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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Iron John by Robert Bly

Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly. Reading, Massechusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1990. ISBN: 0-201-21720-5

This is a book about male initiation. It is the author's contention that modern men are suffering from a lack of initiation rites, formal or informal; rites which were practiced in the past, and which are still practiced by less “civilized” societies. Due to this lack, many men do not know how to BE men.

The images of manhood that are promulgated by modern society are unsatisfactory. Even the many modern men that have attempted to discover their feminine sides, to become “sensitive” men, have, according to the author, found that this is not enough. It is not enough to reject the dark side of manhood, the macho, “domineering mode that has led to repression of women and their values for centuries.” No, something more is needed, and Robert Bly, the author, tries with this book to explain what that something more is. I'm not sure he altogether succeeds, at least for me, but it is most certainly a valiant effort.

He uses as his sustained metaphor throughout, the tale of Iron John, a “fairy tale” collected by the Grimm brothers early in the 19th century. The different parts of this fairy tale are used to symbolize the different psychological or developmental stages in a man's life. Invariably, I can find parallels between my own personal life experience, and some of the life stages described by Bly, but often only partially, or imperfectly, and certainly not all of them.

An interesting book, but since, as the author himself acknowledges, it is never the case that "one size fits all," for me, at least, reading it was not a life-changing experience. I'm not sorry I read it, but I'll readily admit that my personality type is one that resists introspection, which probably makes my reaction typical for men such as myself. If you're male, and introspection IS your thing, this book would undoubtedly prove a useful and worthwhile tool.


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