Golems in fantasy are an strange and varied thing. No doubt you’ve encountered one in a game or novel at some point or another, made from materials either obscure or common. According to wikipedia…
In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter. The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing. The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. There are many tales differing on how the Golem was brought to life and afterwards controlled.
It goes back even earlier, though, back to when the dust of Adam (as in, Adam and Eve of the Judeo-Christian mythos) was made into a golem. The way it goes is that golems were always made from mud, and were very close to the Christian god. Nifty stuff. Also very different from what we see today in popular fantasy.
So that’s the origin of the word, but what is a golem, exactly?
Aggregating details from a variety of sources, it would seem that a golem is most often a being made from inanimate material(s), then brought to life by magical or miraculous means. We see them most often as stewards and servants. Perhaps one could think of them as the robots of the fantasy realm. As with the famous golem of involving Judah ben Bezalel, golems are often seen made from mud or clay, and unlike robots don’t appear to be reliant on circuitry or a power source – depending on what mythos you choose to adhere to. Let’s look at some examples both conventional and debatable.
Heroes of Might and Magic series
The Heroes of Might and Magic (HoMM) series of turn-based strategy games had many merits going for it, and if you were into golems, they didn’t disappoint. In HoMM 2 there were iron golems which could be upgraded to steel, and in HoMM 3 there were golems ranging from stone to iron, gold, and even diamond (only one not pictured – bottom-most images are from HoMM 5). They were generally slow, but highly resistant to magic, were tough (they’re not made out of flesh), and while they did not always hit hard, their evident strength was their refusal to die. It’s no wonder that wizards of many realms set about creating these things as servants; without the will to question their creators (see ahead…) and the means to both shrug off and inflict damage without any particular qualms about doing it, a golem of most any material could find its uses.
Shale – Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age was a game of tremendous immersion and enjoyable characters, not least of which Shale, a verbose and free-willed golem who joins the player after being rescued from being frozen as a statue in the town square for upwards of thirty years. It is eventually learned that Shale was once a dwarf, who’s spirit/mind was transferred into the empty shell of a deactivated golem – this is a very rare occurrence in the world from which she has come (Ferelden), but apparently it is possible. See also Full Metal Alchemist for a similar concept in action.
Blitzcrank – League of Legends
Another outright golem, powered by steam and likely made of gold, iron and steel. He was a happy accident type of scenario, where the magi/scientists of the age lashed him together for a specific purpose (hazardous waste reclamation), and he slowly attained sentience – and eventually full autonomy – not unlike Number Johnny 5.
The Tin Man and the Scarecrow
You heard me.
A pair of magical beings, man-made constructs, with unknown origins and clearly no sense of discretion. The Tin Man would obviously be considered to be, in fact, a tin golem, but what of the scarecrow? Perhaps he is essentially a straw golem, draped in clothing to not only hold him together but provide the guise of a man.
They fit the bill if you ask me.