|The story of Iron John can be read as a
parable about a boy becoming a man. Iron John in his cage can be
seen the inner wildness of all men, sexual potency, or the
physical strength of an adult man, which can be dangerous if not
controlled. In this interpretation the king and queen represent
both outward authority (civil or religious) as well as the inner
authority of the parent.
The ball could stand for childish things that must be discarded
when manhood is reached, but also the search for the inner child
that remains at the heart of every man. The stealing of the key
is therefore the defiance of the mother figure and her authority
in order to gain independence.
When Iron John is free, the prince is likewise free to go
anywhere and do anything as an adult would be, but
responsibility must be shouldered if he is truly to be
considered a man and not just an overgrown child.
It is only with the guidance of Iron John and the willingness to
take on the tasks of a man that the prince can finally grow up.
Bly’s book advocated a
return of a stronger, more masculine man (in the traditional
sense), but one who also respected modern-day feminist values.
Though the book quickly became a best-seller and a central text
for the Men’s Movement, eventually the movement lost momentum,
as have many similar men’s organizations such as the Christian
Promise Keepers. The book itself remains reasonably popular to
by Jacob Ludwig Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm
a parable about a boy becoming a man
ONCE UPON a time there lived a King who had a great forest near his
palace, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a
huntsman to shoot him a roe, but he did not come back. "Perhaps some
accident has befallen him," said the King, and the next day he sent out
two more huntsmen who were to search for him, but they too stayed away.
Then on the third
day, he sent for all his huntsmen, and said, "Scour
the whole forest through, and do not give up until ye have found all
three." But of these also, none came home again, and of the pack of
hounds which they had taken with them, none were seen more. From that
time forth, no one would any longer venture into the forest, and it lay
there in deep stillness and solitude, and nothing was seen of it, but
sometimes an eagle or a hawk flying over it.
This lasted for many years, when a strange huntsman announced himself to
the King as seeking a situation, and offered to go into the dangerous
forest. The King, however, would not give his consent, and said,
"Unfortunately, the mythic side
of man is given short shrift nowadays. He can no longer create
fables. As a result, a great deal escapes him; for it is
important and salutary to speak also of incomprehensible
C.J. Jung Myth Memories Reflections
"It is not safe in there;
I fear it would fare with thee no better than with the others, and thou
wouldst never come out again." The huntsman replied, "Lord, I will
venture it at my own risk; I have no fear."
The huntsman therefore betook himself with his dog to the forest. It was
not long before the dog fell in with some game on the way, and wanted to
pursue it; but hardly had the dog run two steps when it stood before a
deep pool, could go no farther, and a naked arm stretched itself out of
the water, seized it, and drew it under. When the huntsman saw that, he
went back and fetched three men to come with buckets and bail out the
water. When they could see to the bottom there lay a wild man whose body
was brown like rusty iron, and whose hair hung over his face down to his
knees. They bound him with cords, and led him away to the castle. There
was great astonishment over the wild man; the King, however, had him put
in an iron cage in his court-yard, and forbade the door to be opened on
pain of death, and the Queen herself was to take the key into her
keeping. And from this time forth every one could again go into the
forest with safety.
The King had a son eight years old, who was once playing in the
while he was playing, his golden
ball fell into the cage. The boy ran thither and said, "Give me my
ball." "Not till thou hast opened the door for me," answered the man.
"No," said the boy, "I will not do that; the King has forbidden it," and
ran away. The next day he again went and asked for his ball; the wild
man said, "Open my door," but the boy would not. On the third day the
King had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, "I
cannot open the door even if I wished, for I have not the key." Then the
wild man said, "It lies under thy mother's pillow, thou canst get it
there." The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, cast all thought to
the winds, and brought the key. The door opened with difficulty, and the
boy pinched his fingers. When it was open the wild man stepped out, gave
him the golden ball, and hurried away. The boy had become afraid; he
called and cried after him, "Oh, wild man, do not go away, or I shall be
beaten!" The wild man turned back, took him up, set him on his shoulder,
and went with hasty steps into the forest.
When the King came home, he observed the empty cage, and asked the Queen
how that had happened. She knew nothing about it, and sought the key,
but it was gone. She called the boy, but no one answered. The King sent
out people to seek for him in the fields, but they did not find him.
Then he could easily guess what had happened, and much grief reigned in
the royal court.
When the wild man had once more reached the dark forest, he took the boy
down from his shoulder, and said to him, "Thou wilt never see thy father
and mother again, but I will keep thee with me, for thou hast set me
free, and I have compassion on thee. If thou dost all I bid thee, thou
shalt fare well. Of treasure and gold I have enough, and more than any
one in the world." He made a bed of moss for the boy on which he slept,
and the next morning the man took him to a well, and said, "Behold, the
gold well is as bright and clear as crystal; thou shalt sit beside it,
and take care that nothing falls into it, or it will be polluted. I will
come every evening to see if thou hast obeyed my order." The boy placed
himself by the margin of the well, and often saw a golden fish or a
golden snake show itself therein, and took care that nothing fell in. As
he was thus sitting, his finger hurt him so violently that he
involuntarily put it in the water. He drew it quickly out again, but saw
that it was quite gilded, and whatsoever pains he took to wash the gold
off again, all was to no purpose.
