Cover image for Iron John : a book about men
Iron John : a book about men
Bly, Robert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Reading, Mass. : Addison-Wesley, 1990.
Physical Description:
xi, 268 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1100 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ1090.3 .B59 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
HQ1090.3 .B59 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Here, using the Grimm Fairy tale Iron John as a vehicle, Bly explores the myths and cultural underpinnings of a distinctly vigorous male mode of feeling, a combination of fierceness and tenderness long since sacrificed to the demands of the industrial revolution.

Author Notes

Robert Bly lives on a farm in his native state of Minnesota. He edited The Seventies magazine, which he founded as The Fifties and in the next decade called The Sixties. In 1966, with David Ray, he organized American Writers Against the Vietnam War. The Light Around the Body, which won the National Book Award in 1968, was strongly critical of the war in Vietnam and of American foreign policy. Since publication of Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a response to the women's movement, Bly has been immensely popular, appearing on talk shows and advising men to retrieve their primitive masculinity through wildness.

Bly is also a translator of Scandinavian literature, such as Twenty Poems of Tomas Transtromer. Through the Sixties Press and the Seventies Press, he introduced little-known European and South American poets to American readers. His magazines have been the center of a poetic movement involving the poets Donald Hall, Louis Simpson, and James Wright.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The PBS special "A Gathering of Men," broadcast last winter, featured Bill Moyers interviewing poet Robert Bly, who spoke eloquently on the male psyche and all things masculine. This companion volume further develops and crystallizes all of Bly's brave new ideas on what it means to be a man among both men and women. Drawing vitally upon such diverse sources as ancient mythology, classic literature (including his own poetry), anthropology, psychology, and even the responses of the real-life men who have participated in his seminars ("gatherings"), Bly staunchly redefines male identity, emphasizing the importance of what he calls "warrior energy" and all its positive implications. Artfully, Bly reaffirms the need for men to assume their organic roles--as servers of their king; as mentors to other, younger men; as teachers and parents; as experiencers of "rich interior lives." Bly disputes the Freudian and Jungian emphasis on critical maternal influence, stresses the need for the individual to come to grips with the life and legacy of his own father, bemoans the contemporary trend--especially as seen through the media--to view men as inadequate and insensitive, and meaningfully describes and correlates the male initiation rites of primal cultures. Bly's comprehensive view of mythological precedences often gets in the way of his most compelling passages, i.e., those that attempt to clarify the modern male sensibility and also confirm the male ideal. This, however, is a small caveat in what is mostly a refreshing, daring, and truly liberating study. ~--Martin Brady

Publisher's Weekly Review

Today's sensitized male may be in touch with his ``feminine'' side, but, writes poet Bly, this ``soft male'' possesses little vitality and is hobbled by grief and anguish. To achieve real masculinity, Bly argues, men must cultivate a fierce tenderness to be found neither in the macho/John Wayne model nor in the ``interior feminine.'' Taking as his starting point the Grimm fairy tale ``Iron John,'' the author sets forth an eight-stage initiatory path whose steps include remembering one's psychic wounds, communion with a mentor or ``inner King,'' becoming a lover, reviving one's inner warriors and receiving a ``second heart.'' Bly avoids cant as he ransacks Jung, Freud and Reich; referents include Greek, Egyptian and Celtic myths, the Parsifal legend, Blake and Amerindian ritual. A wise and healing book full of fresh insights, Bly's odyssey will help men grapple with identity, fatherhood, relationships and such crises as addiction and divorce. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Bly, a major American poet who won a National Book Award in 1968, appears regularly at workshops for men. The book's title refers to a mentor-like figure in a Grimms fairy tale who serves as Wild Man, initiator, and source of divine energy for a young man. This marvelous folktale of resonant, many-layered meanings is an apt choice for demonstrating the need for men to learn from other men how to honor and reimagine the positive image of their masculinity. Bly has always responded to Blakean and Yeatsian intensities, preferring to travel the path lit by mythic road signs. His intent here is to restore a lost heritage of emotional connection and expose the paltriness of a provisional life. For many men capable of responding imaginatively to allegory and myth this will be an instructive and ultimately exculpating book. Others may regard it as an inscrutable attempt, intuitive at best, to find merit in male developmental anxieties. For all collections emphasizing family or gender studies.-- William Abrams, Portland State Univ. Lib., Ore. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Using fairy tales and myths from various cultures (especially the story of Iron John, written by the Grimm brothers but based on ancient legends), Bly presents his view of men's psychological developmental needs that (he claims) are exigent and transcultural. He believes that American men, in the wake of the women's movement (which he supports), are deeply confused about what it is to be a man, and are extremely depressed at what they think is probably the answer to such a question (e.g., a killer, a rapist). Most males in US society are raised by families in which mothers and often fathers denigrate masculinity and in which fathers (themselves raised in such environments) are poor or nonexistent role models. Bly claims that young men today badly need older males to initiate them into manhood. He argues that awareness of ancient legends of various cultures helps provide a definition of healthy masculinity and may offer clues about how to initate young men into healthy male roles. Useful reading for students of sex role stereotypes at all levels. -R. W. Smith, California State University, Northridge

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Pillow and the Keyp. i
Chapter 2 When One Hair Turns Goldp. 28
Chapter 3 The Road of Ashes, Descent, and Griefp. 56
Chapter 4 The Hunger for the King in a Time with No Fatherp. 92
Chapter 5 The Meeting with the God-Woman in the Gardenp. 123
Chapter 6 To Bring the Interior Warriors Back to Lifep. 146
Chapter 7 Riding the Red, the White, and the Black Horsesp. 180
Chapter 8 The Wound by the King's Menp. 207
Epilogue: The Wild Man in Ancient Religion, Literature, and Folk Lifep. 238
The Story of Iron Johnp. 250
Notesp. 260