- Age Range: 4 - 8 years
- Grade Level: Preschool - 3
- Hardcover: 32 pages
- Publisher: Holiday House; 1st edition (September 1, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0823410730
- ISBN-13: 978-0823410736
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.2 x 11.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Iron John Hardcover – September 1, 1994
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From Publishers Weekly
The duo that created Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins reunites for this Robert Bly-inspired retelling of a tale from the Brothers Grimm. A prince named Walter frees the wild man Iron John, caged by Walter's royal father, and joins him in the woods. There Walter grows to manhood, but when he fails the task set him by the wild man-to keep a spring unsullied-Iron John leaves him. At the same time, however, Iron John forgives Walter and provides magical assistance as he seeks his fortune, ultimately granting him his kingdom. Kimmel adapts much more freely than Marilee Heyer did in her recent version of this tale. Most significantly, he imposes an egalitarian ending, in which the prince marries a kindhearted garden girl who truly loves him, rather than a princess who had spurned him in his misfortunes. Hyman's expressive pastels move with ease from the dark power of the forest to the colorful pageantry of the court, contributing to the seamlessness of the presentation. Ages 4-8.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 5-In this altered version of the well-known tale, Kimmel has combined elements of the original plot and the Cinderella story. He has omitted the introduction to the tale, which describes the wild man's capture, and begins the story as the young prince (named Walter) frees his father's prized possession and then, fearing his wrath, runs away with Iron John, who raises him. When Walter is grown, he is sent out into the world and volunteers to serve a king. After winning the hearts of the three princesses at a masked ball and beating all challenges at the king's tournament, the young man is wounded while slaying a band of robber knights who have carried off the princesses. Only the tears of his beloved (here a garden maid named Elsa) save him. He is never reunited with his parents, but returns to Iron John's kingdom. Hyman has illustrated the tale in full-and one-third page, muted oil paintings peopled with characters whose lovely faces are familiar echoes of many of her earlier folktale illustrations. Her forest is dark and eerie by night, a fern-filled grotto by day; her palace garden a charming composite of color; her wild man appropriately wizened and hoary. Alas, the captivating romanticism of the pictures cannot compensate for the lack of cohesiveness and requisite fairy-tale elements. In contrast, each part of the original Grimm tale contributes something to the whole. Iron Hans, illustrated by Marilee Heyer (Viking, 1993) is an authentic version of the story, dramatically illustrated.
Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The titular Iron John is a fearsome wild man caught by the king's men and imprisoned in the royal menagerie. One day the young Prince Walter accidentally throws his golden ball into the cage and is told by Iron John that he'll only have it returned if retrieves the key and frees the wild man. This he duly goes, only to beg Iron John to take him with him into the forest, knowing that he'll face his father's wrath if he remains.
And so Walter grows up in the depths of the forest, made the guardian of a small pool that Iron John warns him never to touch. Naturally, circumstances eventually lead to Walter dipping his hair into the water, only to discover that every strand is transformed to purest gold, thus requiring him to leave the sanctuary of the forest. Iron John gives him a horn and directs him to follow the rising sun until he meets a king on the edge of the forest.
Covered in mud and looking like a vagabond, Walter crosses paths with the king of a neighbouring kingdom and his three daughters, and is given a job as a gardener alongside the good-natured garden-girl Elsa. But when he hears of ball and a tournament to be held at the palace, he uses the horn to call upon his old guardian. Much like a gender-flipped Cinderella he attends both events, and soon has the entire kingdom gossiping about who he might be, before he's finally called upon to rescue the princesses from a group of bandits. But when his injuries can only be healed by the tears of one who truly loves him, which girl will it be who steps forward to save his life?
Despite the present of so many fairytale tropes, "Iron John" is a strange and rather meandering story, one that is replete with imagery and symbolism and potency. As is mentioned in the afterword, scholars such as Joseph Campbell and Robert Bly have explored the story's depth of meaning in their works, and there are infinite interpretations to be taken from its use of familiar motifs.
Author Eric Kimmel also discusses some of the changes he's made for this version, explaining where he got some of the names for characters that went unnamed in the Brothers Grimm version (Elsa is taken from another Grimm's story, whilst Walter is named after a knight who fought in the First Crusade), and rather amusingly defends his decision to pair Walter with Elsa instead of a princess: "I always resented the idea that a princess who despised the hero when he was poor would love him when he became rich. Fie on princesses! Elsa loves Walter truly, and so she will have him."
To match the story are Hyman's evocative illustrations, perfectly suited to such a strange and mysterious tale. Though she foregoes her usual style of providing clear black outlines for her figures, the pastels used here create a world of colour and beauty and depth, from the darkness of the forest to the bright pageantry of the palace. Iron John is a forbidding figure of regal grace and wild danger, whilst Walter and Elsa are young and strong and pleasant. You can almost *feel* the warmth and attraction between them.
She also adds a few details of her own in the telling of the story: also Kimmel cuts out the start of the story in which Iron John is captured, deeming it to be too irrelevant to the rest of the tale, Hyman includes a "prologue" spread that depicts the king's hunters with a hog-tied John, carrying him back to the castle upon the hill. She also captures the nature of the relationship between John and Walter (a young Walter falls asleep while riding piggy-back on John's shoulders) and the fussy coquettishness of the princesses.
In short, it's a beautiful and mysterious story, one in which many elements remain unresolved or opaque, a "flaw" in the tale that only adds to the intrigue of the book as a whole.
This is also a book where the handsome prince chooses character over beauty. I highly recommend this book!