In the evening Iron John came back, looked at the boy, and said, "What
has happened to the well?" "Nothing, nothing," he answered, and held his
finger behind his back, that the man might not see it. But he said,
"Thou hast dipped thy finger into the water; this time it may pass, but
take care thou dost not let anything go in." By daybreak the boy was
already sitting by the well and watching it. His finger hurt him again
and he passed it over his head, and then unhappily a hair fell down into
the well. He took it quickly out, but it was already quite gilded. Iron
John came, and already knew what had happened. "Thou hast let a hair
fall into the well," said he. "I will allow thee to watch by it once
more, but if this happens for the third time then the well is polluted,
and thou canst no longer remain with me."
On the third day, the boy sat by the well, and did not stir his finger,
however much it hurt him. But the time was long to him, and he looked at
the reflection of his face on the surface of the water. And as he still
bent down more and more while he was doing so, and trying to look
straight into the eyes, his long hair fell down from his shoulders into
the water. He raised himself up quickly, but the whole of the hair of
his head was already golden and shone like the sun. You may imagine how
terrified the poor boy was! He took his pocket-handkerchief and tied it
round his head, in order that the man might not see it. When he came he
already knew everything, and said, "Take the handkerchief off." Then the
golden hair streamed forth, and let the boy excuse himself as he might,
it was of no use. "Thou hast not stood the trial, and canst stay here no
longer. Go forth into the world, there thou wilt learn what poverty is.
But as thou hast not a bad heart, and as I mean well by thee, there is
one thing I will grant thee; if thou fallest into any difficulty, come
to the forest and cry, 'Iron John,' and then I will come and help thee.
My power is great, greater than thou thinkest, and I have gold and
silver in abundance."
Then the King's son left the forest, and walked by beaten and unbeaten
paths ever onwards until at length he reached a great city. There he
looked for work, but could find none, and he had learnt nothing by which
he could help himself. At length he went to the palace, and asked if
they would take him in. The people about court did not at all know what
use they could make of him, but they liked him, and told him to stay. At
length the cook took him into his service, and said he might carry food
and water, and rake the cinders together. Once when it so happened that
no one else was at hand, the cook ordered him to carry the food to the
royal table, but as he did not like to let his golden hair be seen, he
kept his little cap on.
Such a thing as that had never yet come under the King's notice, and he
said, "When thou comest to the royal table thou must take thy hat off."
He answered, "Ah, Lord, I cannot; I have a bad sore place on my head."
Then the King had the cook called before him and scolded him, and asked
how he could take such a boy as that into his service, and that he was
to turn him off at once. The cook, however, had pity on him, and
exchanged him for the gardener's boy.
Now the boy had to plant and water the garden, hoe and dig, and bear the
wind and bad weather. Once in summer when he was working alone in the
garden, the day was so warm he took his little cap off that the air
might cool him. As the sun shone on his hair it glittered and flashed so
that the rays fell into the bed-room of the King's daughter, and up she
sprang to see what that could be. Then she saw the boy, and cried to
him, "Boy, bring me a wreath of flowers." He put his cap on with all
haste, and gathered wild field-flowers and bound them together. When he
was ascending the stairs with them, the gardener met him, and said, "How
canst thou take the King's daughter a garland of such common flowers? Go
quickly, and get another, and seek out the prettiest and rarest." "Oh,
no," replied the boy, "the wild ones have more scent, and will please
When he got into the room, the King's daughter said, "Take thy cap off,
it is not seemly to keep it on in my presence." He again said, "I may
not, I have a sore head." She, however, caught at his cap and pulled it
off, and then his golden hair rolled down on his shoulders, and it was
splendid to behold. He wanted to run out, but she held him by the arm,
and gave him a handful of ducats. With these he departed, but he cared
nothing for the gold pieces. He took them to the gardener, and said, "I
present them to thy children, they can play with them."
[cont.] page 2
countless centuries, it was the task of the older men in the
community to 'take' the boys out of the arms of their mothers
and teach them how to be a man.
Meade is the preeminent practitioner today to
resurrecting the mythic tales that weave together
the psychological with the mythological, the visible with the
invisible, the immediate with the ancient to create meaningful
ritual and initiation.
"In times of unprecedented spiritual confusion, amidst the
"crisis of imagination" and the radical disorientation of mass
culture, myth intones its age-old speech to the inner reaches of
the human soul. There, the Old Mind offers inspiration to those
willing to tap again the evocative, oracular, compelling voice
of Mythos, which echoes in the psychic depths, ever capable of
revival and potent with hidden resources. The exact medicines
for the dissociation characteristic of Western culture lie in
finding again the archaic continuity and hidden unity of human
imagination. Ancient footprints mark the paths of art and
practice that lead to the fording place where a leap between the
old and new, the concrete and spiritual, the time-bound and the
timeless is required again. On this pathless path, artists,
spiritual seekers, philosophers, and lovers find the betwixt and
between ways which thread the past into the shape of the
|"If we take nothing else away from the
Iron John story, we could usefully take this idead that the
young male moves from red intensity to whitle engargment to
black humanity. Each man is given three horses that we ride at
various times in our lives; we fall off and get back on. I don't
think we should consider one horse better than another; all we
could say is that none should be skipped.
These are the first colors a human child sees. In medieval
tales, the hero sees a drop of blood from a wounded raven fall
on the snow, and falls in a trance. In Viking mythology, when a
hero dies a white, then a red, than a black cock crows.
The moving from red to white to black signifies important
changes in a man’s life. Michael Meade reports that in the Masai
tribes, a boy of 13 or 15 is expected to be in red: angry,
prideful, obnoxious, vain, violent -- all the things we put men
in prison for, if they don’t have an older man to guide him
through this stage. When he is 35, he moves into the white
stage: peaceful, gentle, without a (conscious) shadow side.
|What Do Men
Really Want?IMPORTANT BOOKS