Der Golem : Roman

by Gustav Meyrink

Other authorsHugo Steiner-Prag (Illustrator)
Paperback, 1989



Call number

GM 4825 G625





Most famous supernatural novel in modern European literature, set in Ghetto of Old Prague around 1890. A compelling story of mystical experiences, strange transformations, profound terror. 13 black-and-white illustrations.

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
Suffering the initial onslaught from a nasty head cold I sat in front of the computer screen. It was nearly midnight and the rain was battering the skylight just above my head. The old timbers of my attic were creaking and groaning, the mice were scrabbling around on the roof trying to get in and I
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had wrapped myself up in an old blanket as the central heating had gone off hours ago. I had earlier downloaded Gustav Meyrink's The Golem and the image above shivered onto the screen. I was immediately plunged into Meyrink's story of old Prague and of Athanasius Pernath the gem cutter who dreams the dreams of a man looking for his soul:

At times I emerge with a start from the half-light of this reverie and see again for a moment the moonlight lying on the humped cover at the bottom of the bed like a large, bright, flat stone, only to grope my way blindly once more after my departing consciousness, restlessly searching for the stone which is tormenting me, the one which must lie hidden somewhere in the debris of my memory and which looks like a lump of fat.

I read on through the first couple of chapters empathising with the dream like/nightmare like quality of the words, my own head seemed to expand with the effort of concentration and I slipped in and out of consciousness as the words scrolled down the screen.

It was morning and I could make little sense of the few notes I had written last night or of the chunks of the book that I had copied, but it had been an experience to read the text in a slightly heightened feverish state.

I was suddenly visited by the notion that at some time I must have heard or read of a strange comparison between a stone and a lump of fat.

Yes I had read that last night and now Meyrink was telling me through Athanasius Pernath's own semi conscious state in the light of a new day in Prague that the stone and a lump of fat was significant. I decided not to re-read the first chapter because I was convinced I would find no answers there and so carried on with Pernath's own adventures in the Jewish quarter of Prague. Pernath gets involved in the plotting of the consumptive student; Charousek, who is carrying out a vendetta against his neighbour Wassertrum, who he believes is bent on instigating the suicide of the young doctor in revenge for his own sons death. There are stories within stories, the golem makes his appearance after a nightmarish journey through the underground passages of old Prague, Pernath has to make difficult life changing decisions as the the old town and it's inhabitants morph around him. Is he awake, is he dreaming even the passage of time seems to take on a twisted circular aspect. Meyrink uses the stories to give other characters points of view, but it is Pernaths own consciousness that concerns him most.

The voice, which is circling round in the darkness, searching for me to torment me with the stone or the lump of fat, has passed me by without seeing me. I know that it comes from the realm of sleep. But everything that I have just experienced was real life, and I sense that is why it could not see me, why its search for me was vain.

We follow Pernath's tormented path as he struggles to make sense of what is happening around him. Those torments include a spell in prison where he meets the strange Laponder a medium for psychic forces that Pernath believes holds vital clues for his past and his future. The story now seems to be rushing towards its conclusion and ends in a way that makes perfect sense to anyone who has been reading through a dazed fog of feverishness.

If there is one thing that I take away from this delicious tale of fantasy and horror is that if you accidentally pick up the wrong hat when leaving a party: whatever you do, don't put it on your head. Four stars.
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LibraryThing member veilofisis
Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem has, in a very literal sense, rewritten who I am as a person. The labyrinthine philosophy and mystical power of this novel have shaped me as if I were clay: as if I were, in past life, a Golem—but, upon finishing Meyrink’s masterpiece, a tangible soul: no longer a
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thing of clay: awake, now, while before I was a sleeper, dreaming the dreams of previous symbols and identities—but now The Hanged Man, seeing the miracle of the mystery of Death: the great Death that brings the great Transformation, which is reflected, finally, in the mystery of Resurrection: in the cosmic alchemy—but this alchemy played out, now, on the human stage: within my own flesh. Meyrink’s work has—more than anything else I have ever encountered—impacted me to a degree that is at times almost uncanny: when I read The Golem, you see, there are times where I feel as if I were reading the work of my own pen: dreamy visions and meditations written in the foggy presence of my God and spelled out in hieroglyphs of fire.

As a story, The Golem is familiar: it utilizes the archetypal Gothic conflict of Jekyll and Hyde and, to a degree, the influence of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. These tropes, though, are redistilled through the lens of Jewish myth and modern urban horror to weave a twilight-colored narrative that startles and disturbs more than it terrifies or appals. The Golem’s terror is a terror of the soul—Meyrink’s bottomless mysticism so suffuses the novel with grace, that by book’s end we have found ourselves enchanted by his dark, haunted Prague simply because we have seen the hand of God cross over its baleful sky and lend light (and shadow) to the troubled lives of its curious inhabitants. The Golem’s protagonist, Athanasius Pernath, is the archetypal Hanged Man made flesh; he attains the level of symbol in a reader's mind: he is a parallel to our own fight against the madness of night, and his awakening is a mirror of our own journey to spiritual integration, universality, and alchemy.

