Golems are mechanical entities baked from clay, typically powered by holy words in their heads. Golems are made, usually in a lumpy human shape. They used to be considered non-lifeforms, but lately, quite a few individual golems have begun to demonstrate personality and personal initiative, and get hired with a salary instead of working for nothing and being bought and sold as machines.
The holy words or chem usually define the behaviour and aim of the Golem. The word "Freedom" for example will make the Golem long for just that. A Golem can be ordered to show its chem. If it is removed from the Golem's head the Golem will cease to live, which usually goes along with the extinguishing of the fire-like light in the Golem's eyes. The only exception known is Dorfl who lives without a chem: “Words in the heart can not be taken”, as he states himself in Feet of Clay.
Golems take orders very seriously. They will continue to follow the order until told to stop. If the owner forgets that he ordered the Golem to dig a hole in the garden he might end up with a nice view unto A'Tuin's shell. Because Golems usually follow every order without protest, without payment, and without rest, they are rather popular for dirty and dangerous jobs. Orders to golems are usually conveyed verbally, although the Red Army's controls operated via a magical telepresence system in Interesting Times, and the golems commandeered by Moist von Lipwig in Making Money would obey only a person dressed all in gold.
Most golems had been made centuries before the present; no new golems have been made (save the illicit King Golem of Feet of Clay) because priests argued that the creation of life is the domain of the gods. Most golems had been made with sealed lips and no voice, but the recently freed golems have acquired the ability to speak; technical details on how this change is made are unknown. It is said on Roundworld that if a golem were made able to speak, that would give it a soul, and — because a golem cannot be made perfectly — that ability could make it very dangerous.
In I Shall Wear Midnight, it is demonstrated that in times of emergency, a powerful witch such as Mrs Proust may temporarily make a Golem from a handy statue - in this case an equestrian statue of notorious general Lord Albert Rust, which she uses to disperse a crowd of witch-hunters, and then hitches a ride home on. (A witch's spell, if powerful enough, is perhaps the equivalent of a one-shot chem?) The Red Army from Interesting Times may likewise have been powered only temporarily via channeled lightning, as its terra-cotta figures did not animate when Rincewind initially discovered them.
These days, Golems are trying to free themselves in the only way they know: by working and saving to buy themselves. To assist in this endeavor, the Golem Trust has been established. Free Golems can be hired, a service run by Adora Belle Dearheart. The proceeds go to freeing Golems.
Unlike former fire brigades, who had seen to it that there was an ample supply of fires to put out, the golem fire brigade, mentioned in The Truth, limits itself to rescue people, secure portable property, and extinguish the fire. It is said that either the Watch had the idea for it or golems simply would not allow people and property to be destroyed. But since golems have been employed for a long time in Ankh-Morpork, the latter theory stands on very shaky ground, and the origin of the golem fire brigade remains a mystery. It could be the case that a newly enfranchised species that now has a stake in its city takes its newly-gained civic responsibility very seriously.
- Dorfl, member of the Watch
- Gladys, personal assistant of Moist von Lipwig, about fifteen hundred years old
- Meshugah, king of the Golems
- Mr. Pump, a bodyguard in a very literal sense, about three thousand years old
- Anghammarad, almost nineteen thousand years old. Possibly an infinite multiple of 19,000 if circular time is taken into account.
- Shmata, a tailor
Developments described in Making Money give us a fuller picture of golem history than was previously possible.
Golem legend says that golems were first invented by the Umnians about 60,000 years ago. The Umnians did not invent anything else, did not work iron or use the wheel, for example. They did not need to. Their city was built without walls, guarded by golems. They also made golem horses, something which had not been achieved since. It was the Age of Clay. Golems were bigger then, maybe ten feet tall, compared to seven feet more recently. At that time the very best sculptors made them to rival the most beautiful of statues, rather than in the hulking gingerbread-man style that evolved later.
Fragments of golem from that period were known to the Unseen University. One of them was in the Cabinet of Curiosities. It matched exactly the piece brought back from Uberwald by Adora Belle Dearheart. The stories about Um say that it was destroyed in a flood. According those who took part in the Golem Trust expedition there, it was probably a natural ice dam in the mountains that burst, and flooded half the continent. The golems of Um were washed away with the rubble, and ended up against some chalk cliffs by the sea, buried half a mile down under sand and gravel.
It was one of these golems, which after some 60,000 years of guarding in the dark, "raised its mind in song". The passing of time meant nothing as such, but the pressure was increasing, some had shattered, and some, the younger ones, had gone silent. Something had to be done. Its song was heard by a golem from the Golem Trust, who reported it.
