The Golem is a novel written by Gustav Meyrink in 1914.
First published in serial form as Der Golem in 1913-14 in the periodical Die weissen Blätter, The Golem was published in book form in 1915 by Kurt Wolff, Leipzig. The Golem was Meyrink's first novel. It became his most popular and successful literary work, and is generally described as the most "accessible" of his full-length novels.
The novel centers around the life of Athanasius Pernath, a jeweler and art restorer who lives in the ghetto
. But his story is experienced by an anonymous narrator, who, during a visionary dream, assumes Penrath's identity thirty years before. This dream was perhaps inducted because he inadvertently swapped his hat with the real (old) Penrath's. While the novel is generally focused on Pernath's own musings and adventures, it also chronicles the lives, the characters, and the interactions of his friends and neighbors. The Golem, though rarely seen, is central to the novel as a representative of the ghetto's own spirit and consciousness, brought to life by the suffering and misery that its inhabitants have endured over the centuries.
The story itself has a disjointed and often elliptical feel, as it was originally published in serial form and is intended to convey the mystical associations and interests which the author himself was exploring at the time. The reality of the narrator's experiences are often called into question, as some of them may simply be dreams or hallucinations and others may be metaphysical or transcendent events which are taking place outside the "real" world. Similarly, it is revealed over the course of the book that Pernath apparently suffered from a mental breakdown on at least more than one occasion, but has no memory of any such event; he is also unable to remember his childhood and most of his youth, a fact that may or may not be attributable to his previous breakdown. His mental stability is constantly called into question by his friends and neighbors, and the reader is left to wonder what if anything that has taken place in the narrative actually happened.
- Athanasius Pernath: the ostensible protagonist; a jeweler who resides in the ghetto of Prague.
- The Golem: while connected with the legend of rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Golem is cast as a sort of gestalt entity, a physical manifestation of the ghetto's inhabitants' collective psyche, as well as of the ghetto's own "self."
- Schemajah Hillel: a wise and gentle Jewish neighbor of Pernath, learned in the Torah and Talmud; serves as a protector and instructor for Pernath as the jeweler begins to walk the path of mysticism.
- Miriam: Hillel's compassionate and noble daughter.
- Aaron Wassertrum: another of Pernath's neighbors, this one a junk dealer and possibly a murderer. He is the antithesis of Hillel, embodying all of the then-popular negative stereotypes surrounding Jews.
- Rosina: a 14 year-old red-haired girl and neighbor of Pernath; apparently a relation of Wassertrum though no-one is ever able to determine what kind; described by Pernath as repulsive, but figures prominently as the object of men's desires and is infamously promiscuous
- Charousek: a poverty-stricken student consumed with hatred for Wassertrum and his son, Dr. Wassory.
- Zwakh: a puppeteer; Pernath's friend and land-lord.
- Dr. Savioli: a wealthy neighbor of Pernath who rents a room in the ghetto from Zwakh in which he carries on illicit affairs with married women.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The novel was not, despite contrary claims, the basis for three films, both realized by Paul Wegener
. Both films rather adapt the original Golem legend.