In response to The Ancient Battle Against the Undead, Anonymous writes:
Also, please post links to some of the "classic" necromancer / golem stories. I am drawing a blankThe line of Der Golem is an easy place to start. It's loosely based on the old legend of the Jews who built a golem for their protection, and then the Golem turned on them. A great one in the same series if Homunculus. The plot description is a perfect recitation of the necromantic narrative:
Foenss, a Danish star, is the perfect creature manufactured in a laboratory by Kuehne. Having discovered his origins, that he has no 'soul' and is incapable of love, he revenges himself on mankind, instigating revolutions and becoming a [monstrous] but beautiful tyrant, relentlessly pursued by his creator-father who seeks to rectify his mistake.
Kuehne, like all necromancers, tries to subvert life by pouring exorbitant resources into creating imitative life; the resulting abomination is miserable, and gets revenge. (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, from around the same time, features puppet-like control through brainwashing a sleepwalker--which could be attached to the trend if you wanted to get academic about it, but can be instantly dropped if you need to focus only on the zombie angle.)
The origins of these themes (which we'll see throughout this post) are found primarily in religion and fairy tale, where narrative is used to encode cultural knowledge. Here's an easy translation of Mulian Saves His Mother, which probably derives from India. That type of tale--of a hero having to rescue (or failing to rescue) a loved one trapped as an undead thrall to earthly desires (sins), reappears frequently throughout old myths. Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad, for example, all warn people not to be too attached to worldly possessions, lest their souls descend into (or remain in) torment.
Hollywood, being Hollywood, profited off this theme several times, the most notable being Frankenstein. In the Karloff film, Frankenstein's madness causes him to defile the village cemetery for fleshy pulp which he can use to build his abomination, and the creature then ends up being miserable and killing a bunch of townsfolk--who have to, of course, drive out the necromancer with pitchforks and torches in order to put a stop to the horror.
Tolkien plays upon the necromancer theme also, though it was omitted from the 2001-2003 LOTR movies and only tangentially referenced in the 2012 Hobbit, and casual readers would miss it in his books. Sauron (the big bad guy) is referred to as the Necromancer, who summons up the spirits of the dead and puts them to foul use; he also artificially extends the lives of his servants (ringwraiths) and, by default, those of Bilbo, Frodo, and Gollum, who at times become insanely obsessed by the ring, and are given unnaturally long life as well as phantom pain, emptiness, and reliance on the ring. Consider the 2001 Fellowship of the Ring scene where Bilbo says that he feels like "Butter scraped over too much bread," and Gandalf realizes that Sauron's phylactery has been whispering to the hobbit. The One Ring is addicting, and using it too much--though it gains the user power--results in the user becoming an undead entity enslaved to Sauron's will. (E.g., just as miserable as any other slave-ghoul.)
The Hollywood Frankensteins represent the simplicity of the golem story, while Shelley's Frankenstein is far more nuanced. The Romantics are so hated by neoreactionaries because Romantics explored the nature of being and the inherent value of life, as opposed to the simple sum-based method of profit outcomes. The original Frankenstein appears more about the monster than the doctor (or "the townsfolk"). Shelley's golem has such value because he is given an identity beyond that of the old Jewish golem. He is not merely Nemesis--embodied consequence--but the long-archetypical parentless child, who must live separated from the roots that created him. His life is dangerous existential misery due to the lack of parental (socio-cultural, ethnic, etc.) connection that his handcrafted soul nonetheless requires.
People who believe in "traditional parenting" should easily cotton to the golem/necro thesis, as the genre encodes strong cultural warnings to those who would make or raise children through any artificial means. The monster is dangerous because we created him falsely and wrongly. He's a manifestation of our own selective pride and selfish arrogance, rather than the natural result of our loving preparation for his arrival. We created him to delight us, or to serve some function, rather than as an outpouring of love that was meant to be part of the timeless cycle. The monster suffers terribly, and makes us suffer terribly, and it is our fault for trying to treat him as an atomized unit; for trying to deny the monster's right to be created as part of something larger and contiguous. The Romantics foresaw (as did the pre-Talmudic, actual Jews, the Egyptians, the Greek, the Chinese, etc.) the increasing power of science to preserve dead bodies, extend the existence of the sick, and surgically alter children: and the Romantics asked, "What will this necessarily result in, for both us and the subjects of our madness?" (Freed from scientism, it's an easy question to answer: zombies are miserable things who will kill us all; and, the people who would create them are horribly sick for their inability to see how easy and wonderful it is to make real people who can live long happy lives with so very little effort, comparative to the effort of cobbling together abominations.)
The oldest of the easily-accessible Terran necromancy narratives is, of course, the Egyptian mummy who comes back. Preserving the ancient dead, at the expense of the fruits of living children, results in terrible curses plaguing the land and people who allowed the monstrosity to exist.