After making a contract at considerable expense with a deeply suspicious Low King of the dwarfs, a team from the Golem Trust tunnelled into the sand. Eventually the tunnel became unstable, and one group had to go forward to free the trapped golems, while the tunnel was closed at the surface. The plan was to lead them out under the sea, and to cross under the sea to Ankh Morpork. Communication was difficult, because although golems had shared a common language for 20,000 years, no-one spoke Umnian. At the time when there was last an exchange between the underground group and the surface, Adora Belle understood that they were going towards four golems, who might be golden golems. With the aid of the university Department of Post-Mortem Communications, and Professor Flead, she comes to understand that what in fact was meant was four thousand golems, but by this point it was academic, because they had arrived in the city. The one imperative for them being to guard the city, they immediately passed through it to the walls, where they set them themselves to guard it. One golem remained in the centre, together with seventeen golem horses.
Using the prospect of a long-term ticket to the Pink PussyCat poledancing club as persuasion, Moist von Lipwig gets the co-operation of of the unrepressed Professor Flead as a translator. By virtue of the fact that he is dressed in a suit of gold, which was worn by the Umnian priests, and by virtue of his skill in evoking trust, Moist finds a way of causing the golem army to obey him. They are to go ten miles from the city, and to bury themselves again. This resolves many, but not all, problems.
Adora Belle is both impressed and put out by his ability to communicate with them. Vetinari is in doubt as to how to handle a person who commands the biggest army in the world, as well as how to stop an arms race among other states. Hubert Turvy had explained how employing them as labour in the city would cause unemployment and depression. Although Moist hopes to negotiate with Vetinari the use of half a dozen golem horses for the Post Office, and 400 of the buried golems to power the Clacks system, he mainly wishes to use the buried golems as a kind of gold reserve for the Bank of Ankh Morpork, of which he was at that moment Master. The idea takes a bit of thinking about.
Adora Belle says there is no way of changing the purpose of these golems. There is no access to their chem, if it is in their head. It may be written in their clay. The free golems of Ankh Morpork are disturbed by the presence of the golem army. They fear they will be the cause of trouble. With no chem that can be changed, they are worse than zombies. As far as these are concerned, their imperative is to guard, but this implies the potential to kill. Vetinari deftly finds a way of defusing the threat of an arms race, at least the threat of this particular army.
Golems are found in the Agatean Empire in the form of the Red Army. Described in Interesting Times they resemble famous roundworld Terracotta Army, thousands of seven foot statues, in full battle armour. They were original created long ago by the Great Wizard at the founding of the empire to aid the first emperor One Sun Mirror. Forged from lighting and earth they were controlled by use of a magical suit of armour; a helmet to see, boots to move and gauntlets to command them to fight or work. The Red Army golems were not the same as Ankh-Morpork golems, having no chem, and unable to think for themselves; they could not opperate without a controller.
Buried under a small hill on the edge of Hunghung the army stood guard over the tomb of One Sun Mirror for centuries, until discovered by Rincewind by a million to one chance. Activated they were able to win the day for Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde, who were battling to take control of the empire. Few Agatean solders could stand against them in a fight. True, their combat was limited to parry - thrust - advance, but it was the way they totally ignored what their adversary was doing, stepping on them if they were not dead, and the way they smiled all the time that caused the soldiers to flee in panic, routing the warlords.
Metal Warriors of Pitchiu
Clearly some form of metal golem, they were created by the master craftsman Goldeneyes Silverhand Dactylos on the order of the ruler Pitchiu to guard his tomb. Once he finished the Metal Warriors Dactylos was showered with gold and then had his eyes removed on the orders of Pitchiu, to prevent him making anything so wonderful for anyone else.
The language spoken by golems is written using the Enochian alphabet shown here. The Enochian characters are used for a simple cipher.
Once decoded, the Golem language reads as follows. In Making Money: on page 214 (hardback) Miss Dearheart's words transliterate as "I can speak formal golem" and on page 221 (hardback) Flead's words transliterate as "You make eternity bearable" and "Why do you care about golems? They have no passionate parts".
To underline their Jewishness, when golems write Morporkian their writing is rendered in a font which makes Roman characters look Hebrew. I am told that this is more obvious in the British edition than in the American.
In the Roundworld, Golems are first found in early stories in the Talmud, and are most famously seen as servants to Rabbis, such as the most famous Golem of Prague, created and animated by the Rabbi Loew. This is probably why the Golems in Discworld have Yiddish names.
- Bobkes = a small or trivial thing, both beneath notice and possibly somewhat distasteful.
- Dorfl: idiot, bumpkin, holy innocent;
- Dybbuk: evil spirit, demon;
- Kvetch: argumentative, complainer;
- Meshhugah: crazy;
- Nudnik: worthless or inconsequential person;
- Schmatter: cloth material, tailored fabric;
- Shtetl: settlement, ghetto;
There are laws that are written on a scroll inside a golem's head (mentioned in Going Postal). These laws are similar to Asimov's Laws of Robotics."A golem may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm...unless instructed to do so by duly constituted authority." In Going Postal, "duly constituted authority" meant Vetinari.