Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Iron John"
by Robert Bly

First, a story, and it will tie in later. I bought this book at a little used bookshop called "The Iliad" in North Hollywood. It's in the middle of a shady neighborhood, the kind of place you don't want to go at night, which is when we went. It's filled to the brim with books, so stacked that walking in is at once pleasing and overwhelming. The Iliad is not a place to go to browse. You go there to buy, with a list in hand, else you'll never leave.

So my wife and I were browsing (see! bad idea!) and I decided to see if they had a couple of books. The first, Iron John, he had and grabbed, but when I said the second book, he gave me a look. A what kind of fella are you sort of look. The book I was inquiring for was Eat, Pray, Love.

"Never heard of it," he said, the guy is a little older with a wiry frame, seems generally disinterested in everything but baseball and, I imagine, books, but you would never guess he reads, his disposition screamed of ignorance. "What's it about?"

"I'm not too sure," I replied, "but I think it's about this woman who travels through Italy and India rediscovering herself. Or something." That "or something" was because the look I was now getting was like I was some sort of alien, like I was asking for cereal.

"Forget it," I said. I bought the book and we left. Great bookstore, horrible people.

Iron John is "a book about men," as it says on the cover, which is possibly why the old man at the counter knew where to find it (he had read it?) and gave me the evil eye when I asked about Eat, Pray, Love (old man's confusion to younger man's ambivilance of reading choices?), I'll never know. It is, indeed, a book about men, and a relatively informing book about men. Robert Bly proposes that many modern men haven't gone through an initiation into manhood, mostly due to the evolution in science and the dissolution of hunter-gatherer societies. Men aren't supposed to be this dominating creature that doesn't feel (i.e. bookstore guy), nor is he supposed to be this completely sensitive thing with no sense of himself (i.e. opposite of bookstore guy). This leaves us men quite lost, and with no "elders" to guide us, we need somewhere else to look.

But where?

The fairy tales, of course!

Joking aside, Bly's idea is that many fairy tales, being ancient, are filled with symbolism and thus useful to a modern journey of man.

There is so much to go into here that would better be left to the book, so I'll keep it short. Men nowadays have largely been raised by women, and while this is a good thing in some ways, men lack the tools to grow up, to set boundaries, to become Men with a capital M. This I see and agree with. What lacks is the initiation. In certain cultures, the boys are taken away with the elders and initiated at a young age (about 12, it seems), and they come back men. Modern society substitutes video games, TV, and no elders to initiate them at all.

What Iron John sets forth is an analysis of the Grimm Brothers tale Iron John about a kings son who lets a Wild Man out of the cage, is taken to the forest with him, and transformed in ways he never thought possible. Bly is great at analyzing the story and making cultural references that most American men can hold on to. He takes the story apart and shows just how important fairy tales are to our development as human beings.

I have to recommend this book to any male out there, if for the sheer reason that men as a whole need to develop a little more. When you have a nation of boys, you end up invading a country for no good reason and the world is way worse for the wear. Read it.

1 comment:

Miss Kubelik said...

It looks like we have a Man here, with a capital "M". Very insightful review.