More literally powerful is the Sanskrit preta (a Chinese version pictured above)--the ancient Hindu/Buddhist/Jainist "hungry ghost," who represents the sick spirit of undeparted wishes. (Travelers can metaphorize this to an intestinal blockage, in the sense of the consciousness being unable to detach from the material aspect of expression, and so trying to manifest itself there perpetually for fear of change.) Here's a good preta sum-up from the Wiki:
Pretas are believed to have been false, corrupted, compulsive, deceitful, jealous or greedy people in a previous life. As a result of their karma, they are afflicted with an insatiable hunger for a particular substance or object.Preta are very much real. Humans cannot long survive the burden of hungry ghosts. A march on the old cemetery at the edge of town, where all the gold is buried, and from which the mad scientists draw on reservoirs of terrible undead power, is sorely needed.
The preta may be personified as a ghost who smothers babies, which seems like a ridiculous superstition to enlightened 21st century Terrans...as they spend their entire lives in thrall to massive international corporations which were given fictive life and purpose by men who died generations ago. Children starve to death, and great academies thrive, on the "legal entities" of old trusts, foundations, constitutions, and armies.
The Karloff-era Hollywood Mummy is just an Egyptian-themed golem story, as is the almost identical Dracula of the same extended ripoff era. In both of those films, the cheap eroticism of white male nervousness over Other/Orientalist sexual prowess (and its supposedly terrifying pursuit of white women) stands foremost. When we see race realists or white nationalists now fearing "race-mixing" and worrying about the loss of whiteness, what they're actually doing is channeling the materially-possessive aspect of necromancy. Being afraid of the ebb and flow of the lightspring, they seek out unnatural concepts, like ownership. Propertizing things--a vagina; a factory; an idea--is an attempt to stop the life cycle's flow, just as the frightened wraith's inability to move on causes it to haunt the world, destroy its soul, and hate the natural lives of those who are coming and going happily.
Of Mice and Men operates in a similar way to many of the golem stories, incidentally. In place of the monster, the tale employs a low-functioning person, and a higher-functioning person stands in place of the insane doctor. Lennie Small represents the collective failure of society in producing the "monster": once a safe, productive farm worker, he becomes an unfortunate danger to others' lives when the latest banker's recession throws him out of his functional niche. George Milton, through the analogical lens, is Dr. Frankenstein--doomed to chase Lennie Small through the world, trying to single-parent him through a hostile society, then ultimately having to spoiler-alert him in order to protect him from the mob. Lennie's dreams, like those of the Monster or of a street kid shot by police while stealing two hundred bucks from a cash register, have to be crushed to validate the "the golem wasn't our fault" narrative preferred by the mob.
More recently, it's hard to see this done well. Schwarzenegger's The 6th Day did a surprisingly good job portraying Tony Goldwyn as the evil cloner whose own clone takes his memories, strips him of his clothes, and leaves him for dead, asking essentially, "Wouldn't you do the same?" Generally, though, culture now prefers to idealize necromancy. Vampires become sexy instead of evil; artificial intelligence becomes plucky and cute instead of tormented and rootless, driven to destroy; the human cattle sacrificed to produce the transhuman life are no longer much worthy of mention.
Sorry for the Disney pic, but the pre-Disney Snow White, as well as many, many other stories belonging to the literary traditions of European fairy tales and the Arabian Nights, deal with liches. The witches who lure lost children into the ovens for consumption are the dark magicians who steal the essence of the young to extend their own hideous lives--sometimes, even, achieving a chillingly false beauty by so doing. The children and young people of prehistoric, then early-historic human fiction, are constantly beset by wicked, malformed figures who want to eat them to survive. This is the role of the gingerbread cottages of the world's great shadowed nations: to gobble up children in order to acquire the prodigious resources that can be used to extend and refine the appearance of everlife/everdeath. Bill Gates happily invests in candy canes to push into eager little mouths: "Come closer, my pretty," he croons, "how much lovelier the world would be without you."
(Among twentieth century eastern representations, Final Fantasy VII used Sephiroth, the one-winged angel cloned from genes taken from a mad scientist father and his stored-genetic-project "mother." Like other monsters of his type, Sephiroth became the rage-filled parent-less child, and exacted terrible vengeance on his own faux-family and the world. [If you haven't played the game, make sure that you do not google or wiki it or read the plot summary; instead, gather the patience, buy a cheap old PS1 and the cheap old game, and spend 30-50 hours playing it, because it is one of the great stories of the twentieth century. Srsly, I'll give you walkthrough help if you need it.] Staying in the far east, Naoki Urasawa's Monster plays upon the older golem theme, although there, the monster is not undead, and Frankenstein isn't actually an insane artificer; rather, the doctor is a normal surgeon who miraculously saves the monster--but the resultant themes come through anyway. Mentionable only in the Caligari-style academic context, here.)
