In the 1950s, Commentary magazine published a series of dispatches from the state of Israel by a young American-born Jew named Avram Davidson. Michael Weingrad describes the unusual life and literary career of the author of these “finely observed vignettes.”
Davidson is today remembered as a venerated if never widely read writer of science-fiction and fantasy literature, an editor, and a recipient of the genres’ awards, including the 1986 World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. But his earliest publications reflected a Jewish journey that began in a non-observant family in Depression-era Yonkers, and was sparked by a Jewish awakening that led him to adopt Orthodox Judaism in his teens. During World War II he served in the Pacific in the Navy’s medical corps, and struggled to keep his relatively new commitment to Jewish religious law. After the war, he returned to Yonkers and took a fiction-writing class at Yeshiva University.
Davidson later returned to the U.S., where his novels and stories would earn accolades from such masters of the genre as Ray Bradbury and Ursula K. Le Guin. Although his commitment to Judaism remained, writes Weingrad, it made little appearance in his work:
A rare exception to the absence of Jewish content in Davidson’s fiction is his often anthologized story “The Golem,” first published in 1955. The story is borscht-belt comedy, in which a golem tries unsuccessfully to intimidate an elderly Jewish couple who, with Yiddishisms and mundane preoccupations, talk too much to register the portentous monster in their midst. . . .
I would make a case for one of Davidson’s novels as a top-notch work of fantasy, a landmark book in which Davidson’s strengths and his compulsions both align neatly with the matter at hand: The Phoenix and the Mirror. . . . Davidson places his scholar-hero in an imagined antiquity, a pre-Christian Roman empire in which sects and saints, Phoenicians and Jews, Greek mythology and Enochian mysteries all rub shoulders.
In the novel’s kaleidoscope of mythoi, Davidson turns the Trojan War into the Tyrean War, with the son of the King of Tyre approached not by three goddesses, as was Homer’s Paris, but by “the Great Elim—Mikha-El, Gavri-El, Raphoy-El, and Ori-El,” who ask him “to decide which among them was the wisest.”