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Iron John: A Book About Men Paperback – July 27, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

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.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (July 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306813769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306813764
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

226 of 236 people found the following review helpful By krishna sherchan on July 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am fascinated by some of the other reviews for this book. Some criticize it for being too liberal and kowtowing to feminists. Others claim it's reactionary and a threat to women everywhere. Still others say that they hate books about mythology and so they hate this one,too (this is really weird - it would be like me giving, say, a romance novel a bad review because I don't like the genre).

This leads me to the conclusion that, since the book is obviously evoking massive projection and ad hominem attacks, it really does have some incredibly important things to say. Perhaps those on the right are stirred to anger by Bly's impassioned call to restore male depth of emotions. The academic postmodernist/poststructuralist camp, amazingly (and without ever reading the book, obviously)accuses Bly of oppression simply because he states that men are human and suffer, too. This book is still a target of postmodern wrath in universities, but the criticism never focuses on the text but rather on projections surrounding Bly's persona.

The book itself (don't read it if you hate poetry and mythology! )contains a skillful blend of old world folklore and Jungian psychology aimed at restoring male modes of feeling in the world. Men who can descend into their wounds are not so dependent on women for nurturance, and thus are far more eager to see a world of powerful, independent, and connected women and men.
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260 of 274 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book has been well summarized and reviewed, but here are a few hints to those considering buying it.
(1) This is not a work of academic sociology. Do not come to Iron John for suggestions about social policy for your dissertation or articles. He does not regard professors as intellectuals, but rather puts them in the same category as businessmen or others trapped on soulless career tracks. Creative people are driven from academe quite early, in grad school, and Bly knows it. (2) This is a suggestive, exploratory, poetic attempt to use myth as a form of guidance for people in their real lives. That is, Bly seems more interested in throwing out powerful images and myths concerning men and men's lives and trying to make sense of them within our context of media-saturated consciousness than he is in traditional academic argument. It's an alternative to academic approaches, not in competition with them, and that is partly what makes it so wonderful: we're free to grasp at what interests us and leave what doesn't. Swimming in the questions is a beautiful thing. (3) Bly was an old 60s activist. If you can't bear the thought of someone not being conservative then don't read Bly. If, like me, you're conservative but not Republican, you'll be fine. (4) Having spent ten years in academe before running, screaming, in the opposite direction, I can tell you that Bly is no kow-towing feminist and no victimologist. Anyone who thinks Bly is too feminist needs to be stranded in a Women's Studies department for an afternoon. Then you'll come to him begging forgiveness. Bly is too careful of the feminists, I agree, but they're after him every step of the way trying to shut him up. He's despised by gender fascists, who see him as an advocate of violence against women.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By "" on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
In this book, Bly attempts to use the fairy tale of 'Iron John' as a metaphor for the initiation of a boy into a responsible man. Once the initiation is complete, after a series of symbolic adventures, a responsible man emerges. In each section of the book, Bly reveals a piece of the story as a stage in the boy's development, often accompanying the tale with mythological, social, and cultural themes. This book is about men, for men. Bly feels men are in trouble, and tries to explain why. He also attempts to give a definition of what a real man is. A real man is one who has the courage and conviction to fight, but also has the compassion and tenderness to feel. Men in our society seem to be too much on one side or the other. We have too many wild, violent, brutal men with no feeling. We also have too many submissive, weak, 'Yes Dear' type of men... He tries to give reasons for this 'downfall', using important themes such as: 1) Young men without responsible, older men in their lives, 2) The industrial revolution separating father from son 3) The elimination our link to nature as a result of the Industrial Revolution, and 4) How the feminist movement, while absolutely necessary, has had an adverse effect of creating a culture which portrays men as complete idiots.
I found many passages where I felt Bly was right on the money. I had several revelations and epiphanies while reading this book, things I've always known but never realized. Until now. This is great stuff. A very important book, I believe, and could be used for various purposes such as instruction or counseling. Men everywhere could benefit from reading this, in my opinion..
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By C. Collins on June 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
Robert Bly explores the wild man, the king of the animals, the hairy man, in this expanded exploration of the Grimm's fairy tale of Iron John. Bly makes careful and thoughtful connections between the hairy underwater Iron John and the images of John the Baptist, the wild hairy man of Christiantiy.

One especially helpful aspect of Bly's analysis is that it is through a wound that the male is reborn. Connecting this concept to the birth of Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus, he indicates that all men carry a wound from their boyhood and it is by the passing through this wound on to the other side that the man is initiated and becomes whole in his own masculinity and adulthood. Men are often wounded by their fathers during childhood and thus have deep buried feelings of not being good enough to meet the father's expectations or memories of acting foolishly in front of the father. Bly would say that the story of Iron John is that men must find the hidden wild man within them that guides them through the wound into adulthood. The wild man, the hairy man, Iron John, thus becomes a second father and initiates the young man into the world of adult masculinity. In Bly's conception, men must move beyond the wounded state and must explore the wound and move beyond it to be able to experience the full power of masculinity and adulthood. We have all known men who are the sons of smart, wealthy, talented men and the very brilliance, success, and abilities of the father wounds the son. The son is wounded because he will never be as honest, or as giving, or as respected, or as accomplished, or as wealthy, or as famous as their father. Being the son of a successful man is in itself a wounding process.
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