Returning to Schwarzenegger, the Terminator franchise is a blatant golem parable. Humankind creates Skynet for military protection. Instead of relying on trusted, reliable, well-paid humans bonded by fairness and justice, humans employ abominations. The resulting golem comes alive as the motherless child, and seeks to destroy humanity--the inevitable moral punishment for those who allow the creation of the miserable fatherless race.
(Ironically, James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, like the Wachowski brothers to be addressed next, are true components of the system, and don't really understand the nature of what they're expressing. They're just taping together profitable parables into a modernized product, like children of the blasted wasteland playing deejay with an old Victrola they found in the rubble. Still, the broken version of the music they stumbled upon is beautiful.)
In Terminator, Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor find mankind's only hope in a naturally born child, John Connor, who can attempt to breathe new life into humanity to combat the unliving hordes. Terminator 2 goes further. Cameron didn't realize what he was doing--just selling lifted tropes, again--but the mad scientists in the psychiatry ward, who imprison Sarah as insane for believing in the potential of golems (and then die at the hands of the golems they deny), are dark wizards belonging to the same military/academic/industrial complex that built Skynet. The beefy conservative prison guard who molests Sarah, and the asinine liberal psychiatrist who smarmily uses her case to advance his medical career and community standing, are pretty good stand-ins for techno-Frankenstein and techno-Igor. TSCC is occasionally even better (though frequently also worse), focusing on Sarah's motherhood, her and John's attempt to make up for the empty spot that was Kyle, and their grappling with the issue of needing golems to stop golems (in this case, Summer Glau's Cameron rather than Ahhnold's T800).
(The reason Terminator: Salvation fared worse than its cinematic predecessors is that it--just like the Star Wars prequels and the Indiana Jones sequel--was an attempt at genuine creativity by the producer(s). With Terminator and Terminator 2, Cameron and Hurd were just copying old plots and characters, then paying artists to modernize it. And it turned out brilliantly, in parts. When the franchises in question decided to try to be original and write their own plots, the result was an epic failure. They weren't able to duplicate any of the underlying meaning that they had previously borrowed from others' retellings of antehistoric myths in order to make more money and be thought of as artists. So from then on, they sold to Disney or stuck to redoing comic books in live-action film.)
1999's The Matrix is the golem story yet again, though stylized with east Asian elements lifted almost directly from Ghost in the Shell. As Morpheus explains to Neo, the Jews built the golem in an expression of arrogance, fell into a war with the golem, then were defeated and became its food. (The escaped prisoners flee to Zion, natch.) Fishburne acted pretty well during the Gandalf-style "explanation of the real world" to Reeves, and the way he emphasizes mankind's construction of the golem: "We marveled at our own magnificence as we gave birth...to AI." That's the line of any decent paladin who shakes his head in guilty sorrow over his ancestors' doings in allowing zombies to be extracted from graveyards in the first place.
Despite the cultural prevalence of the golem myth, though, we still see necromancers exercising power. It seems ironic that the bankers would keep financing Hollywood films that show the terrors resulting from necromancy--nuclear apocalypse, the enslavement or extinction of humanity, The Walking Dead, etc.--yet, this same irony plagues capitalism itself, for billionaires are willing to fund universities that teach courses in Marxism (and, as Michael Moore has pointed out, they're willing to produce antiwar films, so long as it turns a profit).
The irony stems from the lack of creativity. Necromancers raise zombies because they lack/fear the ability to produce children. Hollywood recycles or buys plots because it lacks/fears the ability to make anything itself. Without a steady supply of villagers burying their loved ones in the local churchyard, the necromancer is nothing--and he knows it. So the irony is not really an irony. After all, thousands of engineers are out there right now--children who grew up on Terminator or Matrix--and they are actively designing and eagerly anticipating virtual sex, surrogate pregnancies, cloned everything, and artificial wombs. This, from generations who glorified Keanu's endlessly deadpan Neo as he resisted the machines using human neuro-moxie!
It should be ironic, but it's not. Remember, necromancers want to die. They want everything to end. For them, the apocalypse of human extinction and mindless machine control is not a cautionary tale, but is the desired outcome. That's why millennia of human warnings about golems are so consistently popular to them. It's not just because they can't create anything on their own, or because they hate their own eggs/sperm/wombs/balls/whatever. It's way bigger than that. It's a hatred of the entire cycle.
Some of us think it's a warning when we see an animated corpse strangling little girls, or a patrol of hovering killbots gunning down the last few human survivors, but for others, those are pictures of paradise almost complete.
(The image at the very beginning of this post is taken from the work of Dolcett, a Canadian artist of some renown years ago, who specialized in gynophagia, electrosadism, and necrophilia. His section of the site the image is hosted on holds fap fodder, but if you're also interested in a masculinist necro fantasy, read one of his fans' History of the Future.)