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There are A LOT of books about golems, or at least books that feature the mythical creature in some way. And sadly, most of them are… not great. So, I have put together all my favourite books about golems for anyone interested in expanding their golem library.
But first, who and what is a golem?
Golems are part of Jewish folklore, believed to be creatures made of clay. Reference to them can be found in both the Bible and the Mishnah, albeit fleetingly, and seemingly in reference to a “raw” human being.
So it’s no surprise that in Modern Hebrew ‘golem’ refers to a dumb person.
However, no matter how fleeting, something about golem lore withstood the test of time, becoming more and more concrete. Tales of golems were passed down through various Jewish communities, hints of which still exist today.
The most famous golem legend being that of the Prague Golem, who was created by Judah Loew ben Bezalel to protect the Prague Jews from Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor and anti-semitic sentiment throughout Prague. It worked, but, as often happens with golems, the Rabbi lost control of the Golem and had to destroy him.
As I said, tales persist of golems – as is abundantly clear by the countless books about golems out there. Today, though, due largely in part to the Prague Golem legend, we collectively think of golems as being protectors, albeit often times not the sharpest tools in the shed; and sometimes just a little bit bloodthirsty, even if they can’t control it.
Hopefully some of these wonderful books about golems will enlighten you, or at least change your mind about golems merely being dumb hunks of clay.
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Non-Fiction Books About Golems
Golem: Modern Wars and Their Monsters by Maya Barzilai (2016)
While there are plenty of books about golems full of fantastical worlds, or even just creative rehashing of an old myth, Barzilai’s is one of the few non-fiction golem books available.
Golem: Modern Wars and Their Monsters examines the golem myth, the so-called “golem cult” of the 1910s and 20s, and delves into why the golem myth has become so prevalent across media. Of course, the real heart of Barzilai’s golem book is the discussion behind how the golem myth evolved throughout the 20th century to become a bloodthirsty killing machine; a war machine. This change reflected the mounting catastrophic events of the century, and the golem with his supposed unruly and volatile nature became an easy surrogate for war and mayhem.
Barzilai also has a new book out entitled The Golem, How He Came Into the World, which is an examination fo Paul Wenger’s third golem film (which shares its name).
RELATED: Totally Unexpected B-Movie Monsters
Fiction Books About Golems
The Golem by Gustav Meyrink (1915)
This classic fantasy horror novel is set within the Prague Ghetto at the turn of the 20th century. Within these walls, the residents struggle to survive. And every 33 years, their pain and anguish manifests itself as a golem who comes to life and haunts the ghetto streets searching for victims.
Athanasius Pernath is terrified to come face to face with the golem. More terrifying still, the golem seems to share his face. Already a broken man, Athanasius begins to spiral. No one believes that he’s seen the golem – a figure they know only by name, but few believe truly exists – and soon Athanasius begins to question his own sanity.
The Golem remains one of the most famous books about golems to this day. And for good reason, as it is also one of the best golem books. The book served as inspiration for Paul Wegener’s 1915 classic Der German.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (2013)
This is one of the most famous books about golems out there, and it’s safe to say if you’ve only read one golem book, there’s a 75% chance it’s this one. And that’s a good thing, because The Golem and the Jinni is a wonderful book!
This historical fiction golem novel follows Chava and Ahmad (the titular golem and jinni, respectively) as they both find themselves unexpectedly in 1899 New York City, and, even more unexpectedly cross paths with each other.
Although they are polar opposites, Chava and Ahmad become unlikely friends, bonded by their otherworldliness. As the two grow to know the city they call home, they also teach each other about life, and friendship. As the reader, we are also treated to tales and facets of both Jewish and Arabian folklore.
If you haven’t read this wonderful golem novel, make sure you pick it up ASAP as the author has a sequel coming out soon!
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman (2019)
Berlin, 1941, WWII is raging and the Jewish population continues to disappear from the streets. Hanni Kohn knows she must make the ultimate sacrifice – send her daughter, Lea, away in order to save her – and seeks out a famous rabbi for help. But it is the rabbi’s daughter, Ettie, who offers up a solution: she will create a golem, a mythic Jewish protector, to serve as Lea’s bodyguard and ensure her safety through the war.
Lea and Ava (the golem) flee the country to find a heron who will protect them, while Ettie stays to become a warrior, but bides her time in hiding until the moment is right. Although the girls – Ettie, Lea and Ava – are the heart and soul of this golem novel, The World That We Knew also tells the story of war, heartache, sacrifice, courage, and motherly love.
Like all of Hoffman’s books, The World That We Knew focuses on strong women, female bonds, and fairytales, but throughout their journeys, we meet many selfless people who risk their own lives to help. For those who love historical fiction, especially about WWII, this should be one of the first books about golems you check out!
The Golem by Elie Wiesel (1983)
Elie Wiesel is most renowned for his Night Holocaust memoir trilogy. However, Wiesel wrote numerous books in his lifetime, one of which is this beautiful golem book. The Golem is a collection of golem myths, as recounted by an old gravedigger who himself as encountered golems many times in his lifetime.
Though some of the golem tales are ones we’re familiar with, Wiesel puts his own spin on each story, and as always his prose is inviting and captivating. This is one of the shorter books about golems, but its strength is in the concise and powerful language. Short, but sweet, The Golem is easily one of the best golem books out there.