It is exceedingly difficult to write about this novel, considering the almost unfathomable depths of its impact upon my own life. I relate to it in the same capacity as I relate to other texts of spiritual significance: the Tao Te Ching, the Qur’an, Ecclesiastes, Job, the Bhagavad Gita. It has so affected the very fabric of my identity and world-view that attempting to deconstruct it would, for me, be an exercise in the most profound of futilities. Consider this, then, less a review and more of a bit of personal show-and-tell: The Golem is a compass by which I can navigate the churning waters of spiritual vanity, to land, at last, upon a shore that is safe and supplied with the provisions of the soul: it is the light that beckons me away from the terror of night and to the rock that is, beyond the fog, the lump of fat my soul has sought so painfully through the tortures of waking life and the formless vapor of hollow ‘epiphany.’

This novel is Truth, and it has given me my freedom: Meyrink tore the shackles from my eyelids—he taught me how to see.
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LibraryThing member pgmcc
Meyrink’s horror story set in the Prague Ghetto and based on the cabalist legend of a human-like being created from clay is much richer than I had expected. It has been on my “to-be-read” list for a long time and I always perceived that it was going to be a slower and more arduous read than
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it turned out.

From the very start Meyrink blurred the boundaries between sleep and consciousness; dream and reality; madness and sanity. He also played with the narrator’s, and consequently the reader’s, sense of identity. The initial sections are dense with ideas and it is worth taking them slowly but the story soon picks up the pace. This tale is enthralling and as I read the book I was taken up with the narrator’s problems and fears.
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LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
I enjoyed the Gothic atmosphere of this book and the many interesting and nicely creepy stories. There’s a rather disjointed plot and I don’t think I got all the Cabala-related mysticism that goes on. The occasionally overheated prose effectively conveys the settings - dark back alleys,
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underground passages, supernatural houses, dank prisons as well as the inside of the narrator’s head.

The narrator is a Pernath, a gem-cutter living in the Jewish quarter in late 19th c. Prague. A number of plots and characters are introduced in the first couple of chapters and then finally coalesce into several plots. Pernath realizes that he’s been in an asylum and had his memory of the past wiped out. While occasionally trying to figure out the past, he becomes involved in a melodramatic plot of blackmail and revenge. Somehow this is intertwined with his encounter with a golem – a creature brought to life that, in this book, appears every 33 years. Pernath has a number of other supernatural encounters but they could just as easily be his dreams or delusions – he can be rather unstable. He’s also torn between a beautiful woman from his past and the sweet and spiritually-inclined daughter of his friend.

There were a number of well-written passages, often describing Pernath’s obsessions and dreams. Meyrink captured the claustrophobic feelings of Pernath when he’s stuck in one dream, thinks that there’s something menacing him in his room but is unable to leave, and wanders, lost, through tunnels and streets. We get a number of stories from a variety of characters – some of them are tangential to the plot, but are interesting anyway. The story of the golem appears with the others but Pernath has some personal memories as well as an early appearance of a golem at his apartment. While some legends have the golem brought to life to protect the Jewish community or act as a sort of menial servant, here the appearance of the golem is related to the development of Pernath’s spiritual side. At one point, he sees a golem as his doppelganger – sort of a spiritual double. The appearance of the golem precedes his realization that his memories have disappeared and leads to his search for his self, often with the help of his neighbor, Jewish scholar Hillel. His love for the worldly, beautiful, philandering Angelica contrasts with his attraction to Hillel’s daughter Miriam, who has something of a foreign beauty and only thinks about religion and miracles. I probably missed a lot of the meanings of the golem- and mysticism-related stuff. I did like the overall ambiguity of the book – many things were left unexplained or hanging.

I was bothered by the portrayal of the Jewish characters – the horrible, greedy Wassertrum and the saintly Hillel with his beautiful daughter Miriam. It’s certainly good that they weren’t all negative portraits, but there are a number of books that have this dichotomy of good/bad Jewish characters (often the good character is someone’s beautiful daughter who the Christian protagonist falls in love with and possibly wants to convert). Somewhat irritating.
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LibraryThing member Poquette
The Golem is a surprising book in two ways. First, Meyrink's Golem is not the frightful simian horror suggested by the book's cover. Instead, it is an enigmatic and elusive figure, dreamed up in the Middle Ages by a conjuring rabbi who "had first to create it in his mind before he could clothe it
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in physical form." It is an archetype, then, the sight of which forces penetrating insights from the reluctant observer. This encounter is life-changing in the deepest, most profound way for the many people who claim to have seen him. It is the confrontation with one's very soul that identifies the phantasm as the Golem, which is only a horror insofar as confronting one's own demons makes it so.

