“The Golem” by Avram Davidson is story #8 of 52 from the anthology The World Treasury of Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell (1989) that my short story club is group reading. Stories are discussed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. “The Golem” was first published in the March 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

You can read or listen to “The Golem” online here.

Avram Davidson (1923-1993) uses his own childhood pop culture references to get us to visualize the setting “The Golem” at the beginning of this 1955 story:

Anyone who attended the movies in the twenties or the early thirties has seen that street a thousand times. Past these bungalows with their half-double roofs, Edmund Lowe walked arm-in-arm with Leatrice Joy, and Harold Lloyd was chased by Chinamen waving hatchets. Under these squamous palm trees Laurel kicked Hardy and Woolsey beat Wheeler upon the head with a codfish. Across these pocket-handkerchief-sized lawns, the juveniles of the Our Gang comedies pursued one another and were pursued by angry fat men in golf knickers. On this same street—or perhaps on some other one of five hundred streets exactly like it. 

And he does the same thing at the end:

Presently the sound of the lawnmower whirred through the quiet air in the street just like the street where Jackie Cooper shed huge tears on Wallace Beery’s shirt and Chester Conklin rolled his eyes at Marie Dressler.

I assume that Davidson was nostalgic for the films he saw as a kid in the 1920s and 1930s but how many readers today will know them? I was familiar with all those names and images, but his story keyed in another era for me, the late 1950s and The Twilight Zone. I visualized Mr. and Mrs. Gumbeiner, an old Jewish couple sitting on their porch with their uninvited Golem guest as one of the comic episodes of that classic TV show.

The tone of the story reminded me of Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson, so in 1955, Avram Davidson was ahead of his times — by four years.

Of course, in 2023 we’re starting to get worried about AI and real robots while science fiction readers are still enchanted by stories about friendly androids, cute robots, or sexy sexbots. So I assume modern readers could still be enchanted by this quaint old-fashion story. It’s the kind of Jewish comedy schtick that was once very popular, but I wonder if modern readers concerned with cultural correctness might consider it a stereotype? Essentially, “The Golem” is a time capsule of history, that mixes 1955 science fiction with Jewish folklore while asking us to remember old Hollywood films that kids loved twenty and thirty years earlier.

It’s interesting that David Hartwell included “The Golem” in The World Treasury of Science Fiction. How many stories in that anthology are there because of Hartwell’s own nostalgia? Other editors have loved this story too, just look at the long list of reprints it’s gotten over the last several decades.

However, even though I enjoyed this little blast from the past, I have to wonder if its storytelling hasn’t become too quaint for modern readers. Right after reading it, I started listening to “The Affinity Charm” by Jennifer Egan, the first story in her fix-novel The Candy House. The setting for that story is an apartment where people have gathered after a lecture to discuss what everyone thought. Egan presents a diverse group of intellectuals all arguing from different academic perspectives. To these modern sophisticates, “The Golem” would be an overly simplistic tale they’d quickly dismiss. I wonder if even uneducated young people today would be too sophisticated intellectually to enjoy this story?

I only considered “The Golem” mildly entertaining, mostly for its nostalgia. But then I can remember 1955. How will people born after 1985 or 1995 see it? Hartwell’s anthology came out in 1989, and I’m starting to wonder from its first eight stories if it isn’t already a relic of the past?

James Wallace Harris, 5/22/23

8 thoughts on ““The Golem” by Avram Davidson

  1. I read through the entire AD Treasury, and yeah while I would expect some of it to feel outdated, his work is pretty timeless! He was very very Jewish and embraced it in a lot of his work and I love that for one lol

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    1. That’s great. You are my one proof that a younger reader can still like this kind of story. I’m going to assume you aren’t atypical either. I guess I’m gunshy about younger people liking older stories, movies, and TV shows because I often see them criticized for being too old and moldy. You are the second young woman to surprise me today. The other was only YouTube and she was gushing about Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I guess I shouldn’t be such a worry-wart.

      I have the Avram Davidson Treasury but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. I’m picking up his stories here and there in anthologies. But your comment encourages me to read it. Thanks.

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      1. You’d be surprised about a few of the youngs. A couple of years back I was in the biggest second-hand bookstore in Berkeley, CA, and got to chatting with this under-25 who wanted to be a writer. About a minute into the conversation, he said in a messianic voice, “I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of this great old writer I’ve come across called C.M. Kornbluth?” And I answered, “Why, yes, actually, it happens that I have.”

        So there you go. It may come to pass that Americans will soon live in a cultural wasteland that resembles that of Tevis’s MOCKINGBIRD. Yet as long as names like C.M. Kornbluth and Avram Davidson are mentioned by one or two here and there, the light of culture and intelligence will not have entirely vanished from the world.

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        1. And actually, now I think about it, it occurs to me that Davidson’s ‘The Golem’ and Kornbluth’s ‘The Mindworm’ aim at — and achieve — quite similar effects.

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        2. My favorite YouTube book reviewer, Bookpilled, who is in his mid-thirties, also admires Kornbluth. I was impressed by that. Only a science fiction reader who explores the past will discover C. M. Kornbluth.

          I posted about reading Mockingbird on the Science Fiction Book Club on Facebook, and I was surprised by how many people read and loved that book.

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  2. I’ve always liked Avram Davidson’s story “The Golem” since I first read it in the late seventies. I would have been thirteen or fourteen. I didn’t find it overly quaint or nostalgic, and enjoyed it as an introduction to the golem legend, which I wasn’t familiar with at the time. I didn’t understand the references in the first paragraph, but wasn’t bothered by this.

    Of course many stories from earlier eras may be less accessible to readers of later eras, but I think it’s possible to exaggerate this. During my personal “golden age” of SF, I read stories by H.G. Wells, Asimov, Clarke, etc., published decades before the time I was growing up, and found much to enjoy, even if there were references that were lost on me.

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  3. Thanks. While I feel that Hartwell’s choices for “The World Treasury of Science Fiction” was too heavily weighted to stories by male American authors with many of them not really great choices, this one felt perfect to me. I love the couple and their response to the robot/golem. I was not alive in 1955, but I can sure envision it.

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