Study Guide

The Golem and the Jinni The Supernatural

By Helene Wecker

The Supernatural

Stories abounded about Schaalman, all slightly different: that […] he'd been possessed by a dybbuk and given supernatural powers; and even that he was over a hundred years old and slept with demon-women. (1.7)

A dybbuk, like the golem, is a creature from Jewish folklore. The dybbuk is a spirit that can possess the body of a living being.

"And the hair, and eyes? The fingernails? Are they clay too?"

"No, those are real enough." (1.52—1.53)

We never find out where the Golem's real hair and eyes came from… and we're kind of glad because ew.

A powerful jolt blasted [Arbeely] off his feet. […] There was a naked man lying on the floor of his shop. (2.11, 2.12)

And voila—the Jinni appears. His lore is similar to what you may have already heard about jinnis, or genies, except for the wishes part.

"I know what dreams are. […] I can enter them." (3.98)

The Golem and the Jinni have some superpowers we don't normally see. Whereas the Golem can feel others' thoughts, the Jinni can enter their dreams. How do you think this measures up against being able to turn into a wolf or drinking blood?

Yehudah Schaalman awoke to darkness and the certain knowledge that he was somehow damned. (4.64)

Like many supernatural things, the source of Schaalman's wizardry is a little vague. He had a dream, awoke feeling damned, and turned away from his religion to a life of evil. Presto, change-o.

"It is an ifrit," she said. "It needs to be cast out." (5.69)

One interesting aspect of the Jinni's lore is the different subsets of being a jinni. The Syrian Desert seems to be full of all sorts of dangerous supernatural creatures—and here we thought dehydration was the worst thing to watch out for.

He was a jinni—but what was that? (12.91)

Welcome to life before Google, Shmoopers, a time when information wasn't a mere click away. Perhaps because of this, all the supernatural creatures don't seem to already know about each other. Here, we see the Golem pondering what the heck a jinni is.

The puncture was sealing itself over, the clay spreading back into place. (13.39)

Here we see an unusual power of the Golem's: the power to heal. Unlike the Jinni, who needs fire to regenerate, the Golem is able to heal on her own.

The word possessed hung in the close air of the sick-tent, was exchanged in every glance, but not a tongue uttered it. (21.97)

Some of the creatures that live in the desert are dangerous. Well, all of them are dangerous. Even though he doesn't mean to, our Jinni ends up incapacitating Fadwa and causing her death. Possession might have been a better alternative…

"They have all been embellished, of course, but at their heart they're mainly true." (22.173)

In supernatural stories, we often hear that the legends are true, and this book is no different. Think of it as a shout-out to the fact that the golem and the jinni are real-life folk tales that go back for millennia.

Where the thin old man had been, there stood another, naked, with a sun-blasted face beneath filthy wisps of hair. And where the man he knew as Ahmad had been, there stood something that was no man, nor earthly creature at all, but a kind of shimmering vision—like the air above the pavement on a scorching summer day, or a candle flame whipped by the wind. (24.94)

This is the only time we see the Jinni's true form, or Schaalman's, for that matter. The Jinni's is much more exciting and supernatural, being inhuman and all.