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett (1996)
The familiar faces of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch return for their third adventure in the Discworld series. When people in the city start being murdered, it’s up to Commander Samuel Vimes of the City Watch to solve the case. Unfortunately, there are no traces of a living being at any of the crime scenes. Things get even more complicated when the city’s leader, the Machiavellian Patrician Vetinari, becomes severely ill from a poisoning attempt.
Who or what is killing citizens of Ankh-Morpork? Are the murders linked to the poisoning of the Patrician? And does any of it have anything to do with the golems that work in the city? They have started to act rather suspiciously lately…
Feet of Clay is a humorous fantasy take on the crime/thriller whodunnit, with lots of comedic beats and clever wordplay, and despite its fantastical setting, this golem book manages to tackle some heavy topics in a relatively realistic way. The novel works the theme of racism into the plot very effectively, and it also serves as an allegory for mistrust in a demographic due to ignorance of its nature, with the ill-feeling towards the golems coming from the Ankh-Morpork citizens’ paranoia and mistrust. It even discusses what it means to be a sentient, free-thinking being.
The characters are very well rounded, and even newcomers to the Discworld series will be able to identify with them without any prior knowledge (this book is number nineteen). And it’s very funny.
If you enjoy the City Watch or the Discworld setting, another Sam Vimes adventure features on our books about time travel.
Dan Leno & the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd (1994)
Welcome to Victorian London, 1880, where most of the city live in abject poverty and a serious of brutal murders has rocked the city. The ‘Limehouse Golem’ takes credit for the murders, but who – or what – is the Golem? And what does the mythical Jewish creature have to do with the murders?
Told through multiple perspectives, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem is the story of a city about to be set on fire. Front and centre throughout this macabre golem novel is the city of London, a powerful character, equally enchanting and repulsive. Along the way we learn about Elizabeth Cree, a woman on trial for poisoning her husband, and meet several real historical figures tied up in the case, such as Dan Leno and Karl Marx.
Graphic Novels About Golems
Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem written by Steve Niles and Matt Santoro, illustrated by Dave Wachter (2013)
Okay, I admit, I am a total sucker for a Golem story. And there are even other Golem graphic novels about war, but Breath of Bones feels most reminiscent of the original Golem legend. This a short comic, and easy to devour in one sitting, but Breath of Bones is such a pure story, that it’s hard not to be charmed by it.
It’s WWII, and an allied plane carrying a US soldier crash lands near a small European village – although it doesn’t say where exactly, I’m gonna just assume it’s in the Czech Republic given their long history with the Golem. The villagers take the soldier in, but on his heels, come the Nazis. Fearing for their lives, the villagers build a Golem. But will they have the faith to bring him to life?
Joe Golem: Occult Detective by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden; Illustrations by Patric Reynolds (2016)
Joe Golem is an occult detective – and a golem, albeit a very human seeming one. Originally from the 15th century, and kept alive through supernatural means, he is unaware of his golemness or his origins. Joe serves under the tutelage of a priest, and lives in The Drowned City, a Manhattan 30 years after it was submerged in water. Now, things have taken a turn for the strange, and Joe Golem, suffering from visions of his past life, must set aside his questions about himself and put his detective skills to work in order to protect his city – and himself!’
As usual, Mignola and Golden do spooky and supernatural superbly, bringing to life the noir-esque world of Joe Golem. There’s plenty to love about this golem book with creepy underwater creatures, witches, plucky female sidekicks, and lots of pulp! And if you love horror graphic novels, there are four volumes to dig into and enjoy!
Fun as these detective graphic novels are, it is worth nothing that this golem seems to have been created by a Christian priest to fight witches which is… a choice. It is alternate history and their religion is a bit of a mish-mash, but it is worth considering, because as a Jew myself, it took me out a little bit.
Books About Golems for Kids
Golem by David Wisniewski (1996)
This stunning golem book recounts the story of the Prague Golem, a man made of clay by a Rabbi to protect the Prague Jews. Wisniewski’s unique cut-paper illustrations are hauntingly evocative, bringing the legend to life on the page.
If you’re looking to introduce your kids to world folklore and myths, this golem book is the perfect add to your collection. Of course, not only is it one of the best books about golems for kids, but adults will love the beautiful artwork, too. In fact, given that the Prague Golem legend is a bit graphic at times, it might be better suited for adults as some kids might think certain scenes are a a tad scary. It depends on the kid, though, I would have LOVED a book like this when I was younger!
The Golem’s Gift by Benjamin Zelkowicz (2020)
Unlike many golem books where the golem in question is depicted as bloodthirsty and dumb, The Golem’s Gift is about a thoughtful golem who wants to change the world.
Drawing on Jewish folklore and traditions, such as Tikkun Olam, The Golem’s Gift is a heartwarming book about kindness and overcoming failure. This is also the perfect book for teaching kids about other religions and beliefs.’’
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (2018)
As the subtitle suggests, Sweep tells the story of orphan Nan, a girl “climber” (a chimney sweep assistant who climbs flues) in 1874 London, and her golem, Charlie, who saved her from a fire. This act allows Nan and Charlie to form an immediate bond, and Nan sets out to understand the origin of her new golem companion.
Along the way, she meets a fun cast of Dickensian-esque characters (it is Victorian London, after all), and learns to stand up for herself against her brutish master, Wilkie Crudd.
This magical middle grade golem novel about friendship and independence is a perfect option for young golem lovers. It also broaches serious topics like classism, sexism, and grief, which can open the floor for deeper discussions.