January 20, 2017 Matt Pennock

Iron John by Robert Bly ★★

It didn’t take long to realize once I started reading this book that I was reading about a manhood based on a children’s story.

The Brothers Grimm put this story together in the 1850s. It was known in the original German as Der Eisenhans. I spent a lot of time studying German history, culture, and language for my International European Studies degree. I lived for a term in Germany. So I am well acquainted with the German “fairy tales” otherwise known as German Märchen. These fables were a product of an artsy time in German history when an intellectual movement known as German Romanticism was in full swing. Composers such as Beethoven was a part of this era. Märchen were very popular in Germany among adults as a form of poetry and lyrical prose. But the Grimm’s story was clearly written for children: Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (Berlin, 1857), no. 136.

What Robert Bly did was give us an entire expository commentary of a cute children’s story of a boy growing up into a man as though it were a holy text.  It then spawned a nationwide men’s movement and remained a New York Times best seller for 62 weeks.

Good. God. Almighty.

Bly seems to focus on the male psyche, or mind, and brings in philosophical characters such as Carl Jung and various indigenous mythologies to add more flare to his ideas.  I give it two stars because Iron John is a neat children’s story and I enjoy a lot of the German Märchen. Also, Bly does speak some truth, here and there.

The Iron John children’s story is literally 3 or 4 pages long. Might I recommend a grown-up book, the Bible, a text with several thousand pages about growing up? Composed in several different languages—Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek—with 66 different books by 40 different authors comprising two dispensations of a single faith over six thousand years?

Or is that too hard for you?