By Mr. Xenophon
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
All golem making recalls God’s creation of Adam—from the traditional recipe of earth and breath, to the initial purity of purpose, the inevitable corruption of that purpose, and finally redemption through death.
The Escapist is Joe and Sammy’s Adam. He is created in their collective image, infused with their spirit, and betrays his intended purpose. The novel can be read as the search for his redemption, and the ultimate fulfillment of his purpose in lives of his creators.
On the evening Joe and Sammy conceive the Escapist the narrator observes that every golem is “summoned into existence through language, through murmuring…literally, talked into life.” Sammy and Joe’s conversation, their breath, is the Escapist’s animating force. Like God’s “breath” in Genesis two (translated from the Hebrew, ruah, which also means spirit) their words bring their creation to life, imprinting it with their comingled desire for liberation. For Joe, the rescue of his family; for Sammy, escape from the psychological baggage left him by his father. More consciously for Joe than for Sammy, the fulfillment of these desires become the Escapist’s purpose.
In his initial state of purity the Escapist thrives. He vaults Sammy out of his mother’s house and into a state of financial security—each a wrung of self-worth on Sammy’s ladder out of insecurity. He brings Joe the “big money” he needs to rescue his family and resettle them in America. But in each case their Adam falls short. Sammy becomes embarrassed of the lowly art form that has brought his success, and Joe’s efforts to get his family out of Prague are frustrated by a tangled web of red tape.
Ultimately the Escapist comes tantalizingly close to making good on his creation purpose. Tracy Bacon and Hollywood for Sammy; the Ark of Miriam for Joe. But like all golems, Frankenstein, and Adam before him, he must betray his creators
“It looks like it’s kind of dangerous, making a golem.”
At the height of the Escapist’s prelapsarian existence, just before Joe and Sammy see Citizen Kane, the narrator foreshadows what’s to come: “Later writers and artists, with the connivance of George Deasey, turned the strip into a peculiar kind of inverted parody of the whole genre of the costumed hero…He was a superpowerful, muscle-bound clown.”
The perversion and corruption of his initial “earnestness, [and] social conscience” and relegation to the artistic hackery of his postwar masters are the consequences of the Escapists Fall. But the ramifications of his betray for his masters is equally as harrowing.
As is often the case, the golem’s power, the very means by which it is able to fulfill its purpose, is used to betray it. Joe’s Escapist money put Tomas on the doomed ship. Tracy Bacon and the promise of a career writing for television led to Sammy being brutalized.
They each experience their own kind of Fall—the hope of escape replaced by grim reality of captivity. Joe’s separation from his family not only becomes absolute, but he is dramatically isolated, ending up trapped under a mountain of ice in a base full of dead people in the total darkness of the Antarctic winter. Sammy is sexually stifled by the pretense of heteronormativity and left to toil shamefully in cut-rate comics. Their Adam has done the opposite of what they created him to do.
“Today,” said Anapol, “I killed the Escapist.”
For the Escapist, restoration and fulfillment, his reunification with his creators, is achieved only in his death, which provides Joe and Sammy with opportunities for redemption. Joe is able to buy Empire Comics and redeem the costumed hero, and he finds himself, as he once dreamed, settled in America surrounded by family. Sammy is forced by the comic book hearings to face and reconcile his sexuality, finding in the experience the liberation he’s been seeking throughout the novel.
I think in the end the Escapists real power, and that of any golem, lay in providing his creators with a frame work to understand their own tormented spirits; to insulate them form the “impersonal magic of life…sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel,” that bewitched Bernard Kornblum. Whatever mystical potency they are imbued with is only the fancifully dressed yearnings of their artist fathers, who are not content to sit idle for the chaotic forces of life against which there is no carnate defense.