Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay?

The stories concerning artificial creatures go back as far back as the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts and the Phoenician prince Cadmus. Both heroes sowed dragon's teeth, from which a rank of spartoi, or warriors, arose to fight them. A man-made avenger makes an appearance in the Norse Thorleif Saga, where the titular hero is killed by a wooden effigy sent by the Norwegian yarl Hakon.

Jason and the Argonauts

Jason and the Argonauts

Cadmus sows dragon's teeth

Cadmus sows dragon's teeth

The Golem ( Heb. "unformed mass" ) was a human figure imparted with life by means of an incantation placed in its mouth. The creature was first made by Rabbi Elijah in Chelm, Poland, in the 16th century. According to the legend, the Chelm Golem grew so big, it became nearly impossible to extract the secret word and disable the creature. This legend was later eclipsed by that of Rabbi Lw of Prague.

Cabala frontispiece

Cabala frontispiece

Chelm, Poland

Chelm, Poland

Prague's Altneuschul

Prague's Altneuschul

Mary Shelley famously coopted the Golem legend in her novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. The monster in her story acquires a tragic dimension, as he struggles with his unnatural origins and a world that cannot understand him.

The Frankenstein creature

The Frankenstein creature

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

The Golem found his way to the silver screen as early as 1915, in a trilogy made by the German actor/director/writer Paul Wegener. The last part, the 1920 Golem and How He Came Into the World, is the most vivid and imaginative.

Paul Wegener Beware... Gate

Golem and How He Came Into the World (1920)

Later years brought a few others—much less memorable—cinematic Golems. Of note is the 1966 Japanese film Daimajin in which oppressed villagers bring to life a giant samurai statue carved in the side of a mountain.

It!It! Daimajin

It! (The Curse of the Golem)

Daimajin