Iron John: A Book About Men

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Iron John
AuthorRobert Bly
SubjectIron John
Publication date
Media typePrint

Iron John: A Book About Men is a book by American poet Robert Bly, and an exegesis of Iron John, a parable belonging to the Grimms' Fairy Tales (1812) by German folklorists Brothers Grimm about a boy maturing into adulthood with help of the wild man.

Published in 1990 by Addison-Wesley, the book is Bly's best-known work,[1] having spent 62 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list and went on to become a pioneering work in the mythopoetic men's movement.[2]


Bly used Jungian psychology applied to myths, legends, and fairy tales to analyze Iron John, so as to find lessons especially meaningful to men and the men's movement.[1][3]

Bly believed that the fairy tale of Iron John contained lessons from the past of great importance to modern men, which could provide positive images of masculinity—such as that of Zeus energy[4]—in an increasingly feminist age. He considered Iron John to be an archetype of the Self, and the hero's interactions with him to represent a katabasis, or exploratory journey into the inner depths, where new sources of positive masculine sexuality could be found and tapped.[5]

Bly also stressed in the book the need in consciousness raising to accept the father's world, the paternal values of limitation, sobriety, and authority; and warned against the dangers of the high-flying ascensionist who is "flying away from the father, not toward him...the psychology of men like Thoreau determined to have a higher consciousness than their fathers".[6]

Origins and development[edit]

Bly built upon material in "What Do Men Really Want?: A New Age Interview With Robert Bly" by Keith Thompson, New Age Journal, May 1982, and which first appeared as a series of pamphlets. The cover of his book was illustrated by Bruce Waldman; while the 2004 edition (ISBN 0306813769, Da Capo Press), comes with a new preface by the author.[7] In 1993 a full-length critique of the book was published by Charles Upton.[8]


The American poet Charles Upton considered Bly's approach self-defeating in its efforts to redefine masculinity by a regressive return to the primitive "wild" self.[9] The journalist Hephzibah Anderson, writing in 2019, thought the book had not aged well: "its flaws have been magnified by the passage of time. Utterly devoid of irony and blinkered by his orientation as a straight white bloke, its lute-strumming (oh yes) author is just too easy to send up. And then there are the honking great phallocentric metaphors that he just can't let go of... We may well need to redefine masculinity, but re-wilding doesn't seem the optimal way of going about it".[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Iron John: A Book About Men".
  2. ^ Shweder, Richard A. (January 9, 1994). "What Do Men Want? A Reading List For the Male Identity Crisis". New York Times.
  3. ^ Morrow, Lance (August 19, 1991). "The Child Is Father Of the Man: ROBERT BLY". TIME. Archived from the original on April 2, 2008.
  4. ^ R Bly, Iron John (Dorset 1991) p. 22
  5. ^ R Bly, Iron John (Dorset 1991) p. 223-239
  6. ^ R Bly, Iron John (Dorset 1991) p. 58, 70 and 101
  7. ^ Bly, Robert (28 July 2004). Iron John: A Book About Men, 2004. ISBN 9780306813764. Retrieved Apr 30, 2020.
  8. ^ Upton, Charles (2005). Hammering Hot Iron: A Spiritual Critique of Bly's Iron John. ISBN 1597310441.
  9. ^ Charles Upton, Hammering Hot Iron (2005) p. 15-16
  10. ^ Anderson, Hephzibah (September 23, 2019). "The cult books that lost their cool". BBC. BBC. Retrieved September 30, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]