Second, the other surprising aspect of the book is its modern tone. In places, it has an almost stream-of-consciousness style which Meyrink employs to pile on much life-like detail to the milieu of the Prague ghetto. Of course, part of its feeling of modernity may reflect the very readable new translation by Mike Mitchell.

Gustav Meyrink flourished during the teens and twenties in Berlin where he was seen as a writer of fantasy. Both The Golem and The Green Face — which shares many similarities with The Golem — are certainly fantasies, but of a particular kind which reflects the writer's interest in the mystical movements of Theosophy and Gnosticism.

The narrator is an obviously troubled young artisan, living and working in the Jewish ghetto of Prague, whose memory of his childhood, youth and education are lost to him. He is beset alternately by sleeplessness and disturbing dreams. As the novel unfolds it seems that even his name belongs to someone else, for he vaguely recalls having taken the wrong hat at some point in the dim past and read the name "Athanasius Pernath" imprinted in gold letters on the silk lining, which name he then appropriated.

"Pernath" undergoes a variety of strange adventures as he tries to figure out who he is and where he came from. His encounters are fraught with deep gnostic meaning and just when one expects a profound climax to it all, Meyrink leaves one feeling duped at having been sucked into what amounts to a literary game, for the ending is very much in the spirit of a shaggy dog story. One is left questioning the sincerity of all Meyrink's philosophizing.
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LibraryThing member drachenbraut23
Gustav Meyrink wrote with this book a fantastic Gothic novel, also this is not an adaptation of the Jewish Golem folklore tale, but a kind of impressionistic vision before its background. In the 16th Century the wise Rabbi Loew created a figure of clay who haunted the labyrinthine streets of
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Prague. This figure tends to return every 33 years. I may should also mention that I read this book in the German and English version and they did compare quite well.

The gem cutter Athanasius Pernath leads a life of isolation and loneliness in the Prague Jewish Quarter and finds himself repeatedly exposed to close encounters with the Golem.
This story of Pernath arises initially from a dream of an anonymous narrator. This narrator read a book on the life of Buddha before going to bed and just couldn't stop thinking about one particular sentence.

“ A crow flew to a stone which looked like a lump of fat, thinking perhaps it had found something good to eat. But when the crow found that it was not good to eat, it flew off. Like the crow that went to the stone, so do we- we, the tempters – leave Gautama, the ascetic, because we have lost our pleasure in him.”

Than the narrator falls into a kind of half-sleep/dream

“Did I voluntarily give up all resistance, or did my thoughts overpower and blind me?
…..Who is this I now? Is the question that suddenly occurs to me, but then I remember that I no longer possess an organ with which I can ask questions;.......

However, the dreamer doesn't meet none other than Athanasius Pernath. Soon the dream and the story become one and it is very difficult to tell where one ends or stops. He (they) continuous to have frequent encounters with this mysterious figure which lead Pernath deep into the depth of his own soul and long-forgotten past and sometimes you wonder if he is this mysterious Golem. The further you read on, you find that the boundaries between fantasy, dream and reality become more and more blurred. Each time you turn the page something surreal, threatening and unexpected happens.

There were so many moments in this book which I just absolutely loved. Although, at the exaltation of the story Pernath is united with his dream – the narrator had to find out that he is not the man he thought, but a man without qualities at the gate of Paradise, which he may not enter.
Well, as you can see I really enjoyed this book and with his magical/surreal realism this book actually also reminded me of some of the books of Haruki Murakami. Looking at other reviews it appears that they like to compare him to writers such as Franz Kafka or E.T.A. Hoffman. I wouldn't be able to comment on the second author, but I can see where the comparison with Franz Kafka stems from.

