The Iron Man (novel)
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Adamson cover of first edition
|Illustrator||George Adamson (first)
Andrew Davidson (1985)
|Published||1968 (Faber and Faber, UK)
1968 (Harper & Row, US)
1985 (Faber and Faber, int'l)
1999 (Knopf, 30th Anniv. Ed.)
|Followed by||The Iron Woman|
The Iron Man: A Children's Story in Five Nights is a 1968 science fiction novel by Ted Hughes, the British Poet Laureate, first published by Faber and Faber in the U.K. with illustrations by George Adamson. Described by some as a modern fairy tale, it describes the unexpected arrival in England of a giant "metal man" of unknown origin who rains destruction on the countryside by attacking industrial farm equipment, before befriending a small boy and defending the world from a monster from outer space. Expanding the narrative beyond a criticism of warfare and inter-human conflict, Hughes later wrote a sequel, The Iron Woman (1993), describing retribution based on environmental themes related to pollution.
The first North American edition was also published in 1968, by Harper & Row with illustrations by Robert Nadler. Its main title was changed to The Iron Giant, and internal mentions of the metal man changed to iron giant, to avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics character Iron Man. American editions have continued the practice as Iron Man has become a multimedia franchise.
Faber and Faber published a new edition in 1985 with illustrations by Andrew Davidson, for which Hughes and Davidson won the Kurt Maschler Award, or the Emils. From 1982 to 1999 that award recognised one British "work of imagination for children, in which text and illustration are integrated so that each enhances and balances the other." The 1985 Davidson edition was published in Britain and America (retaining 'giant') and there were re-issues with the Davidson illustrations, including some with other cover artists. Yet the novel has been re-illustrated by at least two others, Dirk Zimmer and Laura Carlin (current, Walker Books). Pete Townshend produced a musical adaptation in 1989.
The Iron Man arrived from seemingly nowhere and his appearance is described in detail. To survive, he feeds on local farm equipment. When the farm hands discover their destroyed tractors and diggers, a trap is set consisting of a covered pit on which a red lorry is set as bait. Hogarth, a local boy, lures the Iron Man to the trap. The plan succeeds, and the Iron Man is buried alive.
The next spring, the Iron Man digs himself free of the pit. To keep him out of the way, the boy Hogarth takes charge and brings the Iron Man to a metal scrap-heap to feast. The Iron Man promises not to cause further trouble for the locals, as long as no one troubles him.
Time passes, and the Iron Man is treated as merely another member of the community. However, astronomers monitoring the sky make a frightening new discovery; an enormous space-being moving from orbit to land on Earth. The creature (soon dubbed the "Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon") crashes heavily on Australia and demands that humanity provide him with food.
Terrified, humans send their armies to destroy the dragon, but it remains unharmed. When the Iron Man hears of this global threat, he allows himself to be disassembled and transported to Australia where he challenges the creature to a contest of strength. If the Iron Man can withstand the heat of burning petroleum for longer than the space being can withstand the heat of the Sun, the creature must obey the Iron Man's commands forevermore; if the Iron Man melts or is afraid of melting before the space being undergoes or fears pain in the Sun, the creature has permission to devour the whole Earth.
After playing the game two rounds, the dragon is so badly burned that he no longer appears physically frightening. The Iron Man by contrast has only a deformed ear-lobe to show for his pains. The alien creature admits defeat.
When asked why he came to Earth, the alien reveals that he is a peaceful "Star Spirit" who experienced excitement about the ongoing sights and sounds produced by the violent warfare of humanity. In his own life, he was a singer of the "music of the spheres"; the harmony of his kind that keeps the Cosmos in balance in stable equilibrium.
The Iron Man orders the Star Spirit to sing to the inhabitants of Earth, flying just behind the sunset, to help soothe humanity toward a sense of peace. The beauty of his music distracts the population from its egocentrism and tendency to fight, causing the first worldwide lasting peace.
- "The Iron Man". Presentation of the current edition by publisher Walker Books. Retrieved 7 December 2010. Quote: "Reckoned one of the greatest of modern fairy tales." Observer.
- "Kurt Maschler Awards". Book Awards. bizland.com. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
- The Iron Man: A Story in Five Nights title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 6 October 2013. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image (7 available) or linked contents. For the 1968 and 1985 editions, later printings only.
- The Iron Man by Ted Hughes at Primary Resources