Saturday, November 19, 2005

Greg Vilk

Greg has sent me a copy of his new novel Golem so I have indulged myself for a few days in attempting to decipher the central puzzle of this novel. I have not succeeded in unraveling the mystery but I have spent some enjoyable hours trying.

This novel is set in Thule Bay in northern Greenland. This could only be Qaanaaq, a settlement whose name is a palindrome. Several clues point to the use of the palindrome in deciphering the two 'keywords' of the story, the words written on the scroll placed in the golem's mouth.

In trying to decide if these words were in Hebrew, Latin or English, I first researched the history of the palindrome. Palindromes are an ancient tradition, dating back to 275 BC. I found famous Greek and Latin palindromes but less use of the palindrome in Hebrew. Along with palindromes there are also reversable words. This offers much more scope for decipherment.

The first keyword is the 'word of creation' which brings the golem to life; and the second keyword, a reverse of the first, will destroy him. I found that the effect of the script, with its many reversed letters, (a realistic feature in my books, since I am familiar with many real scripts with reversed letters) distracted me from perceiving the sequence of the letters in reverse. Therefore I reconstructed the keywords by number.

I wrote down the 'word of creation' as 12134521 and its reverse as 21543211. To visualize this better I organized the letters like this 121-345-21 and 21-543-211.

Now, assuming first the simplest interpretation, that the words are understandable in English, I worked on combinations of letters that would fit this pattern. The double final letters could only be ll, ss, or ee. The other possibilities, zz, and ff, seem too improbable. However, maybe I am barking up the wrong tree.

Next, I switched to researching the legend of the golem in history. I found out that one of the original 'words of creation' was 'emeth' (truth) written on the golem's forehead. With the erasure of the 'e' altering 'emeth' to read 'meth' (death), the golem was destroyed. I assume a similar method must work with Vilk's two keywords.

This was just the beginning of the investigations I pursued in working on this puzzle. Overall, the historic elements in this novel refering to the creation of the golem stand up as highly accurate to the original golem legend, which is a pleasant surprise these days. Good work, Greg.

While I have not succeeded in deciphering the ancient script, there are many more tantalizing clues embedded in the text. There are allusions to the first chapter of Genesis, the first chapter of John's gospel, the Lord's Prayer and other famous quotes. I have not ruled out the possibility that the names of the characters also provide clues. You have to read the novel and decide for yourself.

There is one little detail I do have to mention in the interests of 'herstoricity'. The female character should give up her pantyhose, since this item of attire was not invented until 1959, some 17 years after the setting for this novel.

There is an interesting discussion about 'speech' and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet here and here.

Update: In response to a comment on Language Hat I need to add that 'emeth' is אמת and without the aleph מת is 'dead'. This is actually the triliteral root מןת. I think there is an expression ךבר אמת 'word of truth'. However, in this novel certain conversation points in the direction of a 'word of creation.' Hmm. Help welcome.

On other points, I can not guarantee that I am pointing anyone in the right direction on deciphering Greg's script.


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