Review: The Golem
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 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.