“The soul is not a single unity; that is what it is destined to become, and that is what we call 'immortality'. Your soul is still composed of many 'selves', just as a colony of ants is composed of many single ants. You bear within you the spiritual remains of many thousand ancestors, the heads of your line. It is the same with all creatures. How could a chicken that is artificially hatched in an incubator immediately look for the right food, if the experience of millions of years were not stored inside it? The existence of 'instinct' indicates the presence of our ancestors in our bodies and in our souls.”
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LibraryThing member IreneF
I've gotten about 40 pages into The Golem and I'm finding the translation more than I can deal with. The story is good--so far--but like other some Dover editions, the translation is substandard or antiquated. I'm now looking for something better so I can continue reading without having to stop and
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reconstrue wording or ignore things that don't make sense.
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LibraryThing member Brasidas
THE GOLEM is a high-brow literary thriller. Very readable, even re-readable. Here's what the great Jorge Luis Borges wrote about it in 1936: "...An extraordinarily visual book that enchantingly combines mythology, eroticism, tourism, the 'local color' of Prague, prophetic dreams, dreams of past or
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future lives, and even reality." A "wonderful book." This quote is from a brief review of Meyrink's THE ANGEL OF THE WESTERN WINDOW, about which Borges was far less enthusiastic. (See JLB, SELECTED NON-FICTIONS, E. Weinberger, ed. New York, 1999.)
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LibraryThing member denmoir
I read this in small bites and found myself getting a little confused each time I came back to it. It is atmospheric but unconvincing.
LibraryThing member katy.stastna
So far The Golem is quite interesting in the way of self-presenting. It offers an interesting story not only of seaking the narrators past (he only finds out he used to be insane which was locked under the hypnose), but also of revealing the history of a mysterious spirit apearing in the streets of
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magical Prague (which is known as the most occult point since the times of ceasar Rudolph III.). After a very slow beggining full of blurry pictures and symbols, we get into a plot full of mysterious visitors, mystery of Jewish antiquarian and his hatred to doctor who killed his son, and clan of women who can spellbound youngh men to insanity.
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LibraryThing member MathMaverick
An excellent and very readable book. I reminded me a bit of Dostoevsky in its self contemplation. A very good ending that brings the story together well.
LibraryThing member neurodrew
Originally published in German in 1915; translation by Mike Mitchell 1955; Folio Society edition 2010

I became engrossed in this atmospheric tale, about the Jewish Quarter in Prague, with mysteries everywhere. The narrator is Athanasius Pernath, who lives in a small flat and supports himself by
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engraving jewels. He is tall and aristocratic. It is hard to summarize the plot, and, at the end, when it seems that Pernath has been released from prison into Prague years in the future, where none of his friends and his loves are to be found, after possibly dying but rising again, the point of the book remains obscure. I suspect Pernath is a supernatural being, perhaps the Golem (he is mistaken for the creature early on in the book), but I am unsure, confused by a dream sequence at the end. He spends months, possibly years in prison, refusing to confess, to a crime he did not commit. The jailers and the bureaucracy are, of course, absurd and tangled. In the early part of the book he hides a noblewoman almost caught in an assignation, and rides with her in a carriage, but falls in love with the impoverished daughter of a rabbi living downstairs. His friend, a medical student, is exacting a horrible revenge on a Jewish shop owner, who may have been his father, and who may have killed his mother. There is almost nothing straightforward, but the sequence of events and the atmosphere of the book are compelling. I might read it again, because the puzzle may become more clear.

page 17; on images in a book - "They are strings of pearls slipping along a silk thread, single notes of a melody pouring from an invisible mouth"

page 148: "Or perhaps it was the Jewish blood in him which led him to lavish all the love he was capable of on his offspring; our race has an instinctive fear of dying out and not being able to fufill its mission, which we have forgotten anyway, but which lives on in some obscure corner of our being"

page 161: "By the way, the hare was the symbol of Osiris, so that's probably where all the business of the Easter Bunny originated"

And, because I am a neurologist:
page 192: [referring to the prison doctor] "There's only one thing puts the fear of God into him, eppeleppsy. If you can throw a good fit, you'll be in the prison hospital in no time at all, and it's child's play to break out of there. Eppeleppsy. Just watch me and see 'ow its done. First you fill your gob with spittle - he blew out his cheeks and moved them from side to side, like someone rinsing his mouth out - then you foam at the mouth, like so.' This he proceeded to do with the most revolting realism. 'Then you grab your thumbs, go all cross-eyed,' he squinted horribly, 'and then, this is the 'ard bit, you have to give little grunts, like this, "Berr, Berr, Berr" and fall over at the same time.' He collapsed on the floor, making the walls tremble. 'That's your natural eppleppsy.'"
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LibraryThing member JHemlock
The eyes of the outer limits. What can you say about The Golem that has not been said about other Meyrink stories? This type of literature will surely keep you on your toes. The reader is led down a road that continuously reinvents itself. One moment you are on a straight and narrow road, the next
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you are face down beside it. The Structure of the Golem is not as linear as Walpurgisnacht. The plot and writing is all over the place. But...was that the intention of the writer? In some places it would be a big yes and some he just got a little lost. But one thing the story does is disorient you to the point of madness. He wants the reader to feel like the characters and achieves that goal by leaps and bounds. At times the story feels a little rushed and character development lacks. But with this book atmosphere is key. Recommended? Yes. If you think you are going to read this and discover a horror story...…well then prepare to be disappointed. Eerie but not scary. Understanding the East European mindset at this point in time will grease the gears a tad while reading....but still leave enough friction to give the reader some nice burns on the outer layers of imagination. The more Meyrink I read the more I think of Maturin's Melmoth the Wander. Lots of parallels.
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Original publication date



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