrated by David Wisniewski

Cut paper

Clarion Books

This is an extraordinarily beautiful book which tells the story of the Golem, a giant made from the earth and given life by the Cabalist Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel in the year 1580. This story has been around for many centuries, and is considered to be the forerunner of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

There are no scientists here, however, only Cabalists and practitioners of the occult. Once the giant is raised and given its marching orders - to destroy the enemy - it does not then go quietly into the night.

"Your purpose is at an end," says Rabbi Loew, standing on the balcony and considering the many hundreds of graves strewn below.

The towering Golem asks if he will remember this day.

"No. You will be clay."

Golem by David Wisniewski

"Then I shall not obey you," responds the creature, his forehead still marked with the Hebrew letters which gave him life.

Golem by David Wisniewski
Add caption

The book is illustrated with incredibly detailed cut-paper, and the scope it offers is thrilling. Wisniewski is equal to the task of creating extreme close-ups in which we see both the sorrow and the bloodlust present within the Golem, and also city scenes with seemingly several hundred tiny figures rushing through the streets, brandishing torches.

More picture books about the golem!

More picture books based on Jewish Folklore!

Golem by David Wisniewski

Here's a book trailer I found online, pretty cool!

David Wisniewski
David Wisniewski (1953 - 2002)
Read his obituary.


A Conversation with Matthue Roth

Matthue Roth
Matthue Roth is a Philadelphia expat, currently exiled in Brooklyn. He is the award-winning author of several books for young adults, including Losers and Yom Kippur a go-go. In addition, he has recently turned his attention to picture books, first with the sublime  My First Kafka, which I reviewed last year, and now with the newly released The Gobblings. In both books, he has paired with illustrator Rohan Daniel Eason.

What thematic elements connect The Gobblings with My First Kafka?

Aside from the fact that kids love them, and that they both scare the adults that I show them to?

Really? They scared the adults that you showed them to?

Well, not all the adults. Okay, not even most of them. That's me just being a drama queen.

But I will say, more adults have read the books and been like, "Isn't this a little scary for kids?" (which is to say, three or four), than kids who've said, "This is scary" (zero).

I think in both books, we took stories which are dreamy and funny, but have a sort of underlying darkness to them - a fairy-tale darkness - the kind that almost all kids understand and almost no adults do. In both books, there are monsters that are unexpectedly imaginative and kids who are surprisingly resourceful and save the day.

I think it's a huge problem with a lot of picture books. The kids in them don't really do anything; they just sit back and things happen to them. Kafka understood, and I think Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel and Kate DiCamillo and most of my favorite picture-book writers intrinsically get this: The best stories are about discovering weird and scary and amazing things about the world and learning about them.

I want The Gobblings to do that. I hope it does.

My First Kafka

Are there picture books which scared you as a child, do you recall?

Looking back on the books I read as a kid, I'm surprised what didn't scare me. Maurice Sendak is sort of the king of that: Max's playmates about to eat him in Where the Wild Things Are, the Hitler-like bakers in In the Night Kitchen who try to literally bake him inside an oven. As a kid, I thought it was totally scary and fun and awesome. As an adult, I'm completely freaked.

From where did the idea for The Gobblings come?

The book started in two places. I really wanted to see Rohan draw monsters and Art Deco spaceships. That was the fanboy half of it.

The other half, the emotional start of the book, began with me thinking about Herbie, a boy who's alone on a space station and doesn't have any friends. It's the most amazing place in the universe to be, but if you're truly lonely, that doesn't really matter. And then he finally makes some friends, but unfortunately those friends are alien monsters who are really really dangerous.

The promotional material states that The Gobblings is 'based on a Baal Shem Tov story.'

It's also a loose retelling of an old Hasidic folktale called The Alef Bet. A boy is wandering through a strange town where he doesn't know anybody. It's Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but nobody's prayers in the entire town are working. The boy only knows the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the Alef-Bet. So he says the letters, and the honesty and simplicity of his prayer go through the Gates of Heaven (okay, in our story, it's the landing bay on the space station) and save everybody.

I couldn't detect any sort of Hassidic imagery or Jewish allusions anywhere in the book... unless I overlooked something. Was that on purpose?

Yes! Well, not on purpose so much as that the essence of the story, to me, wasn't that it was about Yom Kippur or Jews or even prayer specifically. The nugget that appealed to me was the sense of hopelessness, and being alone, and the idea of Herbie being in
great danger, though he already has the power to save himself.

And also, the idea of Jews in space has already been done as perfectly as it could be. I would hate to step on Mr. Brooks' toes.

Jews in Space

Your website states that you are offering a minibook to anyone who orders directly from you, called Alien. Is that a story related to The Gobblings at all? I think it's a real interesting tactic. Are those books that you both write and illustrate yourself?

Yep, I put them together myself. I like to create extra bonus stuff for people who order from me, since I can't afford to sell my books as cheaply as Amazon. There's always way more that goes into a book than comes out, and for the most part that's a good process, but I'm one of those people who loves DVD bonus features.

For Kafka, I made a book that was a story for adults - not, you know, sketchy or anything, but a short fiction piece so that adults who were buying the book for a kid would feel like they were getting something, too. And in both cases, the stories were sort of a dark mirror of the children's book. Kafka came with a story called The Last Golem in Prague, which was about racism in Eastern Europe and had a kind of sweet ending, the opposite of Metamorphosis; and Gobblings comes with a piece called "Alien," which is about a sort of lustful poetic alien who invades Earth.

The Gobblings

I think the idea of packaging a picture book for adults is a great one... and gets to one of my main contentions with the picture book field, and is an idea I've tried to address a few times with some of my reviews online, is why the picture book genre is still mainly geared toward children. Even stories that are ostensibly for children but are rich enough to be enjoyed by adults... are still, at the end of the day, children's books.

The comic book field has grown and matured and we are seeing graphic stories written for literate adults, as well as animated films, and picture book art has certainly grown to include respected artists working in different mediums. I hope for the day when the picture book medium can be employed to tell truly complex, multi-level stories. By including these 'dark mirrors,' I think you are helping to advance this cause.

Thank you! I think the form's still in its nascence, or maybe its second nascence? There was no question that illuminated manuscripts were meant for adults, and even few generations ago serious novels, whatever they are, included picture plates. I think it's just been since the advent of cheaper, more widespread and easy-to-print books that books have really had to stick to the no-illustrations, 250-page standards.

My friend Fred Chao had a picture book, Alison and Her Rainy Day Robot, that was basically a comic book, 48 pages, and laid out in panels, and every picture book publisher flipped out and refused to publish as it was. Then he launched a Kickstarter that made several times its goal, and publishers started emailing to ask if they could acquire it.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that great things can happen when we wander outside the lines. Not to be too mercenary about it, but I hope that The Gobblings sells enough to let us do some more wandering.

You are now a father. What stories will you tell your child, oh Matthue?

Oh, I'm totally selfish. I like the stories they tell me instead. A month or two ago they were singing a song that went, "We are in a pot of chicken soup." I totally plagiarized it.

Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.
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