To celebrate Passover 2016, I want to examine an obscure corner of the hobby: the way Citadel miniatures portrayed Jewish characters during its Golden Age in the 1980's. Although this topic may be a little arcane, it opens the door to a larger and more interesting question: how Judaism, Jewish folklore and Jewish magic fit into fantasy worlds like Warhammer, D&D or Call of Cthulhu.
As far as I know, there are only 3 Citadel miniatures from the 1980's that clearly portray Jews... they are pictured above. One is a pretty good portrait, one is a little troubling (although it's hard to blame that on Citadel) and one is downright ugly.
Let's look at each...
The "good" portrayal is The Kabbalist, a 1986 sculpt for Citadel's Gothic Horror Range, which provided characters and NPCs for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. I like this miniature because it mixes elements that are directly evoke an Orthodox Jew (a yarmulke, a prayer shawl, and a long beard) with some generic fantasy accouterments (a potion and a scroll). As a result of this mix, the miniature is recognizably Jewish without being a mere caricature.
|Rabbi Cohen from White Dwarf #69
Indeed, I believe this miniature is based on Rabbi Joshua Cohen, a non-player character from "The Surrey Enigma", a Call of Cthulhu adventure written by Marcus Rowland and published in White Dwarf #69 (Sept. 1985).
This adventure requires the characters to seek the assistance of a group of Orthodox Jews who are hunting a Cthuloid menace lurking in an ancient barrow. Part of the drama in the adventure arises from the fact that the characters might mistake the mysterious Rabbi Cohen and his associates for cultists. Thus the success of the adventures hinges upon the characters learning a little about Kabbalah so that they can trust and be trusted by Cohen (who, as it happens, is a total badass).
Well, as my Passover present to the world, here's a link to the complete text of the Surrey Enigma.
The second miniature I want to look at is Phaygin (1984) from the preslotta C04 Thieves range. Originally, this miniature was called a "Cut Purse" in Citadel's October 1984 Flyer. However, in the Third Citadel Compendium (1985) he was renamed Phaygin. This is a clear reference to Faygin, the Jewish villain from Dickens' Oliver Twist (1839). And indeed, the miniature closely resembles Ron Moody's iconic portrayal of Fagin in the film version of Oliver! (1968).
|Ron Moody as Fagin
Dickens described Fagin as a "a very old shrivelled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair." Dickens hammered home the association between Fagin's depravity and his Jewishness by referring to him constantly as "the Jew" or "the old Jew" throughout the original version of the novel. Indeed, by my count, he called Fagin "the Jew" 319 times. Ugg.
On the upside, when it was pointed out to Dickens that he had strayed into anti-Semitic waters, he did his best to make amends -- for example by re-editing Oliver Twist and later by creating the steadfast Jewish character of Mr. Riah in Our Mutual Friend (1865).
Although Fagin is an ugly character, he's one of the great thieves of literature, so I'm glad that Citadel created this portrait of him.
And that brings us to the last miniature: the Money Lender FS64 (1980). This preslotta miniature is from the earliest days of Citadel and was part of their "Fantasy Specials" Villagers range. This is one stone-cold racist miniature.
With his grotesque nose, slouch, heavy eyes and bag of gold, the Money Lender bears an uncanny resemblance to Nazi propaganda. Even his pose evokes one of the most famous of the Nazi's anti-Semitic posters, "The Eternal Jew". In both this poster and the miniature, the hunched figure holds coins in his outstretched right hand.
The image on the left is from an anti-semitic colouring book (if you look closely enough at the image, you can see that the colour was applied with a child's crayon.) The image on the right is the poster for the "Eternal Jew" art exhibition that we discussed above.
How did such a hideous miniature ever get released? I don't know. I very much doubt that anyone at Citadel in the early 1980's was intentionally hateful. However, it is evident that when they went to sculpt a "money lender" for their range of fantasy villagers, some depressing stereotypes dominated the work. And no one up the line of management caught this boner. No Matzah Ball Soup for you!
Ultimately, what surprises me about these three miniatures is that they exist at all -- and this gets to my larger point about the role of Jews in fantasy worlds. Jewish ideas of magic were extremely influential on Medieval and especially Renaissance occultists. Such ideas include: letters being intrinsically magical shapes/sounds (gemmatria) -- or that the living can be possessed by the spirit of the dead (a dybbuk) -- or that a sage can use true names to gain control over demons and angels -- or that a clay man can be animated by magic spells and come to life (the golem). From Western occultism, these tropes entered fantasy novels, role-playing games and even science fiction.
And yet Jewish people themselves are usually absent from these works. This can be usefully contrasted with some other groups, such as Arabs or Roma/Gypsies, both of whom are so common in fantasy worlds that they are almost stock characters. (And certainly Citadel produced lots of Arabs and Roma miniatures during the 1980's, like the Gypsy and the Saracen for the game Talisman.) Why are Jewish characters so rare? Is it a fear of falling into stereotypes?
What do you think?